Liverpool Metro Mayor blasts Paris final untruths and says police were looking for trouble
Steve Rotheram launched an impassioned defence of Liverpool fans at the French Senate investigation.
Liverpool Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram has told the French Senate’s investigation into the chaotic scenes surrounding the Champions League final at the Stade de France that he witnessed riot police seeking out trouble.
Mr Rotheram, who was robbed outside the stadium ahead of the Paris final on May 28, also said senior French officials concocted ‘misleading’ and ‘spurious claims’ against Liverpool fans to try and escape blame.
French Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin publicly blamed Liverpool fans for the problems in the aftermath and suggested the issues were created by fans with 40,000 fake tickets.
Mr Rotheram dismissed those claims as laughable and ‘just not true’, adding: “I think some of the rudimentary methodology for calculating this accusation of fake tickets appears to have taken place on the back of a cigarette packet.”
The Metro Mayor was invited to give his testimony to the French Senate as an elected British politician and as a Liverpool fan who was in Paris for the match and witnessed the scenes first hand.
He told the Senate that the chaos was created by poor policing and poor organisation.
“I saw some police - running aimlessly to be honest - looking for trouble and not being able to find any and regrouping and cracking a few people with batons drawn.
“But there was no trouble.”
Mr Rotheram said it was the behaviour of the fans themselves that prevented things spiralling dangerously out of control.
He said: “That poor planning, that lack of organisation and that breakdown of communication - that was only countered by the exemplary behaviour of the Liverpool fans, who stepped in and self stewarded the approaches to the stadium.
“The accusation that tear gas or pepper spray can be used to regain order is laughable also. It’s not a way of regaining public order, it’s a way of dispersing people into all directions and those people could have been seriously injured.
“There was no control and an absolute breakdown of policing.”
Earlier in the day, the official in charge of policing, Didier Lallement, conceded the operation was a "failure" and appeared to back-track on previous claims that the majority of the problems were caused by ticketless fans.
Mr Rotherham told the Senate that he was too distraught to take up his seat in the stadium for the final after the trauma of trying to get into the stadium and instead watched the events unfolding outside.
Here is what the Metro Mayor told the Senate on the key issues:
40,000 fake ticket claim ‘just not true’
If it wasn’t so serious I would genuinely laugh at the figure.
For the Minister Darmanin to put out a false narrative of up to 40,000 fraudulent tickets I think does disservice to the French Government but is also a deflection tactic that Liverpool fans have seen many times - most of all in the aftermath of what happened at the Hillsborough stadium where 97 liverpool fans were unlawfully killed.
I’d like to see the evidence of where these supposed 40,000 people melted away to.
Did the Metro system see a huge surge of fans leaving the area in a short space of time around kick-off? That would be interesting.
I think some of the rudimentary methodology for calculating this accusation of fake tickets appears to have taken place on the back of a cigarette packet.
Paper ticket issue ‘a red herring’
If there was a problem with paper tickets, why would Liverpool FC been given the option of paper tickets and an electronic version? There is obviously a precedent where paper tickets are allowed and that is why I don’t really understand the question.
If, as we know now, that Real Madrid fans using electronic tickets had problems in trying to get into the stadium because the scanner there didn’t work just the same as they didn’t work at the Liverpool end then would it have been even more chaotic.
The real issue is the use of the ‘paper ticket’ issue to create a false narrative.
This whole issue is being used as a red herring to scapegoat Liverpool fans.
The policing and organisational breakdown was not due to tickets or to spurious claims about ticketless fans; it was in the immediate exit from the Metro station that things started to turn sour.
Dream turned to nightmare at Stade de France
Parisians were overwhelmingly welcoming to us. But when I got off the Metro system heading towards the Stade de France there was a sea change in the atmosphere.
A dream day turned into a nightmare.
The day itself and the build up to the game was fantastic. The organisation around the stadium and the breakdown of policing very quickly turned those really positive memories into negative ones [on the approach to the stadium] a line of Gendarme with batons drawn instructed fans to clamber over a 1m pedestrian fence.
It was while people were getting over, because you had to release your hands from your personal goods and use the rial to climb over, that some of the instances of pickpocketing happened, and that was what personally happened to me.
I was helped by some police to get to the stadium to get a replacement ticket and that’s what happened in my instance.
First of all I will take the testimony of Minister Damien. Who said he expected trouble and expected hooligans.
It seems that this was a tone that also determined the approach by the police to the game. And probably caused some of those issues at the game that we have seen.
I saw some police, running aimlessly to be honest, looking for trouble and not being able to find any and regrouping and cracking a few people with batons drawn.
But there was no trouble.
If there are these large outbreaks of trouble where you would need riot police then they would have those images.
I travelled to France with the UK’s top police officer and he said to me that in 37 years of front line policing he had never seen such poor policing and a breakdown of police order.
‘Blame game’ started immediately
It seems the blame game started almost immediately with the screens showing apparently the delay [to kick-off] was due to the late arrival of fans. Well if getting there three hours before kick-off is a late arrival then I don’t know how soon football authorities expect people to get to games.
And then it shifted straight away when that was deemed to be untrue because the evidence contradicted that assertion, then it was on to ticketless fans.
It’s another page out of the Hillsborough playbook. That’s why I think there was such a backlash to Monsieur Darmanin’s claims. And there is no evidence of these 40,000 ticketless fans.
I believe Monsieur Darmanin has tried to mislead. Not only the French public but the world media.
I’m from a country where I am no stranger to senior politicians who are economical with the truth. We have a Prime Minister who at times is a stranger to the truth, but that should not excuse French authorities from a concerted campaign to deflect blame and to look for scapegoats. And Liverpool fans appeared to be a convenient excuse for the tactics that were deployed.
Ticketless fans in Paris
People were encouraged to go to our nearest European neighbour. But people travelled to Paris without any intention of trying to get inside the Stade de France. They went to enjoy the atmosphere. There was a fantastic football fan park that was put on with tens of thousands of Liverpool fans very well behaved.
Those fans who weren’t going to travel to the stadium, they stayed around and watched on big screens. If the French authorities didn’t want those fans to travel then those questions weren’t asked at the time.
I think it is perfectly legitimate for anyone to go over and enjoy an atmosphere. You want France to be welcoming to visitors and that’s what those people were - they were tourists, if you like.
They went there for a few days to enjoy the hospitality of the French people.
This is being used in some instances to portray Liverpool fans who went over without tickets as somehow en masse trying to get into the stadium. That’s just patently untrue.