One of the main claims pushed by French officials to explain the chaotic crowd scenes that created a dangerous crush of fans outside last weekend’s Champions League final near Paris has been that tens of thousands of people arrived at the match bearing fake tickets.
France’s interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, has claimed as many as 70 percent of tickets presented at the Stade de France in St.-Denis were fake. He told a news conference Monday that the “root cause” of the chaos was roughly 30,000 to 40,000 English fans bearing counterfeit tickets — or no tickets — who jammed the entrances.
But according to official numbers reviewed by The New York Times, the exact number of fake tickets intercepted by stewards manning the entrance gates was far lower: 2,589, to be exact.
That figure is almost three times the usual number of forgeries at the Champions League final, a game widely considered to be European soccer’s equivalent of the Super Bowl, but significantly lower than the figure used by Darmanin, who has to date not provided details of the source of his estimate.
Darminin and France’s sports minister, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, who has made similar claims about fake tickets, were expected to provide further details about the match-day scenes and their causes Wednesday at an appearance in front of a committee of the French senate.
While most of Real Madrid’s fans arrived with electronic tickets, Liverpool requested paper ones for its official allocation of 23,000 tickets. Those tickets came embedded with two main security features: one that needed to be confirmed with a chemical pen and a second that was a laser engraving of the Champions League trophy. Tickets without those were to be denied access by stewards at an initial checkpoint far from the stadium’s bar code readers. That system collapsed under a deluge of fans. To relieve the growing crush of people, officials abandoned those first checks and allowed the crowds to move closer to the stadium.
The debacle has led to chorus of criticism of the security at the match, in which Real Madrid defeated Liverpool, 1-0, to claim its record 14th European title. Liverpool police who attended in supporting roles labeled the situation outside the gates “shocking.” The club, its fans and a European supporters group all called for investigations even as the game was underway. And in the days since, British government officials have demanded answers from their French counterparts and European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, for the treatment of thousands of Liverpool supporters.
Supporters faced multiple issues, including dangerous crushes, after being corralled into narrow spaces, and the final was delayed more than 30 minutes as the French riot police used tear gas and pepper spray on fans after appearing to lose control of the situation. At the same time, hundreds of local youths tried to force their way into the stadium, either through the turnstiles or by climbing over security fences. Officials estimated as many as 4,000 ticketless people may have succeeded.
Part of the explanation into why Liverpool supporters found themselves trapped in such a small space has now turned to transportation problems on the day of the game, including a strike by workers that affected one of the major rail links to the stadium.
UEFA and local officials have compared travel data from Saturday’s game to figures from the French Cup final held at the Stade de France on May 7. They found that one of the stations closest to the Stade de France had four times as many fans travel through its gates Saturday than had used the station during the French Cup final. That, they believe, contributed to the dangerous bottleneck of supporters.
It may be months before a complete picture of what occurred in St.-Denis emerges. On Tuesday, UEFA, reeling from chaotic scenes at last year’s European Championship final in London as well as the recent Europa League final in Seville, Spain, appointed a former education minister of Portugal, Tiago Brandão Rodrigues, to lead an independent inquiry into the failures around the Champions League final.
“The comprehensive review will examine decision making, responsibility and behaviors of all entities involved in the final,” UEFA said.
The claims made by the French government’s representatives, though, continue to infuriate Liverpool and its ownership. The club’s chairman, Tom Werner, said as much in a caustic letter to Oudéa-Castéra, the French sports minister.
He wrote, he said, “out of utter disbelief that a minister of the French government, a position of enormous responsibility and influence, could make a series of unproven pronouncements on a matter of such significance before a proper, formal, independent investigation process has even taken place.”
He decried the “loose data and unverified assertions” presented to reporters Monday before an investigation had taken place.
“The fact that your public position went against this objective is a concern in itself,” he added. “That you did so without any recourse to ourselves or our supporters is an even greater one. All voices should count in this process, and they should count equally and fairly.”
As well as assailing Oudéa-Castéra for her claims, Werner also demanded a public apology. By late Tuesday, Oudéa-Castéra’s tone — though not her claims about fake tickets — had changed.
“The issue of the false tickets does not change this: Liverpool is one of the greatest clubs ever,” she wrote on Twitter. “And on Saturday there were supporters with valid tickets that spent a terrible evening or were not able to watch the game. We are sorry for that.”
Liverpool continues to be inundated with video evidence shot on cellphones by its supporters. The images, many of which have also been uploaded to social media, are sometimes harrowing, showing children and older fans dealing with the effects of tear gas fired — sometimes indiscriminately — by the riot police.
Fans of Real Madrid faced similar problems on their side of the stadium. Since the final, several supporters have come forward to say they were attacked or robbed on their way in and out of the stadium.
Armando Sánchez, who traveled to Paris in a group of 14, mainly family members, said his 87-year-old father and an older brother missed the game as a result of chaos at the entry gates. Another brother, Sánchez said, fought off an effort to steal his ticket as he prepared to present it at a stadium turnstile.
“Really no one was in charge,” Sánchez said in an interview Wednesday.