'I was close to death,' says former Liverpool star following Champions League final 'disorganization'

‘I was close to death,’ says former Liverpool star following Champions League final ‘disorganization’

Tens of thousands of fans filtered through Paris towards the Stade de France ready to watch Liverpool and Real Madrid go head-to-head for European club football’s premier prize.

But for former Liverpool player Alan Kennedy, the match was marred by a terrifying experience, leaving him fearing there would be “loss of life.”

The hugely anticipated showdown was peppered with an array of chaotic moments: France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin on Wednesday apologized for the “disproportionate use” of tear gas by the French police during the final and said an investigation has been opened into police actions.

The match itself was delayed by more than 35 minutes after Liverpool fans struggled to enter the Stade de France and tear gas was used by French police towards supporters held in tightly packed areas.

Now, in the week following the game, a disorganized picture has emerged: photos showing fans crammed into fenced areas after a bottleneck formed around a particularly tight entry point at the Liverpool end, while many fans with tickets say they were held back from entering the stadium in dangerously crowded areas and that communication from security was poor.

Kennedy was at the match with his son and experienced the chaos first hand, telling CNN Sport’s Don Riddell he got caught in the crush at the ticket turnstiles.

“I have to say, it was absolute chaos. And if it wasn’t for my son and if it wasn’t for the people helping me get over the fence — and it was a metal fence which was difficult to get over — if they weren’t there, then I would have been in serious trouble,” said Kennedy, who scored the winning goal in Paris against Real Madrid in the 1981 European Cup final.

“The pressure was coming from all sides. It seemed to be that, you know, people were coming from the right. They were coming from the left. They were even coming from straight on,” he said. “Whichever way we turned … we were going the wrong way.

“I remember being at a point where I just said to myself: this is so dangerous. There’s going to be a loss of life. I felt as though I was physically struggling against a lot of people.”

Eventually, two men on a metal fence got hold of him and were able to lift him to the other side, Kennedy said.

“I was really, really afraid,” he said, adding that he was aware of “the tragedies that have been over the years. And I would never wish that on anybody because you don’t know which is the best way to turn. You didn’t know which was the best way to go.”

Of those tragedies, the most well known in English football is the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster. During an FA Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, 97 fans were killed in a crush due to overcrowding in the stands and another 162 were hospitalized with injuries.

Real Madrid fans experienced similar issues to those Kennedy describes around the stadium last weekend, with visitors speaking of poor instruction by UEFA and stadium officials, inadequate crowd control and violent incidents.

Police spray tear gas at Liverpool fans ahead of the Champions League final.

“As can clearly be seen in the revealing images which the press has published, many fans were assaulted, harassed, mugged and violently robbed. Events which also took place when people drove in their cars or buses worried for their physical well-being. Some of them also had to spend the night in the hospital for the injuries they received,” Real Madrid said in a statement issued Friday.

“We want to know which were the reasons behind choosing the stadium as the host of the final and what were the criteria in consideration given what happened that day,” the club added.

“In light of this, we ask for answers and explanations which determine who was responsible for leaving the fans unassisted and helpless,” the club said, adding that fans’ “general behavior was in every moment exemplary.”

Details are emerging about what fans endured.

“All the other entrance[s] to the concourse around the Stadium that we could see from there were [unexpectedly] closed, and many locals were jumping the fences,” Real fan Amando Sánchez wrote on Twitter, noting that “officials were scared and not given the adequate tools to handle the situation [sic].”

“No info was given [to] fans. UEFA should not be allowed to run an event like this any longer,” he said.

Meanwhile, witnesses told Spanish newspaper El Mundo that Real Madrid supporters were targeted by thieves and had their vehicles broken into at the match.

“They came to take everything away from us, to rob us, but it was the Gendarmerie who launched pepper spray and rubber balls at us. We went down into the Metro and it had turned into a rat’s nest. If you tried to get out to look for a taxi, they asked you for 300 euros to take you out of there,” Enrique Cazorla, a Real Madrid socio (member) and attendee of five previous Champions League finals, told El Mundo.

“We were lucky on exiting the stadium, but many other Madrid fans were robbed or attacked by gangs of what seemed to be locals, while exiting the stadium or on the subway, with a total absence of presence and action from French police,” Sánchez continued on Twitter.

Police officers guard the Stade de France ahead of the Champions League final.

Pressure mounts for investigation

A blame game has been going on, with different accounts of last weekend’s mayhem coming from UK and French authorities.

