It's time for UEFA's mouthpiece William Gaillard to step
down from his role at the current governing body for football in Europe.
Perhaps if he's speaking for his president, Michel Platini, he shouldn't be the
only one stepping down.
Before we look at what he's said this weekend, let's look at
some of the things he's said in the past. Liverpool fans were upset to find
only 17,000 tickets had been allocated to the club, and the club themselves
were attacked for the way those tickets were allocated. But one story that got
little attention was the treatment of disabled fans. How many disabled tickets
did UEFA supply to the two clubs? Thirty-two. Not 32,000 – just thirty-two.
Between the two clubs. That's 16 each. Not sixteen-hundred each, just sixteen
tickets. Which is of course farcical.
So what did Mr Gaillard say when he was asked about this?
Well he was asked about it by the Liverpool Echo on May 10th. He ought
to be ashamed of his answer: "I don't know the exact number of disabled seats,
but I would imagine the Olympic Stadium in Athens will be well-equipped. They hosted the Paralympics quite recently."
"Well-equipped" he says! 16 tickets for disabled fans is "well
equipped"? And why didn't he know the exact number? He's the spokesman,
the mouthpiece, the person who is paid a lot of money to know. And he knew
That's not unusual though. His name became very familiar to
Liverpool fans in the summer of 2005 after Liverpool had won in Istanbul.
Gaillard was forever making statements of fact that were contradicted by his
own bosses. So why is he still there now?
In the same interview on May 10th where he made
himself look silly over disabled tickets, he was asked what UEFA were doing to
prevent the sale of tickets to touts. It was estimated that the illegal sale of
these tickets would add up to around a £4.5m profit for the touts. That's a lot
of money – money that would be better in the pocket of the fan or in the
coffers of the game itself, but Gaillard wasn't exactly bothered about it: "All
tickets are numbered so we know which company bought which seats," he said. "But
if an individual buys an illegal ticket, it is a lot more difficult to figure
Pardon? Every single ticket is sold – or should be sold – in
a way that the details of the buyer are stored. How difficult would it be to
insist that individuals who buy tickets bring ID with them to prove the tickets
are theirs at random spot checks? Companies who buy tickets (far too easily) could
also supply the details of who the ticket went to, and again ID could be
produced. Very few people at a UEFA Cup final are going to be without a
passport, it's not going to be too difficult to work out a scheme. And anyone
selling tickets illegally should be prosecuted.
Of course an organisation that lets fans in without actually
looking at their tickets isn't going to be capable of such simple ideas.
And an organisation that allows William Gaillard to speak on
its behalf is hardly bothered about what the customer thinks anyway.
Before the match UEFA were asked why they used small stadia
for the biggest match in their calendar. They of course didn't answer. After
the game the question was raised again. "We had a stadium that holds almost
70,000," said Gaillard. Strangely enough, although I've not been able to
find a definitive attendance for the game that night, the figures I've seen
vary between 72,000 and 74,000. Which is not "almost 70,000", it's actually
more than 70,000. Perhaps the figures for the attendance are wrong, and there
were reports before the game that there would be 7,000 seats left empty to
allow for larger advertising boards. In
fact prior to the game, the capacity was quoted as being 63,000 in many places.
63,000 fits in with how we were told the tickets were split: 34,000 going to
the two clubs (overall), 9,000 going into the "neutral" ballot and 20,000 going
to the "UEFA Family". I can't find an attendance figure on either the UEFA or
LFC official websites, the other figures are from various news websites
including the BBC and PA.
Whatever the figure, Gaillard felt that it was right to hold
matches in stadiums that weren't anywhere near enough to meet demand: "There
are stadiums in Europe that go to 80,000, there is Wembley at 90,000 and
Barcelona at just over 100,000. Is it the solution to have games only at
Wembley and Barcelona every year? The whole of Europe deserves to have the
competition. We are not talking here about stadiums of 40,000, we're talking
about large stadiums, modern stadiums with good facilities." An allocation of 32
disabled seats constitutes "good facilities" does it?
He also said after the game: "It was a suitable venue. It is
the stadium where the 2004 Olympics were held and where all the games of the national
team are held." Then launched into English fans in general – in fact British
fans, not just the English: "Unfortunately in Britain it is the behaviour.
