PARIS – A logjam of fans that led to a 35-minute delay of the start of Saturday’s Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool was caused by people attempting to use “fake tickets” to enter the match, the tournament’s organizer said.
The problems with crowd control and access – which appeared to result from organizational failures rather than crowd misbehavior – saw thousands of fans, many of them Liverpool supporters with valid tickets, trapped in lines for hours, with few gates available for entry and a shortage of staff members on the ground.
The confusion left fans locked out of their team’s biggest game of the season, and created a potentially dangerous situation in which French police officers, wearing helmets and carrying shields, used canisters of what UEFA, which runs the Champions League, said was tear gas to keep the surging crowds at bay.
“In the lead-up to the game, the turnstiles at the Liverpool end became blocked by thousands of fans who had purchased fake tickets which did not work in the turnstiles,” UEFA said in its statement. “This created a buildup of fans trying to get in. As a result, the kickoff was delayed by 35 minutes to allow as many fans as possible with genuine tickets to gain access. ”
The statement went on, “As numbers outside the stadium continued to build up after kickoff, the police dispersed them with tear gas and forced them away from the stadium.”
In the chaos, fans pleaded with stadium stewards to be allowed in, pressing their tickets through the iron gates, and many were left coughing and gasping for breath on the sidewalks outside the Stade de France, a modern arena built for the 1998 World Cup.
Other fans looked for alternate ways in, climbing fences and locked gates. One group of VIPs, delayed because of a problem scanning the QR codes attached to their tickets, scaled a fence in an effort to get to their seats. Once over it, one of the officials said, they watched as the police fought with spectators still outside.
Inside the stadium, where the teams had completed their warm-ups, two 15-minute delays were announced. But even before the crowds outside had dispersed, UEFA went ahead, incongruously, with an elaborate pregame ceremony starring the singer Camila Cabello. Once she finished, the teams took the field and traded handshakes, and the final began.
Police officers stationed at the entrances to the stadium pinned much of the blame for the chaos on the local population of the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, where the stadium is located, saying it was not fans wearing the colors of the competing teams but those dressed in what they described as “civilian clothing” who had tried to enter the stadium without tickets.
But France’s interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, repeated UEFA’s version of events in a Twitter post. “Thousands of British‘ supporters ’without tickets or with counterfeit tickets forced entry and sometimes assaulted the stewards,” he wrote. “Thank you to the very many police forces mobilized this evening in this difficult context.”
Fans blamed a lack of organization, saying several entrance gates were closed, forcing those attending the game to funnel into long lines that developed into a crush of bodies as kickoff time neared.
UEFA officials initially seemed to lay the blame for the problems on “late-arriving fans,” even though huge crowds had been stuck at the gates for hours before the scheduled kickoff.
Tommy Smith, a Liverpool fan who had traveled to Paris from Ireland with a group of friends and family, said his group had arrived two hours before the scheduled kickoff and found that there were few entrances where fans could present their tickets. “They closed every turnstile Liverpool-related,” Smith said. “Fans waited two hours, orderly, nothing out of order, and we were tear-gassed.” He said there was little information or direction from stadium staff.
Liverpool released a statement during the game in which it said the club was “hugely disappointed at the stadium entry issues and breakdown of the security perimeter that Liverpool fans faced.” The team said it had requested a formal investigation into the events.
Ronan Evan, the executive director of Football Supporters Europe, an umbrella group for fans, told The New York Times that the fans were blameless.
“Fans at the Champions League final bear bear no responsibility for tonight’s fiasco,” he said. “They are victims here.”
By halftime, a UEFA security official said, the Stade de France had been locked down, with all entrances and exits closed, while the police were still deploying tear gas outside the stadium concourses.
“For now it’s a safer for you inside than outside,” the UEFA official told an Australian executive looking to leave the stadium at halftime. The security official said that “it was a police decision” to close entry and exit points.
In its statement after the game, UEFA said it would investigate the causes of the crowd problems, which came almost a year after surging crowds of ticketless fans attending the European Championship at Wembley Stadium, in London, overwhelmed stewards to gain access to the final of that tournament. The tournament was also a UEFA event.
“UEFA is sympathetic to those affected by these events,” the organization said, “and will further review these matters urgently together with the French police and authorities, and with the French Football Federation.”