French interior minister Gérald Darmanin has delivered a low-key apology to Liverpool fans over the carnage which occurred at May’s UEFA Champions League final at the Stade de France, though supporters are unlikely to be satisfied after a month of mistruths from on the country’s most powerful government figures.
Reds fans including women, children and the disabled were tear gassed, hit with riot shields by police forces and robbed by armed gangs of local youths at European football’s showpiece event, with a French senate investigation currently underway in order to ascertain the cause of the problems which left some supporters traumatised and others with serious injuries.
Darmanin and sport minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéa launched a propaganda assault on Liverpool fans in the aftermath, seeking to protect the reputation of French authorities by passing the buck to supporters themselves. Before the senate, Darmanin claimed that fans arrived late, were drunken, and that up to 40,000 attempted to enter the stadium without valid tickets. He cited an industrial scale ‘massive fraud’ as the cause of the disorder.
The minister’s version of events has been largely derided in France, though, with a poll finding that 76 percent of French people thought he was lying in his testimony to the senate. French daily newspaper Libération, meanwhile, depicted Darmanin as Pinocchio with an enlarged nose caused by lying in one of its front pages.
While Liverpool supporters have published masses of audio-visual evidence online showing examples of police brutality, dangerous crushing and chronic crowd mismanagement by the French authorities, Darmanin and the rest of the French authorities have failed to provide a scrap of evidence backing up their own version of events. The fact that CCTV from the Stade de France was ‘automatically’ deleted in the aftermath has left fans worried about a cover-up.
Now, Darmanin has begun what seems to be a climbdown, shifting his rhetoric from aggressively attacking fans in the senate to a conciliatory acceptance of partial responsibility.
‘Could the Stade de France have been better managed? The answer is yes,’ he told RTL in France after being pushed for an apology by the station’s presenter. ‘Do I have some responsibility for that? The answer is yes. I apologise to those who who suffered from this poor management [of the match]. Since then we have had three big matches at the Stade de France and there were no difficulties.’
Last week Liverpool supporters giving their own testimony to the senate called on Darmanin to give a formal apology and resign over the mistruths he has purposefully spread. This half-apology, littered with vague promises of changes and delivered in French on a platform which English fans have no access to, is highly unlikely to satisfy fans who Darmanin and his colleagues have spent a month attempting to smear in public.
The phrasing which Darmanin used to apologise has no direct translation into English, but is used as a way to present apologies without accepting responsibility.
Paris chief of police Didier Lallement admitted in his own senate hearing that he had created the 40,000 ticketless fans number, and acknowledged that the number has ‘no scientific value.’ Now his head appears to be on the chopping block, with Darmanin refusing to say whether Lallement would remain in the post he has held since 2019.
‘We have just been in an election period so it has not been the time to throw around names like that,’ Darmanin said. ‘I will firstly change the organisation.
‘After comes the question of individuals. The chief of police was working on that night… it is certain we have changes to make to the organisation. I am the head of the administration [of the interior ministry] so I don’t give out punishments. But perhaps in my office there exists the need for changes.
Darmanin’s apology appears to be a partial acceptance on his part that his blatantly untrue version of events is not being believed by the French public or senate investigation, and his attempt to climb out of a an increasingly big hole he himself has dug.
Indeed, inquiry co-chairman François-Noël Buffet pre-faced the testimony of fans in the senate last week by saying: ‘English football fans were not the cause of these problems. Let’s say that clearly. They showed great control in chaotic surroundings.’
Instead, Darmanin is now seeking to shift blame entirely on to local young adults in Saint-Denis. Video evidence exists showing locals scaling faces in order to attempt to enter the stadium without tickets, and fans of both Liverpool and Real Madrid were mugged, slashed, and in some cases sexually assaulted by gangs of locals before and after the match.
Saint-Denis is a region in the greater Paris area which suffers from high rates of poverty and joblessness, leading to frequent incidents of violent crime. The fact that those crimes took place against fans of both Liverpool and Real Madrid is a failure of both the French state and the police force, though Darmanin did not acknowledge this culpability.
‘I have given very clear instructions to fight against every form of delinquency in Saint-Denis and around the Stade de France,’ he said, without giving any further details. ‘I will say it again, the questions about the Stade de France are about fighting against delinquency in Saint-Denis. I think this is a goal we have to aim for.’
The French senate’s inquiry is ongoing, while UEFA are due to deliver the conclusions of their own investigation in September. In their senate testimony, Liverpool fans pledged to continue to fight against mistruths until consequences have been felt by those responsible.
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