Athens, Greece - Wednesday, May 23, 2007: Liverpool's fans before the UEFA Champions League Final against AC Milan at the OACA Spyro Louis Olympic Stadium. (Pic byDavid Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Misery and Madness of Athens

It’s been a long time since I wrote an article for This is Anfield, but sometimes a story just has to be told.

After the miracle of Istanbul, I vowed (having been there to live the experience) that I would never miss another European Cup final.

The title of this article does not refer to the result of the game. In fact, I’m not even going to mention the game. It refers to the gross incompetence of UEFA, the Greek authorities, and violent, baton-wielding, machine-gun-armed Greek police. But let me start at the beginning..

This time, I took the missus. It was her dream to go to Greece after seeing some cheesy film starring Darryl Hannah in the 80s. A seven-night party with 50,000 scousers appealed to her sense of adventure too!

So, we set off by missing the plane from Los Angeles to New York. We’d decided our holiday had begun the night before the flight, drank till 1am, and failed to hear the 4am alarm to set us on our way. Without going into the gory details, 24 hours later having battled the idiots at American Airlines for a spot on one of their planes (after all, we’d only spent $1600 each on the air fare) and we were on stand-by on an overbooked flight to Athens. Miraculously, we got seats, and after forking out another $300 in change fees, we were finally on our way.

(note: after the treatment we received, I will NEVER fly American Airlines again.)

All went well for a couple of days, including meeting a mate of mine from the footy team I used to play for in Toronto, Canada’¦ the famous Mark Hodder! He was literally the second person we bumped into in Syntagma Square upon our arrival.

The hotel we had was great’¦ unfortunately it was only for one night, and we had absolutely nowhere to stay on the Tuesday or Wednesday. Nor, it’s important to note, did we have match tickets. If you thought getting them in Liverpool was bad, try it from California. I tried Ebay (which allows footy ticket sales in the US) but had only scam artists trying to get me to send them a few grand in Western Union money. No chance!!

So, then our luck changed! Due to my wife’s red LFC mini-dress, we were approached by a reporter for GMTV. Just like in Istanbul, I somehow ended up live on GMTV before the European Cup Final! They picked us up in a taxi, and put us on live with the Parthenon as a backdrop. Not only that, but the reporter called his contacts back in London, who promptly found us a hotel for both Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Things were most definitely looking up!! Even better news, he assured me that 6,000 tickets had been returned by Milan, and would be going on sale at the Olympic stadium the next day ‘“ the day of the match.

Match Day – where it all went wrong

Athens, Greece - Wednesday, May 23, 2007: Liverpool's fans with banners before the UEFA Champions League Final at the OACA Spyro Louis Olympic Stadium. (Pic by Jason Roberts/Propaganda)

Off I went to the subway at 8am and made my way to queue at the box office. I got there at around 9am and was thrilled to see a crowd already forming’¦ surely this meant it was true! Being about 30th in line, I took the opportunity to go and ask a UEFA official (badge, uniform, attitude) if there really were tickets going on sale. He told me, yes, at 11:30am. So gleefully I went to queue for two and a half hours and inform the others in the queue of the good news. Mine was rumour number three. Others had heard 10am and others still, 12 noon. However, the rumour of tickets seemed valid. By 11:15am there were several hundred in the snaking queue. The riot shielded police and UEFA officials seemed very happy to let us wait’¦. and wait and wait’¦.. noon came and went. A Greek lad in the queue phoned someone he knew from UEFA inside the ground, and again we were assured that tickets were forthcoming. At 12:45pm ‘“ after almost 5 hours of queuing for some people, a fat lady with a posh English accent and black roly poly dress came out and categorically assured us ‘œthere would be no tickets going on sale today.’ No one chose to believe her’¦ except me. I went to find out who she was, and discovered she was the Liverpool FC ticket manager. That was enough’¦ off I went back to the cheezy hotel, my hopes dashed.

By pure fluke, I met the lad who had been next to me in the ticket queue in the city centre 3 hours later. He’d chosen to hang on until 2pm when it was finally confirmed’¦ no tickets. So why did the tossers allow us to queue for hours, give us misinformation and false hope??? They bloody knew all along!

So, off around the city it was, desperately looking for tickets ‘“ and we were willing to pay decent money. The first two offers were for forgeries at 200-300 Euros each. Nope’¦. Absolutely, categorically didn’t want to deal with forgeries. Not interested. At least the lads selling them admitted they were forgeries. Some semblance of ethics I suppose..???

So, we finally caught up with a Greek and a Frenchman who ‘˜guaranteed’ real tickets for 500 pounds each. We went along with them, they produced the tickets, we inspected them. Everything looked great, the tickets looked professional and legitimate, and we handed over the dosh. It was expensive, but what the hell, we were in!!

