Monday 18 February 2019

THAT WAS THE WEEK : Better to travel without a ticket than without a soul

LET'S get one thing straight: the greatest problem facing football is not people travelling to matches without tickets. The man who made a 40-hour journey from New Zealand to Athens, arriving on the morning of the Champions League final with no ticket and no flight home, may have some problem with his bank manager and he may struggle to maintain a warm, loving and giving relationship, but he is not a problem for football. He's one of the good guys.

Once again in Athens last week, it was possible to witness the tightrope act that football has become, the disregard for those in football's family who no longer fit into the right demographic: in Athens, as in Istanbul two years ago, they were mainly Liverpool fans.

There were thieves, robbers, rogues, bullies and bad men in the Olympic Stadium on Wednesday night, but I don't want to go on about the corporate section. When Brian Clough replied to a question about football hooligans with the words, "well, there are the 92 league chairmen for a start," it wasn't just a neat encapsulation of the world in which he operated; it was something of a prophecy.

Football's greatest problem is the dollar signs in the administrators' eyes, the determination to sell the game's soul to the corporate entertainers with the biggest mickeys. Everybody else is an irrelevance, or, as UEFA revealed in their comments which blamed the chaos in Athens on the Liverpool fans, an unwelcome nuisance.

If the scenes in Athens were farce bordering on tragedy - any security system which allows a fan to enter the stadium using a cigarette packet as a ticket has to be applauded for its comic levels of incompetence - the comments of William Gaillard, UEFA's director of communications, almost brought the house down.

Gaillard blamed all Liverpool fans for the actions of those who stole tickets, saying there was a "collective responsibility for behaviour". This is revolutionary, and an idea we can happily apply to UEFA.

Liverpool fans have a reputation, and it is not as good as they always believe. Having suffered from carnage and misery at Hillsborough and caused it at Heysel, those who charged gates on Wednesday night nearly contributed towards another disaster. Sometimes the Liverpool supporters' self-regard prevents them from admitting their part in anything, but they also enrich the game.

You wouldn't know it from UEFA. It seems that devotion to a football club is now something to be ashamed of. By granting contemptuously few tickets to Liverpool (Milan got the same, but they sent 3,,000 back), UEFA created the environment for a thriving black market. They cannot blame it on the supporters, collectively or otherwise.

Are the Liverpool fans who stole tickets outside the game responsible for the good behaviour of those Liverpool supporters who ended up in the Milan end? How does this collective thing work?

Maybe like this: Maybe UEFA should stop treating fans like shit. This final, just like every other one, was a carve-up, bordering on the corrupt (how many of the 'UEFA family' tickets ended up on the black market?) But football is not their game and it is better to travel without a ticket than without a soul. Go to any European night in Anfield and you will see rival fans pointing their cameras towards the stand. They're not taking pictures of William Gaillard; they're pointing towards the Kop.

"Milan supporters didn't face the same problems because they didn't behave in the same way," Gaillard said, again hinting that there is a eurozone of respectability UEFA crave, a type of bourgeois behaviour which they want to make uniform among travelling fans.

I know of another fan who travelled from New York for the game, bought a ticket from a Milan fan - they certainly don't behave in the same way - for the Milan section and then simply walked down to the Liverpool end, unhindered by any security. Is Mr Gaillard responsible for this? I think so.

He is also responsible - this collective thing might just catch on - for the way the fans who were trying to get back to the airport that night were treated. Many had to wait for a bus at the stadium until 4.0am. When they arrived at theGaillard is also responsible for the way the fans were treated

airport, if they were flying to Ireland or England, they were not allowed enter the terminal building. Milan fans were allowed do as they please inside while Liverpool supporters, many of whom had spent most of the night waiting at the stadium, had to sit outside in a tent with maybe 50 chairs as the tens of thousands flying home were processed - processed being exactly the kind of dehumanised word to describe it. Under the tenets of collective responsibility, William Gaillard and Michel Platini are to blame.

Next year's final is in Moscow and UEFA have an opportunity to make things right. If the game kicks off at 19.45 BST to suit television, that will be 22:45 in Moscow. The game will effectively take place over two days, May 21 and 22. UEFA can sell tickets by the day. It will be like a festival. A two-day ticket allows you to see both halves, but you pay extra for the second day because that could include extra time. They could also give the supporters twice as many tickets, but they would only see half the football. It's better than not getting in at all, which is what UEFA want.

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