By ROB HARRIS
AP Global Soccer Writer
PARIS (AP) — Tear gas fired indiscriminately around children and the elderly. Pepper spray unleashed at close-range on frustrated fans. Ticket holders blamed for delaying kickoff when they’d spent hours trying to enter the stadium in bottlenecks in tight spaces.
Liverpool supporters have been defending themselves against accusations by French authorities they were responsible for the unrest at the Champions League final amid overcrowding outside the Stade de France caused by operational failings on Saturday.
The British government called the treatment of the fans “deeply concerning.”
UEFA officials spent the hours after Liverpool lost 1-0 to Real Madrid in talks about the chaotic scenes that delayed the start of the final for 37 minutes in the biggest club match of the year.
Even as the final started, riot police were firing rounds of tear gas immediately outside the stadium doors into wide open spaces to disperse any lingering people around Gate U.
The French ministers for the interior and sports blamed ticketless Liverpool fans trying to force their way into the stadium, contrary to the scenes witnessed by reporters of people who appeared to be local youths climbing over fences. “Get down,” Liverpool supporters could be heard shouting.
“The stigma around English fans is being used by the French public authorities for cheap political gain,” Ronan Evain, executive director of Football Supporters Europe, told The Associated Press on Sunday.
The closing of gates sparked concerns among hundreds of fans outside the Liverpool section but little obvious aggression from them. Hostility by police appeared to inflame frustrations.
Problems had been encountered even before getting to the final turnstiles with entry points into the wider perimeter blocked off, forcing fans through narrow passages that caused bottlenecks.
While UEFA blamed fans arriving late for delaying kickoff in stadium announcements greeted by jeers, thousands from Liverpool were seen arriving hours before the game to be greeted by organizational disarray in the heat of the late afternoon.
The congestion was partly caused by fans being diverted to a small entrance rather than a bigger one 150 meters away, said Evain, who advises UEFA on supporter issues.
“There have always been mobility problems around the Stade de France,” Evain said.
“We are appalled by the communication by the French public authorities. Liverpool and Real Madrid fans are the victims of yesterday’s fiasco and are not the culprits here.
“Tear gassing people trying to enter the stadium is insane.”
The British government called on UEFA to launch a formal investigation into what went wrong with officials from the stadium and French authorities.
“The footage and accounts from Liverpool fans and the media on their entry to the Stade de France last night are deeply concerning,” Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said.
“It is in the interests of everyone involved to understand what happened and to learn lessons from these events.”
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