A year ago, Liverpool supporters gathered in Paris for a festival of football. Instead, they got a ‘carnival of chaos’.
In the 12 months since, two supporters have played an exceptional role, giving evidence in the French Senate and working with UEFA to bring about change for all football supporters.
When Joe Blott from the Liverpool supporters association, Spirit of Shankly, and Ted Morris from the Liverpool Disabled Supporters Association, returned to Paris last June – less than a month after the events of the final – they became the first non-French speaking individuals to present evidence to the French Senate.
“We killed the narrative of Hillsborough,” outlines Morris, a survivor of the 1989 disaster who has worked tirelessly alongside Blott to bring about changes for supporters in the last year.
“At the end of it, we actually got a standing ovation, which I certainly never expected when I walked into that room,” recalls Blott (below, right).
“We completely exposed the lies that they had put together and of course they’d already had their own French cabinet members [speaking] and they know that they were lying as well.
“They heard the truth from us. That’s all we wanted to give. It was to seek truth and justice.”
We exonerated the fans – and killed the Hillsborough narrative
“It was absolutely surreal,” says Morris (above, left) about speaking at the Luxembourg Palace.
“We were terrified about going to the French Senate, we’re just two normal lads from Liverpool representing supporters groups.
“We had two reasons to go there. The first was was to tell the truth, to ensure Liverpool supporters were exonerated; Liverpool supporters saved lives that day, that was a fact that anyone who was there knows that.
“And secondly to kill the narrative of Hillsborough. I specifically spoke about that in my testimony as that was most important to me.
“I’m proud to say we came out of that room and we’d exonerated Liverpool fans and killed the narrative of Hillsborough.
“To receive a standing ovation from French Senators – we were in their country attacking their government, their President and Interior Minister [Gerald Darmanin] – whose resignation I was asking for – it was a massive achievement.”
Darmanin, who played a key role in the initial blaming of Liverpool supporters, has since written a personal letter of apology to Morris.
For Morris, like most Liverpool supporters, the culpability for the events of May 28, 2022 is shared with UEFA and the French government, specifically President Macron.
“Joe’s testimony in the French Senate where he systematically and forensically took apart the lies and the falsehoods that were being said,” recounts Morris, “was something that I will take to my grave, because it is an absolute privilege to sit next to him.”
Talks with UEFA
Since then, much of the focus has been on UEFA and their independent report, which was eventually published in February, finding “no evidence that so called ticketless supporters or those in possession of forged tickets played any significant causal role in the problems that occurred” at the Stade de France.
Blott and Morris met with representatives from UEFA shortly after the report’s publication, on the day of the Real Madrid game at Anfield, alongside colleagues from Football Supporters Europe and the English Football Supporters Association.
So just high up the UEFA food chain have those involved been?
The talks in Liverpool in February included UEFA general secretary Theodore Theodoridis, a man who Blott says he “firmly believes a is a man of integrity.”
Blott admits that some may have viewed working with UEFA as ‘working with the enemy’ but as he says “you’re only going to get change by standing up for what’s right.”
“Being in the room, for me, is far more important than being outside looking through the window,” he says.
Within 48 hours of that meeting, UEFA announced that all Liverpool supporters would receive refunds.
Perhaps it helps that Blott and Morris aren’t what UEFA and the French authorities would have stereotyped as football supporters; they are articulate, composed and – most importantly perhaps – authentic.
“There’s got to be a sea change and trust that doesn’t have to be a culture change,” says Morris. “Football supporters have got to be recognised as football supporters and not hooligans.”
Joe and Ted have travelled the whole of Europe following their beloved Reds, they’ve seen and dealt with problems from police before. They were able to tell the authorities the story of thousands of fans in an authentic and passionate manner that they simply had to listen.
It helped, too, that Liverpool Football Club, Ian Bryne MP, and members of the British media were also telling the compelling truth about the events.
There are words of recognition for Sky Sports’ Kaveh Solhekol and the Mail on Sunday’s Rob Draper for their coverage. The reporting overall was in stark contrast to 1989.
Giorgio Marchetti flew to Liverpool to meet with Morris again earlier this month – a meeting that involved a call from UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin.
“Ceferin thanked myself and Joe for our involvement in the last 12 months for working with UEFA to bring about positive change for football supporters,” explains Morris.
“So we’ve basically spoke with the top one, two, three [people] within UEFA.
“I think it was very sincere, just the fact that he did it in the first place. He didn’t have to do that, I’m just Ted from the Disabled Supporters Association. This is the head of UEFA.
“To show the intent by flying into Liverpool to do this just shows a willingness for change. And to facilitate change, people have to be willing and open to to change. And by what’s happening with UEFA, it’s clear [for me] to see.”
Morris and Blott explain how some of the 21 recommendations from UEFA’s post-Paris report have already been implemented, including discussions with supporters clubs around planning for this season’s Europa and Champions League finals.
“Even before the semi finals took place, they’d been in contact with West Ham fans to talk about the challenges that they’re going to have if they do go through to the final,” explains Blott. “That’s never been done before so that they’re already prepared. And for that, they’re actually listening to the fans as well.”
For example, West Ham told UEFA they expected 9,000 fans to travel to Prague for their Europa Conference League final. West Ham‘s supporters groups told them to expect more like 20,000. UEFA listened to the fans and are planning accordingly.
“I think we’re starting to make progress,” says Blott. “I do have that glimmer of hope that this is different UEFA than we’ve experienced before.”
And The FA’s apology – and optimism for the future
Blott also reveals that the English FA have been in touch to apologise for their lack of help in the aftermath.
“We’ve had a long conversation with them,” he explains. “We were concerned that they hadn’t done a great deal in backing us.
“They backed Ceferin (above) to be president [of UEFA] again, at the same time we were going through all this. They’ve reflected on that and said that they were wrong.
“So we’ve had not only UEFA apologise but also the FA apologising. We know that the FA didn’t apologise, they were actually complicit in some of the stuff around Hillsborough, so it’s a significant and seismic shift in terms of how fans have now genuinely influenced how football is run.”
Morris is equally optimistic, despite the horrors of a year ago:
“I’m completely optimistic, I firmly believe that there’s a strong commitment from UEFA.
“It won’t happen overnight and it won’t be fixed within two years, but it’s 2023 and UEFA have accepted that change is needed, and change will come.”
It would perhaps be easy to accuse Morris and Blott of being overly optimistic, but they are the people who are seeing firsthand what UEFA are doing behind the scenes.
With three European finals in the next fortnight, two involving English teams, we have the first test of such optimism imminently.
Joe and Ted were speaking exclusively to This Is Anfield. We thank them for their time talking to us, but more importantly the work that they have done, often unseen, on behalf of not only Liverpool supporters but all match-going football supporters.
We’ll have more on the year since Paris online later this week.