Liverpool fans are responsible for the problems before, during and after the
game. They were trying to go over the barriers to get into the stadium without
tickets, which is not the behaviour we can condone."
The small minority of Liverpool fans who did go too far in
their attempts to gain entry are rightfully being attacked – they ought to be
ashamed. No genuine Liverpool fan approves of the alleged tales of tickets
being stolen from other fans or actions that could have resulted in another
football disaster. Those responsible for the deaths at Heysel will never be
forgiven by Liverpool fans, but UEFA and the Belgian police were hardly in the
clear then for the way they organised that game. In 1989 we lost 96 of our own
supporters largely because our own FA and the police didn't listen to warnings
ahead of the semi-final at Hillsborough, and also because the police had the
attitude that football fans were an underclass unworthy of being treated as
individuals. This article isn't about
those two disasters, and it's impossible to scratch the surface of either in a
couple of paragraphs.
One thing Gaillard says is quite true: "People should
understand that sometimes they will not have a ticket that does not give them
the right to violate the law." What he fails to admit is that the actions of a
few law-breakers should, where possible, not cause problems for the vast
majority of those who were not breaking any laws. Of course he has an answer
for everything put to him, even if it's wrong. There were no turnstiles at Athens.
The staff on the gates did not, for whatever reason, stop people from getting
in with forgeries or other bits of paper. Had turnstiles been there in the
first place, operated by staff who could tell very easily if a ticket was fake
or not, the stadium would have soon been full of people with valid tickets. Of
course that alone wouldn't be enough to deal with the multi-million pound
business of touting, but it would have stopped forgeries and guide books from
getting people in.
The problems with the police having to step in seemed to
stem from the fact that real fans with real tickets were kept out. The police
knew the stadium had now closed, but had to find a way of dealing with the fans
who had been conned out of their money directly by UEFA. They effectively held
them in one place until the game had started, then announced the stadium was
closed. No wonder people were angry.
Gaillard missed the point entirely, in respect of what
turnstiles would have brought: "In terms of fans pushing yesterday and
attempting to get over the barriers, with turnstiles there could have been a
tragedy. At one point the police were overwhelmed and it is much to their
credit that there were no dangerous incidents." Turnstiles, with people having
tickets checked properly, would have ensured it did not get to the stage where
police were overwhelmed. Right or wrong, as soon as word spreads that you'll
get into a ground with a map instead of a ticket, more people will try it. If
all those with forgeries were being refused entry from the off then it would
have been that word spreading. And of course if UEFA's over-privileged
officials had paid some money out so that tickets weren't too easy to forge, fewer
fans would have been in possession of forgeries anyway.
Gaillard is actually just the UEFA spokesman. He has shown
in the past that he thinks he is more important. It's amazing he's still doing
the job given what he said in 2005. Liverpool had won the Champions League, but
had finished 5th in the English league. What UEFA intended their
rules to mean, and what they did mean, differed. UEFA expected the English FA
to do what the Spanish FA had done three years earlier and "request" that the
Reds be allowed to enter the following season's competition as champions. This
would mean the fourth-placed team having to drop out into the UEFA Cup instead.
The English FA decided not to. Obviously the rules were wrong – it shouldn't
have been an open rule in this way, it should have been in black and white –
either the champions go through or they don't. The rules have now been ‘corrected'
so that if the same circumstances were repeated, the 4th-placed team
would drop out without any way of complaining.
UEFA were desperate for the FA to do the ‘honourable' thing
and nominate Liverpool. But the FA were worried about threats of legal action
and so wanted UEFA to do the ‘honourable' thing and let Liverpool through.
William Gaillard was defiant. He would not allow Liverpool
and Everton to both go into the 2005-06 competition. Again he was forgetting he's
just a press officer. "We cannot change the rules in the middle of the season. We
cannot take a team from another country out of the direct qualification because
we would like to put in a fifth English team." Gaillard, even then, was unable
to think about what he was saying. Because if the FA had done what was
expected, done what the Spanish FA had done a few years earlier, Liverpool
would have gone into the group stages and "a team from another country" would
have taken "out of the direct qualification" anyway. The rules in place allowed
(and expected) the FA to nominate Liverpool, and so allowed a situation where a
team up until then already into the group stages would have to drop into the
Gaillard was left with more egg on his face when his boss,
then UEFA president Lennart Johansson, actually had a moment where he
remembered why he was in his privileged role in charge of the game so many
people love: "The door is always open," said Johansson. "We are there to serve
football and not just dictate. It is for the executive committee to decide, and
anything can be granted if they decide to go to the member associations and ask
for a change in the regulations." So Gaillard was wrong – rules can be
reviewed. Rules can be looked at. Badly-written regulations can be dealt with.
