A disgrace - of UEFA’s making.

Published: Monday, 30 May 2022

‘It’s a miracle no-one died. A fucking miracle’. Not me. Not my words, but those of my mate Jason McAteer, who was witness to the shambles that shamed UEFA in Paris.A night that ended for the McAteer family with his wife being mugged for and his son getting beaten up by a gang of feral local youths.

I was 3500 miles away in Qatar - watching pictures on BeINSPORTS. My best source of ‘true’ info was from people on the ground, who were sending me text messages. There tweets as well - from well respected reporters. These people were watching a potential disaster unfold. Jason was amongst them.

I knew instinctively what was happening. I called it on-air. As UEFA’s mealy-mouthed excuses for it all were arriving by official channels, I knew it had nothing to do with late arrivals or forged tickets. It was an organisational issue. This one was down to UEFA. I didn’t have anything to go on - other than those texts and tweets - and instinct. Racing through my mind were the dreadful stories that I’d heard about Hillsborough. I’ve heard first-hand - not read or had stories told to me. And the 97 who died. As I’ve always said -  the Hillsborough ‘victims’ were those who survived to suffer the pain.

I’m thinking ‘here we go again’. And I also knew the first people to get blamed would be Liverpool fans. After what Margaret Thatcher’s govt. (and Bernard Ingham) had done to them, they were an easy and obvious target for neutrals.

McAteer had a birds eye view of it all in Paris. I’ll get round to the scandalous attack on his wife and son shortly.

McAteer was broadcasting for LfcTV outside the stadium - on a raised platform between the two security rings. I mention that it was ‘raised’ because he was close enough to hear appeals from people caught up in the crush. Close enough to feel as though he was in that crush.

The first security ring was to check for forgeries and stop the holders of those tickets from gaining access to the second perimeter. It’s standard practice - and works well if organised properly, but that requires enough staff to do the job. From what I’ve been told there simply weren’t enough staff on duty - stewards or Police.

Liverpool fans DID NOT turn up late. Nor were they drunk. That tired narrative was used by South Yorks Police and was later proven to be false. They were at that first perimeter ring in good time. McAteer saw them - in their thousands - as he went on air two hours before the scheduled kick-off.

His view is that there were too many fans for the authorities to control - so the authorities gave up. They closed the initial ring and allowed everyone to walk to the gates at the second ring. Noooooo. We’ve heard that story before as well. And inevitably the same thing happened.

McAteer was watching - there were too many people in one place, being tunnelled into smaller spaces. They were screaming at him to do something. But what could he do?  To be in that crush must’ve been frightening. I guarantee there wasn’t one Liverpool fan who wasn’t thinking about Hillsborough. Do you know - I’m getting angry as I write.

McAteer and his colleagues came off-air - largely because they couldn’t broadcast with those scenes unfolding behind them. As people tried to climb barriers to escape the crush - others climbed into the tv compound where it was safe. Cue the usual accusation - ‘Liverpool hooligans break into tv compound’. Of course they did. It was safer there. But out came the pepper spray and tear gas. What on earth were the French Police thinking? 

At BeIN we were getting news of a delayed kick-off and the inevitable reason given was ‘late Liverpool arrivals and forged ticket carriers’. Nonsense. I said so on the night. I knew a few of my colleagues were uneasy about my conclusions but I just knew it.

McAteer was whisked into the stadium with his colleagues through a tunnel for broadcasters. He was on the phone to his wife to make sure she and his eldest son Harry were ok. At this stage they were. They were shaken by what they’d seen and been on the fringes of, but they were ok.

‘Excuse’ No.1 was quickly withdrawn by UEFA. Our information now was that they weren’t now blaming late arrivals - and they’d re-opened gate ‘Y’ to allow people with genuine tickets into the arena. McAteer believes other gates may also have been opened but he can’t be sure. My question is ‘why were they ever closed?’ It really is a miracle no-body died. He’s right there.

Post-match it got worse for the McAteer family. And I’m certain they weren’t alone. Liverpool fans were left to run the gauntlet of marauding gangs, who were waiting for them outside the arena. Gone was any sign of the Police or stewards.

