'Fake tickets,' tear gas, fan chaos lead to Champions League final delay

The 37-minute delay of Saturday's Champions League final, which ultimately kicked off with Liverpool supporters stuck in bottlenecks and tear gas wafting outside, stemmed from "thousands of fans who had purchased fake tickets," according to organizers.

UEFA, the European soccer governing body, essentially blamed those fans for chaotic scenes that marred the world's most-watched annual sporting event — though many affected fans and British journalists blamed incompetent security and illogical logistics. Liverpool "officially requested a formal investigation into the causes of these unacceptable issues."

UEFA, in its statement, said that "in the lead-up to the game, the turnstiles at the Liverpool end became blocked" by the fans whose tickets "did not work in the turnstiles." This, UEFA said, "created a build-up of fans trying to get in."

Reports from the scene, however, detailed how a police had funneled some 20,000 Liverpool fans through a single preliminary security checkpoint, creating a dangerous, claustrophobic logjam hours before the match.

As Real Madrid fans filled their end of the Stade de France, awaiting the 9 p.m. kickoff, thousands of Liverpool fans were jammed together outsides gates, some of which were closed, some of which were subjecting fans to longer-than-usual security checks.

"It's just madness," one Liverpool fan told the Associated Press. "Absolutely horrendous."

UEFA initially delayed the match 15 minutes. It cited "the late arrival of fans at the stadium" in its in-stadium message announcing the delay, even though the vast majority of fans had arrived hours earlier. It then cited "problemas de seguridad" — "security problems" — in its Spanish-language announcement and in official statements online.

The 15-minute delay soon became 30. The game eventually kicked off at 9:37 local time, with some Liverpool fans having trickled in, but some seats still empty. Fans outside the stadium, located in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, reportedly feared for their safety. One described children getting pushed, and "people trampling each other, ripping open the gates."

Police deployed pepper spray and tear gas before and after the game began. This, UEFA said, was to "disperse" crowds and "force [non-ticket-holders] away from the stadium.”

One asthmatic fan said that she'd been stuck in a congested line since more than two-and-a-half hours before the game, and had been tear-gassed twice, unprovoked.

Some fans tried to climb fences or hop barriers. In some cases, it was unclear whether their motive was to evade security and get into the stadium, or simply to escape the crush.

France's interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, wrote on Twitter that "thousands of British 'supporters,' without tickets or with counterfeit tickets, forced entry and sometimes assaulted the stewards." Journalists on the ground, however, suggested that some of the people trying to force entry had nothing that would identify them as British or as Liverpool fans. The New York Times reported that police on the ground suspected locals in "civilian clothing."

By the second half, police had locked down the stadium. At least one attempted breach was met with more tear gas and force. Some stadium staff and riot police themselves were affected by the gas, and had to be treated by medics.

One journalist, meanwhile, said he'd been "bundled into a hut by a security guard, told to remove accreditation, and then forced to delete video footage of the crowd issues."

Many fans stuck outside brandished tickets, and pleaded to be let inside. Tens of thousands of fans had traveled from England and Spain for the match, and many had spent thousands of dollars on the trip.

UEFA, in its statement, said that it delayed the match "to allow as many fans as possible with genuine tickets to gain access." It said it was "sympathetic to those affected by these events," and said it would "urgently" review the chaos with French authorities — who'd taken on hosting duties in late February, when UEFA relocated the match from Saint Petersburg in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Inside the stadium, Real Madrid won 1-0.

Saturday's Champions League final kickoff was delayed by what UEFA called
Saturday's Champions League final kickoff was delayed by what UEFA called "security problems" outside the Stade de France. (Photo by Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Offside via Getty Images) (Charlotte Wilson/Offside via Getty Images)