Of course, there were no UEFA pepper spray fans in the eyes. They weren’t the ones who hit them over the head as they tried to negotiate the narrow access areas. The harshness of the police is also worrying.
Following last summer’s Euro 2020 final between England and Italy at Wembley, much has been written about crowd disorder and the reasons for its seemingly increasing regularity and scale. Clips of ticketless fans dodging stewards went viral. The undeniable rise in cocaine use by football fans has also received a lot of attention.
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It is unrealistic to claim that there aren’t multiple factors behind the recent worrying scenes and the hard-to-ignore surge in pitch invasions. If players and maintainers are being attacked on what should be sacrosanct territory, supporter control has gone wrong.
Thankfully, this particular issue has not made itself felt in Scotland to any great extent since the 2016 Scottish Cup final, when Hibs fans flocked to the track and pitch at Hampden to applaud their historic victory over Rangers. “Exuberance” was the memorable expression of then Hibs chairman Rod Petrie. This description became the subject of heated debate. What is undeniable is that ‘excessive exuberance’ could not be used to describe the shocking scenes at St Etienne on Sunday night, as the home fans prepared for their side’s relegation from Ligue 1 following a penalty shoot-out defeat by Auxerre in a play-off reacted. It looked like total chaos.
Back in November there were concerns over a spate of fan violence that could disrupt Lionel Messi’s first season in the league. Ligue de Professional Football President Vincent Labrune denounced a “fire that could kill us”. France is set to host the 2024 Olympics and Rugby World Cup next year.
In addition to the severe water and food shortages at Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium, there have been countless stories of police and security problems, including indiscriminate and aggressive strip searches. In other words, fans are not respected. Again.
But football has to take responsibility. Anfield manager Jurgen Klopp urged Liverpool fans to travel to Paris regardless of whether they had tickets or not. Imagine if Giovanni Van Bronckhorst had extended the same invitation to Rangers fans earlier this month?
It could be a perfect storm of factors, including what some are attributing to residual post-lockdown delirium. However, it is up to UEFA to find an answer to the vexing question of why many are now thinking twice about taking family members to a high-profile game.