Keifer MacDonald details his experiences in Paris. Keifer’s story is one very familiar to all those who were at the Stade de France. This is what happened.
I think this is maybe the fourth or even fifth time I’ve sat down and tried to pen some thoughts detailing the horrific events that occurred prior to Saturday’s Champions League final. It was the 63rd game of a truly remarkable season for Jurgen Klopp’s men, and it should have been one that – like any European Cup final – is the pinnacle of a long, but joyful season.
However, this weekend that wasn’t the case.
I’m writing this on Monday afternoon, and the reason for doing so is that I feel a sense of responsibility. That sense of responsibility is an overriding one and one that presses me to communicate just how petrifying those scenes outside the Stade de France were, to those who were not present in Saint-Denis.
After arriving back home on Sunday afternoon, I sat for two hours at my desk trying to articulate my emotions, feelings, and experiences from the night itself. But the truth was, I – as I expect many others do too – felt nothing but numbness, a feeling that had resided inside my body since just after 6pm local time on Saturday evening.
The game of the season…
The day had been one of great enjoyment during the afternoon leading up to the showpiece final, with most Liverpool fans descending on the Cours de Vincennes, the square that had been designated for supporters. There was an air of anticipation. This was surely going to be the game of the season. Liverpool vs Real Madrid; as Trent Alexander-Arnold billed it on Friday evening “two powerhouses of European football” going at it for the biggest prize in club football.
Personally, I’ve seen some incredible things following Liverpool at the age of just 21. I’ve seen things that seemed nothing more than a distant dream prior to Klopp’s arrival at Anfield. I’ve been lucky enough to venture far and wide to places like Villarreal in the southern coast of Spain, to places far closer to home such as Goodison Park and Old Trafford.
And this juggernaut of a team have ensured almost every stroll down Walton Breck Road every other Saturday – or down the cobblestone streets of Milan, or the piers of Brighton – are filled with unexplainable amounts of enjoyment as we’re treated to a golden era inside the club’s history. Living, breathing and sharing every moment with those that mean most to us.
But when that doesn’t happen, the culture installed in the walls of Anfield and beyond over the last six seasons by Klopp takes over, and the mantra of ‘bouncing back’ following adversity means those trips abroad, or up and down the country are consistently savoured even if the result is not the desired one.
The nightmare begins
But on Saturday, that mantra evaporated shortly after arriving at the Stade de France Saint-Denis Metro Station. This is where for many, like myself, the living nightmare started. The fear set in, and the horrifying anecdotes began.
As mentioned, having travelled across Europe since my mid-teens watching Liverpool, I’ve always been apprehensive about entry into the stadium, especially in countries where those in charge of event management or policing perhaps don’t have the most blossoming track record.
Therefore, with that in mind, I decided to leave the Liverpool fan park at roughly just after 5pm (local time), giving myself plenty of time to take the four-stop ride out to the Saint-Dennis, some three and a half hours before the original kick-off time of 9pm.
Having stopped for a bite to eat after exiting the metro station – in a bid to combat the extortionate prices sports fans are charged within the vicinity of football stadia – I arrived at the first ticket check at roughly 6:30pm.
Thousands of supporters were being squeezed behind two, parked riot vans. Despite the plea by plenty, begging officials to move the vans into a less-obscuring place which would have allowed a more natural flow of supporters up to the first ticket check, given that the entry point would have been at least three times wider.
One family – who I was stood next to during the first bottlenecked-check point – consisted of a daughter who must have been around the age of 30/35, with her dad and mum who were both well into their late-60s. And their experience was similar to thousands of others, as they were being brutally squashed by the ever-increasing crowd that continued to build up to the two riot vans which were still parked in an obscure position – which minimised the number of fans who were able to make their way up to the first checkpoint.
After around 15 minutes of waiting passed, the surge of people started to make their way up to the first entry point, though there was no communication from any officials – UEFA or the French police – as to why such barbaric and heavy-handed stewardship was taking place. This fuelled plenty of anger, confusion, and stress among those having to wait.
As fans were further bottlenecked up to the first point of entry, this is when I first noticed that there was potential that events outside the ground could be about to turn sour.