Lucy and Harry were making their way back to the official LFC ‘friends and family’ coaches when they bumped into the woman who’d organised the trip. She told them the arranged meeting place had changed because the coach for their party had been bricked, so it had been moved to a safer place.

At this point a gang of five burly feral youths emerged from the dark. They ripped Lucy’s blouse open and then off - leaving her standing in her bra. They pulled her screaming into the middle of them - inflicting some of the bruising pictured. This was no ‘alleged’ attack.

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Serious injuries inflicted on Lucy McAteer as she feared she was about to be raped.

Harry waded in. Lucy said she felt her arms being twisted and burned. I guess like an old fashioned Chinese burn that we’d inflict on each other as children.

Fortunately they eventually let Lucy go and ran off. Harry noticed her watch had gone and chased after them. Daft I know, but again - instinct takes over.

Because he was on his own he inevitably took a savage beating when he caught up with them and was only saved by a group of Madrid fans, who saw a lad in a Liverpool jersey taking a beating and stepped in to stop it.

McAteer was by now taking calls from his wife - who was naturally in bits. Then Harry called - totally lost. He had no idea where the coaches were. Fortunately he’d held onto his phone in the scuffle. He pinned his dad his location and the two met up.

Heading of the attack it reminded me so much of the gauntlet Liverpool fans had to run after their triumph in Rome in 1984 - the birthplace of Heysel in my view. I’m not excusing ‘85 but, in my opinion, Liverpool fans went prepared after what had happened 12 months earlier. The Heysel disaster wasn’t planned - and there are no excuses for it - but it festered after Rome and was a year in the making. Just my view - that’s all. 

The McAteer family drama wasn’t over yet in Paris. As they boarded an official coach - not theirs but the nearest one - it had been invaded by two ‘street lads’. They were quickly identified and kicked-off. How was this happening? Where are the Police? McAteer tells me there simply weren’t any.

The drama ended at 5.00 the following morning. He’d been advised to report the attack on his wife and son - and the theft of the watch - a substantial piece. Yea - with hindsight it’s obvious. Don’t wear it to the game. But if you’re with the official party you don’t expect the events that took place.

McAteer was sent to three Police stations. The first one was shut. He gave a statement at the second - and was then sent to a third. Why? Who knows? But as any Brit who has holidayed in France knows - it does. I know - but it does.🤷‍♂️

I’m pretty sure Jason’s story won’t be an isolated incident, that others will be heard in the coming days and weeks. I’m not suggesting for a minute that everybody in red was impeccably behaved in Paris. All football fans are a handful and Liverpool’s can be especially ‘creative’. No-one would deny that. But it’s both lazy and wrong to point the finger at the majority for what happened.

There were many more Liverpool fans in Paris than had tickets. A week earlier Rangers fans had swamped Seville. They travelled despite being asked not to. Their crime was the same. They wanted to see their team play - but they weren’t allowed to. Being close was the next best thing. Liverpool were allocated less than 20,000 tickets for a stadium that held 82,000. Rangers got 9500 of 43,000 available. This is nonsense.

In Paris they had a fan park catering for 50,000. Seriously! There’s your clue UEFA. Ticket allocations for finalists are scandalously small. This has got to change. And so has the pricing strategy, which means proper fans can’t afford to buy them. The game dies without supporters. Covid taught us that surely? It’s my greatest fear for the WC In Qatar - that not enough real fans will be there.

Liverpool FC are right. There must be an independent review of what happened in Paris. Anything less will result in the decades long cover-up initiated by the Thatcher govt over Hillsborough. The last thing UEFA will want is to be found culpable. Its too easy - and wrong in my view - to point the finger at Liverpool supporters.

I’m encouraged reading the big hitters in today’s U.K. press - who all appear to have drawn the same conclusions as me. This one was down to UEFA and the French. And it must never happen again. But how many times have we said that?

I can’t end without congratulating Forest. Steve Cooper’s team will be a welcome addition to the PL. What a job Cooper has done at The City Ground. Cloughie would be proud.