“Never again will I entrust my safety to UEFA” - first-hand account of the 2022 Champions League Final
Posted on 08 November 2022
On 28th May 2022, hundreds of Liverpool FC fans faced every supporter’s nightmare as they were herded, indiscriminately tear gassed, and crushed against barriers and turnstiles which remained closed. In this blog, Liverpool FC supporter and Leigh Day partner Steven Dickens describes the horrors he faced that day.
I can’t tell you how lucky I am.
As a football fan, getting to watch your team in a European Cup Final is something that you should feel very lucky to ever get to do. In Paris, in 2022, I did it for the fourth time. I was lucky to get a ticket, I was lucky my team were good enough to reach the final. I felt very privileged.
I was brought up in Liverpool in the 1970s and 1980s, a season ticket holder on the standing kop. I’ve been to Barnsley away. I am not green in terms of attending football matches. I have probably attended a thousand football matches across four decades in England, Europe and further afield.
What I could never imagine is that the UEFA Champions League Final, held in a European capital city, in a large modern stadium, could descend into the most dangerous football match I have ever attended.
On arrival in Paris there was a sense of optimism and excitement. But when we got the RER train to central Paris things started to look less rosy. Firstly, the RER trains were being disrupted by a strike. Secondly, we witnessed a woman have her bag snatched by five young people. For us, this meant two things; be careful and get to the ground early.
We asked some helpful staff at Chatelet les Halles the best route to take. Following that advice, we somehow boarded a train that didn’t stop at the station where most fans were being routed from.
Were you at the May 2022 Champions League final?
When we arrived at Stade de France - St Denis RER station, we made our way down a wide boulevard following signs to the stadium. Looking around me, the people walking up this boulevard were not the people that I expected to see. They were not Liverpudlians, they were locals in significant numbers.
As is now clear, most people were being sent another way, turning left alongside a motorway, to a pinch point where they would be crushed, awaiting a ticket checkpoint, that would ultimately fail, after an interminable wait.
When we got to a ticket checkpoint, an hour and a half before kick-off, locals who were not matchgoers were barging through, going up embankments or past security staff who had no method of stopping them. We were processed into what should have been an inner cordon, but there were clearly many others in that area who should not have been.
When we got to our appointed gate, Gate Z, we were greeted with long lines of Liverpool fans trying to access turnstiles that were closed. We stood at the back of the queue and stayed in it for over an hour. As the number of fans behind us built up it became uncomfortable. Fans were patient. There was concern, but also optimism that this couldn’t carry on much longer. As the pressure behind grew, we decided that it was wise to escape the crush so climbed over the fences put in place to organise a queuing system. After we’d left the queue, we could see those barriers were under pressure. It was lucky they didn’t collapse.
Having come to the back of the external concourse, the view was of a mass of people that had grown ten-fold since we arrived. At this time, the turnstiles still hadn’t opened at Gate Z. Fans who had gained entry, and were sat in a visibly empty section of the stadium, came out to see where everyone else was.
We were told that the turnstiles at Gate Y were open. We chose to join this queue rather than our appointed gate which was still closed. The throng was huge. Of the ten gates at turnstile Y, one was open. Kick off was in fifteen minutes.
Tensions were rising and the crush tightened. What was now immediately apparent was that, for all the patience and orderly conduct of the Liverpool fans, there was a steady stream of locals coming round the queue to try and gain access. A lot of them were waving QR codes on phones. Those accessing the section housing the Liverpool fans had bought their paper tickets from LFC. The digital QR codes were primarily sold by UEFA for other sections.
The kick-off time passed. We were told by fellow fans shouting at us through a chainmail fence that it was delayed. Well, it had to be. Everyone was still outside. We were told that a message had been displayed on a screen inside the ground blaming the delay on the late arrival of fans. At this stage we had been queuing for over 90 minutes at turnstiles that were almost entirely closed.
To add injury to insult, large throngs of fans were then indiscriminately tear gassed by the French police. As the gas was fired at us from behind turnstiles that were trying to access, having paid hundreds of pounds to attend a football match that had now started, I first noticed it hitting other people. It came in waves. People began covering their faces, coughing and spluttering.
We were also being crushed as we approached the pinch point of the one open turnstile. In front of me was a distressed girl in her 20s. Myself and other fans talked to her to keep her calm. “It will be ok” I said while wondering if it actually would be.
Behind the turnstiles were large gatherings of heavily armed French police that had arrived at the turnstiles after the kick off delay. On one hip they had a large canister of tear gas, on the other they had a sub machine gun. I didn’t want to think of what might happen if they decided to stop using the tear gas and turn to the alternative.
Eventually, at about 10pm French time, nearly an hour after the scheduled kick off time, and over two hours after we had arrived past the ticket cordon at the stadium, I squeezed into the iron gate, presented my ticket at a QR scanner and walked through a turnstile. I was greeted by furious and angry officials and heavily armed police.
When I eventually found my seat, I’d missed almost a third of the football match. To be honest with you I didn’t care. I was in no mood to watch it. I can remember very little of what I witnessed inside. What happened outside was too traumatic.
Liverpool lost. My instinct was to get out of St Denis as soon as possible. As we walked back past La Plaine RER station the tear gas was already back in the air. Local young people circulated, indiscriminately attacking people. The plethora of police that had stood in front of the Liverpool fans at full time were nowhere to be seen to protect us as we left.
As the RER train we had been lucky to get on left the station, we witnessed running battles in the street as local people tried to storm the train from the platform.
The next day I repeatedly said the same thing over and over. Never again. Never again will I entrust my safety to UEFA.
It is entirely predictable that UEFA sought to shift blame immediately. It must have been the supporters. It just must have been. Well as an eyewitness I can attest that it was not. The behaviour of fans averted greater numbers of injuries and possibly worse. There is a wealth of evidence, filmed, and photographed in real time, showing what really happened.
At no other leisure occasion, let alone one where it’s customers were asked to part with hundreds of pounds in admission fees and often thousands in terms of travel and accommodation, would those customers be treated with such contempt.
As well as being a lifelong Liverpool FC fan I have also been a personal injury solicitor for 20 years and after a few days trying to process what had happened it was clear to me that UEFA needed to be held to account. I spoke to some of my fellow partners at Leigh Day, Clare Campbell and Jill Paterson, and they wholeheartedly agreed with me and began looking into it straight away. They have now been contacted by over 500 of my fellow fans who also want some accountability for they way they were treated. It’s time to stand up, together, and say to UEFA enough is enough.
Were you at the May 2022 Champions League final?
Read more about the claim
Stade de France group claim
We are investigating a group claim legal action on behalf of Liverpool FC fans, and others, who attended the UEFA Champions League final at the Stade de France in Paris on 28 May 2022