When UEFA did decide to deal with the issue in the best way
possible, Gaillard was left with a red face having to explain what had been
decided. Liverpool were to go into the next tournament without country
protection. They were there as a representative of Europe rather than as a
representative of England. They had to go into the first round of the
qualifiers, which meant they played six games more than they would have done
had the FA done what UEFA had expected them to. Everton got the chance to go
into the qualifiers, although that was as far as they got in the end. And the
new rules were put in place. Next time something like this happens "Everton"
would go into the UEFA and "Liverpool" would go into the group stages. Without any choice in the matter, a team from
another country would as a result be dropped back into the qualifiers rather
than go straight into the competition proper.
Gaillard tried to backtrack, but by then nobody who'd been
listening to his words was likely to fall for what he said. Speaking of the
decision he said: "They (the UEFA committee) felt it was the best and wisest,
and I felt that way, too." It did not
sound like he felt that way. He'd been so scathing about Liverpool, or to be
more precise "the British", and their insistence that the success they'd had
should be rewarded. He had to bite his tongue. And he showed that when he
pointed out that the decision was out of the ordinary: "The rules said that no
association could have five clubs in the Champions League. The decision that
has been taken today is exceptional. "
Still sounding bitter he'd not got his own way, he went on: "In
the upcoming season, England will be the only national association ever, and
for the last time, that will be allowed to have five clubs."
Now a report is to be released, it seems UEFA have been
monitoring Liverpool "under cover" since 2003. UEFA messed up in Athens; UEFA
let a few idiots spoil things for everyone else. They had a party, we got
treated like dirt. UEFA have been threatened with legal action by a fan who was
refused entry. Now Gaillard, still wounded from being made to look stupid on
2005, still wounded from being faced with questions he couldn't truthfully
answer with making UEFA look inadequate, has something to say. I hope he has
proof of what he says: "The incidents involving Liverpool fans have been well
known to us before the trouble at the Champions League final. That was just the
latest example. What other set of fans steal tickets from their fellow
supporters or out of the hands of children?"
I find that offensive. From anecdotal evidence, any fan
stealing from another fan was chased by numerous other Liverpool supporters and
forced to hand it back. Whilst the police looked on uninterested. To imply that
this is how Liverpool fans in general is bad enough, but Gaillard does not like
the British. He's xenophobic about the people of this country and tars everyone
with the same brush.
What is also unacceptable is that he is making these
allegations from a report that is yet to be released. He doesn't allow anyone a
chance to reply before his damaging words have spread the world. "We know what
happened in Athens, and Liverpool fans were the cause of most of the trouble
there," he claims, ignoring the long list of errors made by UEFA. Then he says:
"There have been 25 incidents involving Liverpool fans away from home since
2003 and these are in the report – most teams' supporters do not cause any
trouble at all." Where were these incidents? Why can't we be told about them
now, so we can condemn those responsible ourselves? Well one rumour doing the
rounds is that one of the alleged 25 incidents concerns the game at Anfield
where two Barcelona fans ran onto the field with a flag. The rumour may well be
false, that may not be in the report – but why can't we be told?
He then said: "You must ask yourself why at the same match,
with the same conditions, there was no trouble with the Milan fans – only the
Liverpool fans." Were Milan fans as desperate for tickets as Liverpool fans?
Was there a shortage for the Milan supporters? If I am to ask myself the
question I need to know the facts – I hope UEFA provide them. And I hope he isn't
implying that Milan fans were involved in no trouble at all – because they were.