Then I miraculously bumped into the lads I used to go to Anfield with every week who had only got tickets a couple of days earlier. Things were looking up again! The sun was shining, we had tickets, I was with me mates!

So, after another cracking sing-song in Syntagma square, off we went on the train to the stadium. Feeling very relaxed, we approached the line of riot-shielded police. It was 9:10pm.

We showed our tickets and with no problem at all, they moved aside to allow us passage. Twenty yards later, we calmly and innocently showed our tickets to the first line of security, who scanned them with ultraviolet.

Before we even knew what had hit us, the security guard had ripped the tickets to shreds and ordered us out of the complex.

We had unknowingly purchased forgeries!!!!

We were absolutely gobsmacked, because we’d tried every conceivable way NOT to purchase forged tickets, and here we were, not even through the first line of security, and ticketless.

‘œCome on, let’s go and watch it in the pub,’ said my stunned and desperately disappointed wife. ‘œNo, this can’t be it,’ I said and refused to leave. Something had to be done. We’d tried our best to play it all by the book.

While trying to think what the hell to do, a lovely, angry, nasty-bastard Greek policeman with a machine gun screamed at us about our tickets. As we tried to explain, he pushed me back towards the riot police with the barrel of his gun, screaming for us to ‘œget out, now!’

But we couldn’t get out. Just at that moment, it had been announced over a tannoy (I didn’t actually hear it, but have it on good authority) that the stadium was full and no one else was being allowed in. The reason we couldn’t get out, is because furious fans who had recently arrived by train (I’m guessing 2000 were still on the other side of the police line,) were being refused access, regardless of the legitimacy of their ticket. As they tried to crush their way in, there was no possible way out for us.

So, with machine-gun happy wanker now trying to stop legitimate fans getting in instead of threatening us, we used the chance to make our way back to the first security line. My wife (much, much prettier than me!) begged some pervy looking Greek security old fart to let us through. At the same time, a lovely girl we just met called Hannah Edwards broke down in tears as she was in the same situation as us! After hearing our story, and the girls crying and pleading, amazingly, he allowed the three of us through! The power of pretty girls on old men huh?

We were in!….. Surely!!

Excited, we started running towards the stadium which was still a good 300-400 yards away. We couldn’t believe our good fortune! But as we did so, something surreal happened. As we got to within 100-200 yards from the stadium, suddenly, there was a cavalry charge of Liverpool fans’¦ but they were running TOWARDS us and AWAY from the stadium! It was then it hit us’¦. the tear gas that is.

We got the least of it, but it was still bloody nasty. Grown men fell to their knees unable to breathe. One little lad was crying his eyes out as his dad ran for cover with his son in his arms. The little guy’s face was streaming tears and water from the effect of the tear gas. They gassed us all. Dads, mums, grannies, kids, everyone! The crime? Attempting to enter a football match ‘“ and in my estimation, around 80% of those gassed (as we were the last who got in so security was catching more of the fake tickets as the crowd was much sparser than earlier) had legitimate tickets.

The reason was as before. The stadium was full. Once again, I estimate 2000 fans were refused entry, meaning around 4000 Liverpool fans in total were simply not getting in. Even by a very conservative estimate, I’m guessing that 3000 people paid legitimately to watch a game, bought their flights, hotels etc. and along with their families and friends were refused entry and tear-gassed for their trouble.

Absolute shambles UEFA and it is YOU who is at fault and responsible.

By now, we were incensed and outraged, and to be perfectly blunt, our mindset was ‘œthese bastards are not gonna do this to us and win.’ This is not something, in retrospect, that I am proud of, but you had to be in the midst of this to understand. I don’t condone forged tickets, I don’t condone violence of any kind, but I also don’t condone being the innocent victim of those supposed to be upholding the law either. The security guard who let us in KNEW we had no ticket because we’d explained it to him. We didn’t purposely try to con our way in with a known forgery. We also didn’t know we were entering a battleground. The crushing was terrible, riot police were using their batons ‘“ thankfully not their machine guns. Irate fans were ducking under the police vans, trying to climb around them, and running up staircases where more riot police met them to engage in further battle.

Wishing to play no part in battling armed police, I looked around to see if there were any options. There was a similar staircase about 200 yards back and we sensed a possible opportunity, away from the chaos. We ran back to the staircase, away from the stadium, where there was only a smattering of fans, and along with around 30 others, vaulted the make shift security gate and up the staircase we went. We had no idea where it would lead us! It lead us along a deserted passageway where we ran like the blazes knowing that it was at least heading in the right direction of the game.