A group of locals were queuing up, waiting for the chance to get to the first ticket check, despite not having tickets. A group of maybe five or six teenagers had a brief conversation, it was one that left me alarmed enough to text one of my close mates who was on his way up to the stadium.
For sure, just like any other big game that takes place in Europe, there will have been supporters of either Real Madrid or Liverpool who had no tickets, or even thought they could chance their luck with counterfeit ones. But I’ve never seen so many locals outside a venue looking to gain access into a stadium by force or as a result pouncing on vulnerable supporters in possession of tickets.
Local youths running amock
As I made my way up to the first ticket check, it was clear that the UEFA stewards carrying these checks out had absolutely no control on the situation. There were locals running straight past the stewards, who made little, or no, attempt to stop them.
After nervously handing over my ticket to a female steward to verify that it was a real with the standard pen check, I was granted access up the ramp to the stadium. As I ascended up the ramp and looked behind me, it was only then that it became concerning how dangerous the bottleneck pile-up of fans had become.
Now, for me, it was about getting into the ground as quick as possible.
I headed to turnstile Z where we were placed behind three rows of metal fences, it was a queue that should have taken no longer than, say, five minutes, but the slow flow of fans past the turnstiles turned the wait into at least a 15-minute ruckus.
At one point during this wait, I saw a familiar face, who travels home, away and all over Europe with Liverpool, be dragged away from the turnstiles despite having a real ticket. It was only after the rightful pleas of his friends and family that the police allowed him the chance to prove he had a real ticket, his ticket then scanned straight away.
‘My ticket wouldn’t scan’
Once I approached the turnstiles and attempted to scan my ticket, despite purchasing it directly from the club, to my disbelief the turnstile went red.
Imagine the fear, shock and panic that set in for those brief couple of seconds. At a second go the ticket eventually scanned green and I was granted entry. But if it was by the way of France’s Sports Minister I would have been classed as someone who had performed “industrial fraud” and caused part of the problem, and I’m sure that there were thousands of others who were met with the same fate once they eventually hit the turnstiles- though I suspect not all of them were afforded the same patience I was.
At this point, I’d say, despite what I had witnessed, the experience myself and thousands of others had endured is something that has become all too common for football fans travelling abroad and spending hundreds of pounds to watch their heroes. At what point do we start to put tribalism to one side and fight the good cause as one, whatever team you support? Just like in April 1989, this could have happened to anyone. Why do we allow those in command to continually get away with this barbaric brutality?
Once I made it into the stadium, with each passing minute horrific stories began to circulate about the treatment those still queuing outside of the Stade de France were living through. It was near impossible to get in contact with friends outside due to phone signal, and so it became a game of Chinese Whispers as to what was happening.
Anxiety levels were skyrocketing through the roof.
Just imagine the worried friends and families watching on their screens back in England. I’m so thankful that my mum wasn’t aware of what was going on at the time. Can you imagine the fear?
But after taking my seat, supposedly, in just over an hours’ time the Reds were supposed to kick-off their 63rd, and biggest, game of the season. But the atmosphere inside France’s national stadium felt closer to one of morgue rather than the celebratory festival fans should have been rewarded with.
For me, as a 21-year-old – who combines their love for the game with work – it placed serious doubt into my mind as to whether all of this was worth doing. What’s the point?
Football fans as a collective deserve far better. For far too long fans have been treated as second-class citizens in nearly every city they pilgrimage towards.
In what other industry would such treatment be deemed acceptable, even in other sports there are plenty who’d call it a day after exposure to such savagery, but the devotion and fondness of supporters see them continually punished.
Again, I think I speak for plenty when I say my mind hasn’t even had time to contemplate the result of Saturday night. At this point, I think it’s a blessing that nobody was seriously injured, or even killed.
It’s without a doubt the worst experience I’ve ever endured at a sports stadium, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that’s the final straw for many regulars.
It’s the first time in my life that a football match has become my second priority while attending.
Liverpool fans have heard the lies for 33 years. Lives had been destroyed by false narratives being created in order to save the faces of those in positions of responsibility. We can’t let this happen again.