On Monday, Darmanin said counterfeit tickets were to blame for the delay, claiming there was “a massive, industrial and organized fraud of fake tickets” and that “30,000 to 40,000 English fans … found themselves at the Stade de France either without a ticket or with falsified tickets.” UEFA, the governing body of European football, also said the buildup of fans at turnstiles was caused by fake tickets.

Those figures have been disputed, while UK lawmaker Ian Byrne said attributing crowds and delays to fake tickets was “utter nonsense” and an attempt from French authorities and UEFA to cover their backs.

CNN has reached out to UEFA for comment.

“When you see the way the French police reacted, they were overwhelmed and the event wasn’t prepared,” French editorialist Alexis Poulin of Le Monde Moderne told CNN Sport.

The incident has brought the issue of heavy-handed policing back to the fore of the French conscience. Paris Police Commissioner Didier Lallement has been at the heart of several controversies, particularly during the Gilets Jaunes protests of 2018 and 2019, where 2,400 protesters and 1,800 policemen were reported injured and dozens of yellow vest protesters were reported to have lost an eye in violent clashes with police.
Paris’ police have also been accused of alleged brutality in a series of deaths in police custody that mirrored the murder of George Floyd.
Liverpool requests formal investigation into ugly scenes around Champions League final

“Mr. Lallemant has been there since the yellow vest movement. And it was very violent. And since then, he has been [taking a] tough line, using a lot of violence,” said Poulin.

“He sort of rewrote the book of how to maintain order during the manifeste, during the protests.

For the Champions League final, Poulin said the police were “clearly unprepared.”

“Mr. Lallemant said that he was missing some men, there were not enough policemen to police the event,” he said, adding that there are reports that the stadium also hired employees who weren’t trained to staff the doors correctly.

“So it’s a succession of mistakes.”

High profile politicians, including French President Emmanuel Macron, are declining to comment in detail on the issue, he added, while government spokesperson Olivia Grégoire at a press conference Wednesday attempted to downplay the chaos.

“First of all, very simply, could we have done things better or could it have been handled better? Yes,” Grégoire said.

“First and foremost, the president of the republic and the entire government was sad and sorry for those people who had come and were simply deprived of the match,” he said.

But this has done little to reassure the public or the French media.

“The French public was very disgusted by the way it went, especially because of the lies of the authorities, and the fact that they don’t want to assume the fact that they’ve been unprepared, and they are responsible, mainly, for the fiasco,” Poulin said.

‘Inappropriate’ actions and shaken fans

Liverpool Football Club has requested that authorities conduct a formal investigation into the ugly scenes that marred a final which was meant to mark a year of club success.

Late on Friday, UEFA apologized “to all spectators who had to experience or witness frightening and distressing events” in the build up to the match. Additionally, the governing body has set up an independent review to “identify shortcomings and responsibilities of all entities involved in the organisation of the final” with a final report set to appear on UEFA’s website.

Police patrol the gates at Paris' Stade de France.

On Wednesday, Darmanin said “there were inappropriate and disproportionate actions by police officers and the riot police that have been documented.”

“I want to say that there are two investigation requests,” he added, speaking during a hearing before the French Senate.

“I personally saw two incidents where clearly maintaining public order and the use of tear gas was contrary to the rules of use and I asked for sanctions from the police chief for these two officers.

“It is obvious that things could have been better organized,” admitted Darmanin, adding that “the negative image of this match is a wound for our national pride.”

On the issue of ticket fraud reported by Darmanin on Monday, the minister said that between 57% to 70% of tickets presented by Liverpool fans were fake.

French Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra also addressed the Senate and announced that they have requested compensation from UEFA for ticket holders who were not able to attend the game.

“We said to ourselves that the first thing we had to do was to ask for compensation for the 2,700 Liverpool fans who were unable to attend the match even though they had a valid ticket, and we asked UEFA to compensate them quickly and on an individual basis,” she said.

Poulin said that last week’s match has brought up lots of failures, including failure by authorities to control the crowds.

“But the main issue was the number of policemen and also the training of these people, because what the policeman said was that they were not trained to secure the stadium,” he said.

“Will that be the case for future events?” he asked, noting that Paris is due to host the Summer Olympics in two years.

Some fans have been left shaken by the experience.

“I can’t remember much about the game. Now isn’t that strange? You know, we had a good view, but I can’t remember much about the game,” said Kennedy.

“Because I think I’ve been traumatized by what had gone on earlier. You know, I must say that I was close to death.”

CNN’s Xiaofei Xu contributed to reporting.

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