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A blight on football: the events at the Champions League final in Saint-Denis


Thierry Henry warned viewers about it on English TV just days before the Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid: “The final is in Saint-Denis, not Paris. Trust me, you don’t want to be in Saint-Denis”, for which he was highly criticised in France. But he’s right: Saint-Denis isn’t Paris, but a nearby commune with an illustrious past, where the Kings of France are buried. And they built a major stadium there. Which didn’t seem to be a bad idea, on the route between Paris and Charles de Gaulle airport. But over the years it’s become a ‘banlieue’, one where no Parisian would venture at night. One of the kind of areas now common across France and which help explain why Marine Le Pen reached the second round of the recent elections.

On the evening of the Champions League final mobs of young thugs went on the hunt for foreigners, harassing the fans before and after the match to mug and rob them. They also tried to sneak into the match. Added to that was the well-known antisocial behaviour of some of the Liverpool fans. There was a stark contrast that when Dalglish and Rush were laying flowers on a tribute to the Heysel disaster, outside the Stade de France things were on the point of another football catastrophe as fans pushed to try and get past the resistance of the security personnel. Several thousand turned up without tickets or with fake tickets, causing a huge amount of confusion

All this with the security for the game geared to the current economy: few people, poorly trained and badly paid, unable to cope with what they were facing. Add to that a day with a train strike and a stadium right by a motorway, making access and fan control difficult. The generally decent behaviour of the Real Madrid fans meant the incidents on their side of the stadium were limited to muggings and robbing by the neighbourhood hoodlums out to make a killing, but on Liverpool’s side there was a near tragedy, caused by the penchant for hooliganism. A blight on football for which England and France are blaming each other instead of seriously examining their own responsibilities.


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