Last year when Michel Platini was elected head of UEFA, I immediately knew it was bad news. I said that the second something even remotely unpleasant happens surrounding us, Platini and the rest of his cronies in their Nyon ivory towers will come down hard on us. It may sound churlish to say, but the man bears a grudge against Liverpool Football Club. Go back 22 years to the Heysel disaster when Platini was denied the crowning moment in his career, a winning goal in a European Cup final, due to that match being regarded as many as a farce, a game that never should have been played. Platini himself was lambasted for celebrating after scoring his penalty and, like other members of the Juventus side, for celebrating after the final whistle when 39 fans lost their lives due to a horrible concoction of mismanagement and disorganisation on the part of UEFA in selecting a delapadated stadium to stage the showpiece of the European game, provocation on the part of the “Ultras”, who hoisted up banners bearing slogans such as “English Animals” and reaction on behalf of Liverpool fans. Fast forward to 2007 and it is clear that UEFA have not learned a single thing.
Before I start, I admit that sections of Liverpool “fans” must take their share of the blame for the Athens debacle. I’ve got no time for those who bunked into the ground and knowingly bought forged tickets, leaving up to 2,000 genuine ticket holders (including my dad) stranded outside the Olympic Stadium. The fans who snatched tickets from those deemed “less worthy” than others on account of their accent also ought to be hung out to dry and only the censorship on this site with regards to swearing has stopped me from saying what I really feel about that element of our support.
However, I can’t even begin to explain the incompetence of UEFA. The saying “couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery” is one of the most overused cliches around, but it doesn’t do the organisation of the European Cup final justice. I feel since I’ve come back from Athens, I’ve just regurgitated the same things over and over again but the fact that a ground without turnstiles can stage the biggest match in club football is simply mind boggling. Add to that the lack of proper ticket checking and scanning as well as heavy handed policing and stewarding and what you have is just one big unbelievable mess.
From memory, there was a ticket check to get into an large concrete plaza situated just outside the Olympic Village, one to access the Olympic Village, two hologram scanners from there on and a final ticket check. It really speaks volumes for the incompetence of UEFA and the Greek Officials when so many people can bunk into a stadium with checks such as these. Stories have circulated that people accessed the stadium showing stewards any matter of objects from cigarette packets to tourist leaflets. It was reported that one fan even got in showing nothing but his Liverpool Fan Card. One of the people travelling in my party, with a genuine ticket I might add, got in without even having his hologram scanned, another of my mates was waved through before he could unfold his ticket that was kept in his pocket and I, like thousands of others, never had the stub of my ticket ripped off. All in all, a complete shambles.
It was naive of UEFA to ask only fans with tickets to travel. Even though I myself had a ticket, I and thousands of others, would have travelled over without one on the off chance of getting one over there, or failing that, to soak up the atmosphere. I couldn’t comprehend why a big screen wasn’t erected inside the Olympic Village. If that happened, I’d imagine that not as many would have tried to get into the ground by illegal means and turnstiles and decent stewarding and policing would have put paid to the rest.
The idea that what we saw in Athens is an “English problem” has long been banded around but let me ask you, when was the last time you heard of surges at the gates at an FA Cup Final? When was the last time thousands upon thousands bunked into a ground in this country? When was the last time that mass ticket forgeries were available so freely, and more to the point, when was the last time that there were so many success stories with counterfeits in this country? The fact is that UEFA need to dig their heads out of the sand and look at how things are ran here and learn from their mistakes. It will be interesting to see if an English club gets to the UEFA Cup Final next year in Manchester and see if any of the scenes we saw in Athens are repeated.
Recently, we’ve been branded “the worst fans in Europe” by Platini’s lickspittle, William Gaillard after “25 incidents” have been recorded against us since 2003. The fact that he uses the stealing of flags from the final to justify his remark is laughable when you look at some events which have occurred in Italian football in recent years; such as the death of a police officer at the Sicilian derby between Catania and Palermo, flares thrown onto the pitch at the Milan derby in 2005, a lighter thrown at former referee Anders Frisk at the Stadio Olimpico in a Champions League match between Roma and Dynamo Kiev, as well as fans of ourselves, Middlesbrough and Man United hospitalised recently when playing away in Rome. Add to that the attack on referee Herbert Fandel at Saturday’s European Championship Qualifier between Sweden and Denmark and the death of another police man in Paris amid a race riot during this year’s UEFA Cup match between PSG and Hapoel Tel Aviv and Gaillard’s remarks suddenly lose all credibility. When examing incidents such as these, especially since Gaillard added about us avoiding sanctions, I suggest UEFA need to get some perspective.
Platini and Gaillard only need to travel to the various cities which have hosted Liverpool down the years to find that the inhabitants will be full of praise for our behaviour, support and colour. At the same time, speak to fans from Europe who have come to Anfield and you’ll find that they’ll have been made more than welcome. The fact that UEFA praised our support and sporting attitude after the 2001 UEFA Cup Final and 2005 European Cup Final further makes a mockery of their stance towards us following the final.
The old saying goes that a leopard can’t change it’s spots and if anything, what happened at the European Cup Final and the fallout from it, proves that UEFA remain the same incompetent, spineless, corrupt, buck- passing, organsiation they always were and it would appear that in the form of Michel Platini, they have their perfect leader and their actions as of late have proved their slogan “For The Good Of The Game” to be nothing more than a flashy soundbite. Probably to appeal to corporate sponsors I’d imagine, but that’s another story…