Every club has a number of idiots following it. It's down to
the authorities to deal with the idiots so that the decent football supporter
can watch the game in safety. In England a campaign over many years has
resulted in a situation where crowd trouble – at least inside the ground – is a
rarity. In Italy a moped was not that long ago thrown from the upper tier of a
stand into the supporters below, after being ridden into the stadium. That was
before the Italian government finally acted to end trouble at their football matches
which were getting out of hand – they stopped football for some time until
clubs had taken action. The Italian authorities don't yet seem to have worked
out how to deal with football fans though – witness their attacks on Manchester
United supporters in Rome earlier in the Champions League. A few idiots amongst
the United support had started trouble (and bizarrely started throwing
themselves at a Perspex dividing screen) and so the police reacted by picking out
supporters at random and battering them. No doubt some of the troublemakers got
hit, but so did a lot of innocent fans. And some of the troublemakers escaped
without a mark.
That incident in Rome was followed by more trouble in
Manchester. Earlier in the competition there had been a problem which could
have resulted in disaster when Manchester United supporters were let into a section
for which they did not have tickets. They had tickets for the "home" section
but were put into the "away" section, supposedly for safety. Did the French supporters
who had sold their tickets to touts get any punishment? Very doubtful.
Nothing is being done about touts by any of the football
authorities. Last season's FA Cup final saw a number of tickets stolen from
postal van, and the stadium manager at the Millennium Stadium deciding that –
even though they do it for rugby matches – duplicate tickets could not be
issued. He also said they would not be able to catch anyone using those stolen
tickets. No wonder touts have it so easy.
Liverpool chairman Rick Parry commented on the ridiculous
claims by Gaillard. He also pointed out more of Gaillard's self-contradictions:
"The shortcomings in the management of the situation in Athens were apparent to
anyone who was there and these latest comments from UEFA should not deflect attention
from that reality. What is most surprising about the latest comments from Mr
Gaillard is that on the eve of the final, he quite rightly commented that
Liverpool supporters 'have a tradition of good behaviour'."
Parry also pointed to comments from Gaillard's current boss,
Michel Platini: "Let's not forget that these same supporters who Mr Gaillard is
claiming are now the worst in Europe were praised by UEFA President Michel
Platini after our semi-final victory against Chelsea only last month, commended
for their behaviour in Istanbul in 2005 and actually honoured by UEFA at a gala
dinner in Monte Carlo in 2001 as joint Supporters of the Years with Alaves
after the UEFA Cup final."
impossible to see how Gaillard can keep his job considering his outburst. He
comes across as a bitter and twisted buffoon who speaks his own mind rather than
that of the organisation he works for, and even forgets what he has said.
Perhaps the reason why there is such a discrepancy in terms
of what the attendance was is because nobody actually knows: "To have a stadium
with no counting system and no turnstiles is unforgivable for any standard of
game, let alone a major final," said Parry. And it's not just UEFA who produce
reports: "We produced a report for UEFA a week beforehand predicting, sadly,
all of the things that did go wrong. We told UEFA our intelligence suggested
there were 5,000 forged tickets in existence. They knew and we knew that
thousands of fans would travel without tickets and we stressed the need for a
proper check at the outer cordon."
Richard Caborn, the UK's Sports Minister, is meeting UEFA's
Platini later this week. He said: "I have a lot of sympathy with the Liverpool
fans who paid their hard-earned money for genuine tickets but couldn't get into
the ground. The reasons for this need an urgent explanation. We have already
raised the matter with the Greek authorities through our embassy in Athens and
government officials are also talking with UEFA. I will be putting this issue
high on the agenda at a meeting I am to have with Michel Platini." Well it
should perhaps be top of that agenda.
If UEFA continue to believe that they did nothing wrong, a
disaster will happen. It's not an "if"; it's a "when". Imagine if two teams
from the same country had been in the final. Inter v AC. Liverpool v United.
Barca v Real. Either UEFA know they are in the wrong and are just mounting a
very poor PR exercise to cover their backs, or they are going to face a
And those fans of other English clubs who have been quick to
criticise Liverpool FC fans after hearing Gaillard's words need to read them
more closely. He's blaming Liverpool FC fans because he believes all British
fans are bad.
The 18 clubs in the G14 group ought to look at what UEFA are
saying and ought to remember that next time it could be their fans and their
club who are dragged through the mud by an organisation unable to deal with
what it gets paid a lot of money to deal with. Perhaps it's time for that
breakaway league after all, because UEFA are an out-of-date organisation run by
old men detached from reality and uninterested in the game itself.