Blaming Liverpool fans for the Champions League chaos is misleading
By hosting the Champions League final in Paris, Emmanuel Macron wanted to showcase France’s ability to organise major sports events in advance of the 2024 Olympic Games. But the game has since turned into a PR nightmare after the images of chaotic scenes at the Stade de France’s security gates were broadcast around the globe.
Many of the seats in the official Liverpool end of the ground remained empty 25 minutes after the scheduled start time. Kick-off was delayed twice while many Liverpool fans who held valid tickets remained stuck outside the security gates. Some Liverpool supporters were tear-gassed before and after the final whistle, while others were harassed, robbed, and beaten by “local youths” on their way to the stadium. Liverpool fans likened their ‘terrifying’ treatment in Paris to Hillsborough.
French authorities were quick to blame Liverpool fans for the chaos, with French interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, claiming that the mayhem was the result of “thousands of ticketless British fans” that tried to force their way into the stadium.
In reality, Darmanin’s statement is a misleading attempt to conceal what really unfolded in Saint-Denis. As journalist Rob Draper detailed, it was not just event’s terrible organisation and logistical failures — even if some Liverpool fans did indeed force their way in, the incidents were mostly the results of “local youths”.
“Local youths” has become a familiar PC byword in France for what the thinking class is actually referring to: minorities. Their presence was confirmed by BBC reporter Nick Parrott, who filmed groups of French Arabs and Sub-Saharan immigrants trying to force their way into the arena. This led to security closing a number of stadium gates and preventing fans with tickets from entering. Other groups of thugs were filmed storming the gates, while security forces were nowhere to be seen.
We don’t know all the facts on the ground, but the images shared by the BBC reporter certainly provide sense of who were — at least partly – to blame for the chaos. Anyone familiar with the sociology of the Seine-Saint-Denis, where the Stade de France is located, knows that this borough is a hotbed of crime and poverty, so much so that football legend Thierry Henry advised a rather clueless journalist from CBS Sports to never set foot there.
In 2001, dozens of young Algerian and black supporters invaded the Stade de France pitch during a friendly game between France and Algeria, forcing the game to be abandoned. More recently, 289 people were arrested in France following Algeria’s qualification for the final of the Africa Cup of Nations. Riots erupted in cities across France, with dozens of torched cars and injuries. Now, the relationship between France and the children of (North) African immigrants is so tense that it has become virtually impossible to organise any kind of sporting event related to one of France’s former colonies.
French authorities have developed a schizophrenic attitude towards this kind of crime and violence. On the one hand, they have vowed to be tough on crime but on the other hand, they quickly dismiss any claim that violence is on the rise in France. Minister of Justice, Éric Dupond-Moretti recently declared that the “feeling of insecurity” pervading France was a “fantasy” fuelled by “certain media” and even “Covid”.
Unfortunately, this is an all-too typical response from the French political class, in which incidents like Saint-Denis are either ignored or downplayed. As much as the French authorities may try to blame English fans for the chaos in Saint Denis, the sad reality is that France’s minorities were a likely component in the events that unfolded.