‘I feared for my life’: Liverpool fans on their Champions League final traumas
As part of the Guardian’s project on what happened in Paris on 28 May, three Liverpool supporters recall their experiences
Mark Stringer, 57, IT systems training manager
I am a survivor of the crush at Hillsborough in 1989; I was 23 then. I was unconscious in “pen” 4 on the terraces, and suffered three broken ribs. It was only through PTSD therapy many years later that I was able to recall what happened when I came to, how I survived and got out.
What we were put through in Paris has caused me further trauma; I’m now having therapy for PTSD from that. The point that triggered it was when we were stuck coming out of the subway under the A1. It was simply not designed to take thousands of people. That’s when I feared for my life, held in that queue to the checkpoint that was barely moving, with no way back and no way forward. Now I have flashbacks of that.
I want Uefa to be hauled over the coals for what happened and for all those responsible to be held accountable. What angers me most is that they put my son Cian in danger. He’s 17, I’ve been taking him to football since he was six; people were always saying it must be dangerous, but all these years he’s never been in danger until then, at the Champions League final in Paris.
I felt a risk of crushing as the queue moved under the bridge too, and was aware of gangs operating in the crowd. There were lots of police there, they created pinch points with their vans parked. I went up to them, saying: “Je suis dégoûté [I am disgusted].” I don’t know how I knew the right words in French. But they said nothing, just blank faces.
We reached the checkpoint at around 7.15, but nobody checked our tickets. Then we were held in queues at the turnstiles for two hours. When Uefa said kick-off was delayed “due to late arrival of fans”, the reaction outside was pure anger.
Even after we got into the game, all I could think of was how we were going to get back safely. It was like a war zone afterwards; you could taste teargas, my eyes were streaming. It was very intimidating and people were being mugged, attacked by gangs, with police just standing there watching.
Uefa and the French authorities promoted all the negative stereotypes about Liverpool fans and blamed us, but they had a duty of care to us. Football fans are people, and for the last 33 years Liverpool supporters have included a large number of people who are survivors of Hillsborough and carry trauma.
I’ve had three months of anxiety since Paris. I’m waking up at 3am every night in a cold sweat, thinking about being crushed. I want Uefa and the French authorities to have to face the truth and be held accountable.
John Keegan, 42, director of fire safety and electrical contracting company
It was only later that I realised somebody had tweeted that film of Sonny, my son, after we’d been pepper sprayed at the turnstiles. A police officer did it when absolutely nothing was going on; it felt premeditated, that they had licence to do that, and there would be no repercussions. What Sonny was filmed saying that he never wanted to go to another football match, at the time I didn’t take in that he’d said it. The pepper spray stings your eyes, it’s horrible in your mouth. Sonny is quite a tough kid but his eyes were red raw and bloodshot.
I bought him the Champions League final ticket as a surprise for his 11th birthday, which was the day before. He was ecstatic. The tickets cost me £900; the whole trip was £3,000-4,000 all in, with flights and a hotel and everything. But it was the worst football experience I’ve ever had.
On the way in, 10 of 12 turnstiles at Gate X were closed and in the queue I saw a police officer hit somebody over the head with a baton. Then we were pepper sprayed. Then after we finally got in, I got battered by stewards and kicked out just after half-time. There were some local French lads in our seats; I didn’t want any trouble so we were standing in the aisles. The stewards came to tell me to sit down, I got my phone out to show them our tickets, and one of them punched me in the face. Then they got me down in the tunnel, I was covering my boy up while they were punching me in the back of the head. Then they threw us out.
The experience has affected Sonny; he hasn’t wanted to come to Anfield with me this season yet. I go to every home Liverpool game and the way football is now there is never any trouble, it’s so well organised, the stewards are polite. In this day and age I never would have dreamed we could be treated like that at a football match.
Stu McGeagh, 56, director of IT management company
We didn’t get trapped in the subway or the under the bridge like so many others because we looked on Google maps and by a fluke it took us on one of the other approaches to the stadium. It was around 7:30pm, and even at that time, there was teargas in the forecourt and local gangs running up and down.
We walked up to the turnstiles but they were closed, so we joined the queue. It didn’t move, and more and more people came up behind; we were stuck there for an hour and a half, the queue not moving, getting tighter. There was no communication at all, nothing was said, we weren’t even told when the kick-off was delayed. My stepson Joe is 25, 6ft 5in tall and served in the forces, and even he was finding it very uncomfortable.
Psychologically it was difficult, bringing back the memories of Hillsborough. I’m a pen 4 survivor; I was 22 at Hillsborough. Recently I’ve been through the therapy developed by the Hillsborough Survivors Support Alliance to help us deal with our trauma. It helped me – the crushing and danger did trigger the memories, but I was able to process it better, put it in a different place in my mind, and remain in control. If I hadn’t had the therapy, I don’t know what state I’d be in.
I was shouting to people not to panic, calming people down. I believe the reason there were no deaths or very serious injuries was because of Hillsborough survivors. We were all aware as we were being put through it that it could develop into a disaster.
The match itself was flat. Then coming out, I am lucky to be alive. We had to walk over bridges, and all these locals were there with sticks, knives, running into people; I saw people getting hit with sticks, and the police were stood there watching.
I didn’t hear till the next day that Uefa had blamed it all on us, for supposed ticket fraud. I was furious but not surprised; fans are always the soft target. Even in the turnstile queue I was shouting to people to remember everything, saying: “We’re going to be blamed for this.” That’s a reaction from trauma: it’s not natural to think that. But I was right, they did blame us.
Mutual support and advice for those affected by the events in Paris is available through the Hillsborough Survivors Support Alliance (HSA), an organisation funded by donations to provide support to Hillsborough survivors and their families.