It ended at another security fence, but this one happened to be the one final step from being actually in the ground’¦. Riot police were everywhere, but ‘˜occupied’ by irate fans with legitimate tickets trying to gain access. We made our way through the fence, my wife 3 people ahead of me, and ‘“ being a girl ‘“ she of course waltzed straight past the police line and into the ground!!

I was not so fortunate. A riot-police officer had spotted me and I had another gun stuck in my chest. He yelled and screamed with the same insane anger as the first one. I desperately explained to him that I was with my wife who was in the stadium on the other side of the fence. Police then held us both by the arms screaming at us ‘œwhere are your tickets?’ and threatening us with guns.

Then, something very surreal happened! Out of the chaos came some old extinguished gentleman in a black suit with large decorated shiny buttons. (I swear this is true!) He looked like a member of the royal family when they’re all dolled-up for some official public showboating. He asked me what was going on, I explained that my wife was inside, we’d been tear gassed, we’d lost our tickets in the chaos and we didn’t know what the hell to do! He motioned to the police to move aside, and ‘“ amazingly – escorted me in. He then brought over the chief of police, a woman, who wanted to know our story. We repeated it, my wife trembling with exhaustion, terror, fear, nerves and tear gas ‘“ she’s American ‘“ she’s never experienced ANYTHING like this. The policewoman told my wife to relax, calmed her down, talked in Greek to the President of Greece look-alike, and’¦ you’ve guessed it’¦ they let us in the bloody ground!

Yes, we were in! Inside, there were three fans to every two seats. It was standing room only. Every aisle and walkway were full of fans because there was nowhere else they could fit. The back of the stadium, where fans were trying to gain access, was absolutely chocker ‘“ unsafely so. It has to be said though, the fans were great ‘“ no one was crushing or pushing. Everyone knew better. It was all very respectful and peaceful. Up near the front, we finally had some room and breathing space. As the tear gas wore off, we could actually breath too.

Once the nervous energy and shock of what we had just witnessed and been subjected to had worn off, we settled down to do the only thing we came for.
We watched the game.

My message to UEFA

The fans are the lifeblood of this game. You have a RESPONSIBILITY to hold the world’s biggest club sporting event at stadiums that can handle such an occasion, with effective organisation, policing and security practices.

This was a total and utter shambles, and you are very, very lucky that there was not another Hillsborough type disaster.

Let me try to make it easy for you, seeing as you don’t seem to be smart enough to figure it out for yourselves:

1. Use modern technology to produce tickets that are virtually counterfeit-proof. It’s done with currency and security IDs. It can be done with tickets.
2. Use bloody turnstiles with EVERY ticket being scanned manually or better still having to go through an electronic scanner just as aeroplane tickets do. Having a 15 foot wide gate with two old farts with a scanner each is an absolute joke. Those with known forgeries simply waltzed through while those with ‘˜real’ tickets distracted them by getting theirs scanned. As far as I could tell, the initial UV scan was the only one. Once past that with a forged ticket, you were in! HAVE A SECOND CHECK WITH A SECOND TURNSTILE just in case the first scan somehow gets by-passed.
3. Use stadiums capable of holding 90-100,000 fans ALWAYS, and allocate 40,000 to each team. That still leaves 20,000 for your precious corporate sponsors.
4. Stop that stupid lottery. It’s a tout’s paradise. Who legitimately buys a ticket to a game up to 3000 miles or more from home when they have no idea what teams will be playing in it? Your 5 million-pound black market debacle is an embarrassment to you as an organisation. Don’t you see that?
5. Educate the local police that most fans are not terrorists or criminals. They are REAL people who’ve paid hard earned money to be at what should be a life event. They do NOT deserve to be beaten, gassed and have guns pushed into their chests. The thugs, the ones who provoked trouble here, the ones who CREATED the confrontations here, were UEFA along with the Greek police.
6. Put your money and time into proper organisation and proper tickets, not in the employment of 10,000 armed riot police and untrained security guards.
7. Use stadiums designed for football matches, not athletic meets.

You know, even given the marvellous memories, the Ataturk Stadium in Turkey was a bloody joke location too, with fans having to walk miles through the desert with no toilets, no food or drink, and a 3 hour trek there and back. Two years on, UEFA had learned nothing and made an even bigger balls of it this time.

Please, do something, before YOU are the cause of the next football disaster and loss of innocent life.

All we are trying to do is watch a football match.

After Istanbul, I vowed I would never miss another European Cup involving Liverpool FC. After this shambles, I vow I will never go to another, unless I can be assured that my life, and those of my fellow fans, are not placed in danger.

Over to you UEFA.

Alex Malone