Why Chelsea Fans Are Rightly Worried Ahead of PSG Reunion
Chelsea’s last trip to Paris brought two shameful events—though, unless you were there, you will probably have heard of only one of them.
The scenes on the Paris Metro have created much newsprint, and continue to have implications for both those directly involved, and completely innocent parties. But there was an equally concerning series of clashes that same night which garnered very few column inches, and it is this brutish behaviour, by the French riot police (the Compagnies Republicaines de Securite, or CRS), which is the biggest concern ahead of next week’s return.
As the evening of February 17, 2015 wore on, sat in the press tribune of the Parc des Princes, my phone lit up with messages of concern. The largest number of these complaints originated from a group of fans stuck outside the stadium immediately before kick off, who seemingly bore the brunt of police aggression.
The CRS later described this group as being “drunk and aggressive”—something that may have been true in one or two cases, but could not be said of the woman known to me who had a riot shield smashed quite deliberately into her face by an officer. They also claim supporters were trying to pass back already used tickets to fans outside the ground—something those present contest was a physical impossibility, and which certainly was not the case with the father seen trying to protect his son, aged perhaps six or seven, in the dangerously kettled crowd.
The CRS admit they then deployed CS spray on the crowd, something which led to several fans requiring medical attention, including one female fan with asthma suffering severe breathing difficulties. Despite the CRS version involving drunk and aggressive fans, no arrests were made.
It is often a complaint of supporters groups that clubs do little to help in such circumstances, but that cannot be said here of Chelsea, who set out to gather as much evidence as possible on the events. Having been fined €12,000 for the behaviour of supporters, the club lodged an appeal backed by numerous witness statements from that kettled group.
It was Chelsea’s case, as stated in the appeal document released six months later, that “police failures led to a brutal, unprovoked and indiscriminate attack on the club’s supporters.” Furthermore, Chelsea accused the CRS evidence that led to the initial fine of being “inaccurate and unreliable.”
Given the strength with which the club came down upon those accused of being involved in the Metro allegations of racism, it is notable how strongly they backed up the case of those involved in the crush outside the ground—especially given the reasonably paltry fine they were seeking to overturn.
Chelsea contested the CRS acted in a way that was unsafe and violated UEFA’s principles of crowd management; led to crush, panic and distress; and saw individual officers reacting to a dangerous overcrowding situation by using “indiscriminate, brutal and unnecessary force.”
UEFA’s appeals panel had very little time for Chelsea’s case, throwing it out. There is some interesting wording in the conclusion to the case, hidden on page 143 of it’s half-yearly disciplinary appeals journal: “The fact that the police identified a conflict situation requiring them to intervene confirms the seriousness of the misconduct by some Chelsea FC Supporters.”
Just read that again.
In essence: the police can do no wrong, and if they believe visiting supporters need a battering, kettling or gassing, it is at their discretion to deliver those. One wonders if UEFA appeals chairman Pedro Tomas is aware of the small matter of the Hillsborough inquest, and what it has heard regarding the reliability of police evidence in football crowd situations.
When Chelsea go to Paris, a year minus a day from their last trip, supporters will find their liberty is curtailed. They will have to collect tickets in person in the French capital, from a location 40 minutes from the Gare du Nord and 50 minutes from the Parc des Princes. They will have to wear a wristband with matching number to the ticket at all times, or be denied entry to the match. They will also be depleted in numbers, with a severely reduced ticket allocation—this and the other points having been insisted upon, at least partly as a result of the Metro incident of 12 months earlier.
But the CRS, backed up by UEFA, will be permitted to take any action they like against fans, regardless of their behaviour, and have no fear of the consequences. In such circumstances, it is easy to see why so many supporters can see little but darkness ahead of their return to The City Of Light.