So UEFA's main man, Michel Platini has begrudgingly admitted
that his assistant, spokesman, colleague – call him what you will – was not
telling the truth in his statements earlier this week about Liverpool FC
supporters. Unfortunately for Liverpool however this isn't quite as big news as
the earlier defamatory allegations bandied about by the bungling William
That's no surprise – you'll sell a paper more easily with "X
are the worst in the world" than you will with "X are actually not the worst
after all." If the official spokesman for UEFA makes allegations it's quite
easy for an editor to quote his allegations. Even though most observers who
spend any time looking at previous gaffes by Gaillard can see his word is
pretty worthless, and any editor is just glad of the chance of a quick and big
Michel Platini met British sports minister Richard Caborn
yesterday and when he came out of the meeting he was asked a direct question:
Were Liverpool fans the worst behaved in Europe? "No they are not, it's
official. They are not the worst behaved in Europe."
Thanks Michel, we didn't really think we were (although we
accept that like all clubs there are some individuals we'd rather not have
supporting our club), but it's good to hear it from "the boss". So can we have
We'll not hold our breath. Platini seemed reluctant to admit
that UEFA had misled the world's media with their comments.
We may not expect to get a deserved apology, but surely
Gaillard should be told to step aside. He lied, effectively. He abused his
position to put his own xenophobic views about British people forward. Why is
he still in a job that he is so bad at?
Gaillard said that there was a list of 25 incidents showing
how much Liverpool had been in trouble over the last four years. UEFA had
employed secret police to watch Liverpool fans for four years and had found 25
incidents in those four years. After a while Gaillard admitted that Liverpool
had played more matches than anyone else in that time (they had to play six
qualifying matches in summer 2005 for example, unprecedented for European
Champions and never likely to happen again). He also admitted that this was a
count of incidents, and didn't allow for the severity of any incidents. He
didn't give details of what constituted an incident either. So we were all
looking forward to seeing what we'd been accused of. What had our fans done on
25 occasions? Could we stop it from happening in the future?
According to a spokesperson for Richard Caborn, there was no
list. The report that UEFA handed over did not refer to the 25 incidents
alleged by Gaillard. So again, Gaillard had not told the truth. If this list
even exists, it's certainly not been passed over to anyone to investigate. The
minister's spokesperson said: "These incidents are not listed in the report.
UEFA gave us the report in confidence and we are going to respect that, but
there is certainly no list of incidents in this report."
So no list – and why does the report have to be handed over
in confidence anyway? Well given the fact that Gaillard has thrown unfounded
accusations into conversations with the media about our fans, I can only
presume that the report contains more unfounded accusations. UEFA can put
whatever spin they like onto their report, without giving fans the right of
reply. That stinks, to be frank about it.
Gaillard's already been branded a "clown" by LFC co-owner
Tom Hicks, the outcome of yesterday's meeting now confirming that. Hicks had
said in an interview with Sky Sports News: "I thought the guy from UEFA was a
clown for saying that. To give 17,000 tickets to the two teams, particularly
knowing Liverpool is going to bring 40,000 fans, is insane. I think it is a
classic case of a bureaucrat trying to take pressure off himself."
It must have upset Platini to have to say those words: "No
they are not the worst behaved in Europe, it's official, they are not the worst
behaved." Either Gaillard was working on instruction from Platini, in which
case Platini should go, or Gaillard was acting off his own back in which case
he should go.
Platini also added, as if to try and brush it all under the
carpet now: "This is an old story. We know about this, it is just that more
English fans follow their clubs than those from other countries. It is not as
if one set of fans are good or one set bad. This is not the question in the
end. We cannot go around saying that."
So why did Gaillard let this mess unfold? Why did UEFA allow
the fiasco to take place? Why haven't they admitted their failings publicly?
What are they trying to hide?
It doesn't matter who has the worst fans, but it hurts to be
branded as such. What matters is that those in charge of major events – be it
sports fixtures, music gigs or royal visits – need to ensure that their
customers and visitors are safe.
Whatever went on inside the meeting – and it certainly
resulted in Platini having to swallow a small piece of humble pie – Caborn was
being diplomatic afterwards: "It was a very useful and constructive meeting,"
he said: "Platini wants to make sure we don't have a repeat of events in
Athens. We want to learn from the past and make sure we can have safe grounds
English football has seen many changes since the bad days of
the seventies and eighties when crowd trouble was a serious problem and a
regular event. And of course it wasn't just crowd trouble from a point of view
that the crowd were causing trouble – there was crowd trouble from the point of
view that poorly-organised police didn't know how to deal with crowds. Not
unruly or violent crowds, just crowds.
Caborn has offered expertise from the body set up by the English game
after Hillsborough to see if it can help the hopeless UEFA organisation: "I
suggested they set up a working party, which was well-received by Platini, and
I have offered the expertise of the Football Licensing Authority who are
respected on a worldwide basis," Caborn said. "They'll be looking at major
European finals and I hope they can start setting some standards for clubs
entering the competitions that they have to meet certain criteria."
That latter comment is clearly focussing on events away from
the finals. Inadequate ticketing organisation caused trouble for Manchester
United fans in France, who also had problems when the Italian police were
incapable of dealing properly with the minority who caused problems inside the
stadium in Rome. Caborn is hinting that UEFA need to have a list of minimum
standards required of clubs looking to participate in the Champions League.
Certainly in English football there are minimum standards for grounds, for
example, which get tougher to meet division-by-division.
Perhaps this is the first time that UEFA have ever
considered how errors by the authorities, not inappropriate behaviour by fans,
led to the disaster in 1989: "We want to learn from the past and make sure we
can have safe grounds for supporters," said Caborn.
Meanwhile the Liverpool Daily Post have been quoting a
former colleague of Gaillard prior to his UEFA days and it won't make happy
reading for the infamous spokesman. The newspapers source claimed: "In my
opinion when he was spokesman for the UN Drug Control Programme he knew little
about drugs. When he worked for the UN Palestinian relief agency he knew little
about Palestine; and little about air travel when he worked for the
International Air Transport Association."
The source went on: "He is again causing controversy
commenting on football. He probably does like going to football, but that is
where his expertise stops. However, I am afraid this time his comments are so
big and outlandish hey will really come home to roost."
The Post also talk about his time as spokesman for the UN
Drug Control Programme and how he allegedly had to be "dissuaded from pushing a
scheme to collect all the hair cuttings in New York barbers to see what
evidence they offered of cocaine use." The source told them: "This would have
made the UN a laughing stock and would contravene all sorts of privacy laws.
How stupid can you be?" I'll not answer that question.
It's frustrating that the good name of the vast majority of
Liverpool fans has been dragged through the mud. We've admitted our part in
this, and I'm sure most of those who acted inappropriately regret their actions
now, given how it turned out. But UEFA are yet to admit their errors, and are
yet to take appropriate action over the lies told by their organisation.
It doesn't matter who's got the worst fans in Europe, as
long as any "bad" fans, from any club, can be dealt with and prevented from
ruining football for the majority. But one question is: Who has the most honour?
Liverpool supporters or UEFA?