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 had as of Wednesday not provided details of the source of his estimate.
Darmanin and France’s sports minister, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, who has made similar claims about fake tickets, have faced growing criticism over the handling of the game. France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, on Wednesday called for “full transparency” in an investigation of the match-day scenes and their causes. At an appearance in front of a committee of the French senate later Wednesday, Darmanin admitted, “Clearly things could have been better organized.”
“It is evident,” he added, “that this celebration of sport was ruined.”
In what became a testy appearance in front of the committee, Darmanin and Oudéa-Castéra came under sustained pressure over the organizational failures. In response, they largely repeated the language that has enraged Liverpool, its fans and members of the British government.
At one point, Oudéa-Castéra told lawmakers that Liverpool supporters carried a “very specific risk” in the view of the French authorities, without elaborating what she meant.
Darmanin, meanwhile, insisted the counterfeit ticket numbers were of an unprecedented scale, claiming at one point there were so many that stadium security guards thought their tools to validate them were faulty.
The hearing lasted longer than an hour, ending with little clarity and a doubling down by the officials on their previous claims, again without evidence to support their conclusions.
That prompted one lawmaker to ask: “Since Saturday, we have blamed Liverpool fans and the club, striking workers and locals for the chaos. What allows you to make these statements without a thorough investigation? ”
Not all attendees had the same experience at the final. 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.
Those holding tickets without the two security features were to be denied access by stewards at an initial checkpoint far from the stadium’s bar code readers. But 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 happened at the stadium 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 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 fake tickets doesn’t 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.
Amando Sánchez, 51, 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 entrance gates. Another brother, Sanchez 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,” Sanchez said in an interview Wednesday.