In addition, Didier Lallement told a French Senate commission seeking explanations on Thursday that the number of counterfeit paper tickets for the May 28 game was lower than earlier cited. Previously, French officials had blamed massive ticket fraud for the crush of fans that contributed to the scene.
What happened was “obviously a failure,” Lallement said (via the Associated Press), “because people were being pushed around or assaulted while we owed them safety.” He added that it was “also a failure because our country’s image … was shattered.”
Liverpool fans struggled as they sought to enter the gates at the Stade de France for the May 28 game against Real Madrid and were tear-gassed by police. Kickoff for the game a 1-0 victory for Real Madrid, was delayed for more than 30 minutes in a scene that raised questions about how the city will cope with fans for the 2023 Rugby World Cup and 2024 Olympics.
Lallement said officials were left with no other option than to use tear gas on fans. “[It] is the only way to make a crowd back down except to charge them, and I think it would have been a serious mistake to charge people,” Lallement said. “I am well aware that people of good faith were gassed, and I am totally sorry for that, but I repeat, there was no other way.”
He added that “we made sure that the game was held and, most importantly, that there were no serious injuries and no deaths.”
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin had been criticized for blaming the crush of people on “massive, industrial-scale” ticket fraud among Liverpool fans, and Lallement earlier estimated the number of those fake paper tickets at 30,000-40,000 for a stadium that holds 75,000. The French Football Federation said 110,000 traveled to the game.
“Perhaps I was wrong,” Lallement said. “Whether there were 40,000, 30,000 or 20,000, it didn’t change the fact that there were tens of thousands of people who could not fit in.”
Florence Hardouin, the FFF director general, said most of the tickets, which were paper rather than digital, were found in the Liverpool sector. The FFF recommended switching solely to the use of digital tickets.
Liverpool Mayor Steve Rotheram disagreed with French authorities, telling the Senate that valid tickets were rejected by scanners that did not work properly and adding that claims of so many counterfeit tickets were “used to scapegoat Liverpool fans.”
He also told the Senate that congestion began at the train station in the Saint-Denis suburb and grew worse as fans approached the stadium.
In addition to fake tickets, French authorities had blamed late-arriving fans for a scene that grew more chaotic when local youths attacked fans as they were pushed back. Later, Liverpool fans said local gangs descended on them after the match, stealing phones and watches and threatening them with knives.
Lallement encouraged fans of both teams to file complaints if they were victims of counterfeit tickets or street crime “so that we can find the guilty parties and prosecute them.”
The Union of European Football Associations, the governing body of the sport in Europe, promised a review and apologized within days of the incident to fans of both teams, saying “no football fan should be put in that situation and it must not happen again.”