I AM not attempting to attach blame to either set of supporters. I am not attempting to absolve them either. I am focusing on those who are above suspicion; those who never have to take responsibility because of their control, which means they do not need to pursue pardon.
It might seem the moment has passed to write about what happened last week in Basel. Not what happened on the pitch, what happened off it, just yards away from Sevilla’s players who were warming-up around 40 minutes before the kick off.
We will return to the issue soon, though, because UEFA have charged Liverpool as well as their opponents for “crowd disturbances” and European football’s control and disciplinary body will deal with the case on July 21.
Yesterday, Liverpool and Manchester United were fined for the problems that occurred over two legs of their Europa League tie in March. Neither club or fanbase has attempted to defend itself because it was visible — and audible — what happened and why it happened.
Liverpool will be punished again. Sevilla will be punished, too. But who will punish UEFA? Who will punish the authorities? UEFA have already washed their hands of it, insisting it was the responsibility of the host club to deal with policing numbers and organisation on the day.
And yet, it is impossible to justify why UEFA gave the second most important final in European football to Basel when there are 111 stadiums across the rest of the continent that are bigger. Two years ago, when the decision was made, the Football Supporters’ Federation warned there would be chaos if one of the biggest clubs ended up being involved.
Can we consider too the most obvious contribution, that UEFA then decided to award the winners of the Europa League with a place in the Champions League?
Did UEFA not stop to think about the implications if illustrious clubs carrying more supporters took the tournament seriously after moving the goalposts in an attempt to sex up their product?
UEFA had two years to prepare for this final and eighteen months to change their minds after heightening the incentive to go all the way and win it. Instead, they carried on with their hosting plans on home territory (UEFA is based in Nyon just up the road from Basel), affording Liverpool and Sevilla supporters less than 10,500 tickets each, while giving 15,000 to the ballot box and the UEFA “family.”
If you want to get directly to the root of all the problems, look here. I wrote about this at the weekend on my Facebook page so I apologise if you are reading this for a second time.
I arrived the day before the final and organisation for press accreditation was disorganised. I was not alone in waiting two hours. Computers crashed. The conference theatre was too small. There were a limited number of plugs for computers. The vetting process was desperately slow and, as a result, some journalists arrived after the managers had started speaking. This left me concerned. If St Jakob-Park couldn’t deal with making it accessible to less than 150 journalists on a quiet afternoon how were they going to deal with a stadium full to capacity?
It prompted me to arrive at the stadium at around 5pm the following day — nearly four hours before kick off (I usually get there 90 minutes in advance). There were three checkpoints for tickets but nobody looked inside my bag or even scanned my pass. It indicated to me that the authorities had become so obsessed by the potential number of fans travelling, they’d forgotten about a basic duty of care — especially in this mad world we live in. I could have been carrying anything.
Having bumbled around in the press room for a while (outside the actual ground itself), I made my way to my seat at 7pm local time. Supporters were arriving early too — as advised (and perhaps because Basel’s transport system had stopped) — and an hour later the scene was pretty clear behind one end. Liverpool and Sevilla fans were separated by nothing but concrete steps. There was no segregation whatsoever. No organisation whatsoever. No care whatsoever.
I was astonished. Then I was angry. Then I was worried.
I’ve been at a lot of games at home and abroad and there has always been segregation. So why not in this particular game — this final?
To this question, UEFA will probably reason it was supposed to be a neutral area.
Would they accept, however, the glaringly obvious point that when you release more tickets to the ballot box and your own “family” and suddenly those tickets start appearing online for thousands of pounds because demand outstrips supply in the first place, that this is the outcome? Equally, do Uefa not believe supposed neutral supporters deserve their own space in the ground? Aren’t the neutral supporters simply in the Sevilla end, an area which is not actually neutral?
The fight that ensued lasted a minute or two and it involved between 10 and 20 people.
A poor steward who was probably working to pay his college fees was left to deal with it all. I’d watched 27 police vans arrive at the ground when I passed through the last checkpoint earlier on but the authorities were nowhere to be seen at this potentially crucial moment.
Considerable gaps appeared on the terracing, reflecting that more than 99 per cent of supporters wanted nothing to do with it. Booing started. The fighting had stopped by the time the police showed up. In turn they formed a single layer cordon facing towards the Sevilla supporters. It took more than an hour for that cordon to become three deep — the minimum it needed to be in light of nothing else being there.
I’m glad it didn’t get any more serious than that. The rest of the night was spent on edge.
Yet who in power really cares about details, so long as the canapés and the fizz arrive at half time for the dignitaries to quaff?