Saturday was the last big date at Stade de France before the beginning of Euro 2016, as Paris Saint-Germain met Olympique de Marseille in the final of the Coupe de France. It was meant to provide a final rehearsal before the competition, but turned into a security fiasco.
For the first time, security forces put into place the measures that will be applied during the European Championship. There were multiple security checks, road closures and, most notably, only three entrance points for the whole stadium.
Given that close to 80,000 people watched Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s final match for PSG, which the Ligue 1 champions won 4-2, that meant more than 25,000 per entrance. It is a figure that seems remarkable, yet it was put into practise in Saint-Denis for the final match of the French domestic season, and was a dress rehearsal for the summer’s competition.
But that was not the only fiasco on Saturday.
Even arriving several hours before kick off was useless as the crowd was blocked in a street with little available access. There were more than 5,000 people in one street, which took around 90 minutes to negotiate. An hour before the match, there was still little movement and people started to become impatient, but things still remained fairly relaxed.
When the start of the fixture approached, though, the crowd remained blocked, with the gates of the stadium not yet opened by security services and the police. Finally, 45 minutes before kick off, fans were finally allowed to start moving towards the gates, yet progress was slow because of the multiple pat downs fans were forced to advance through.
Women and children had spent over an hour packed against the gates, and now there was shouting and screaming, while the crowd stamped impatiently.
Finally, under threat of a stampede, the security forces succumbed to the time and the pressure of the masses, allowed the crowd to pass through. However, police used tear gas to stop the push, which caused the security forces to be affected, which meant that fans were able to pass through both without ticket and pat-down checks. Growing impatience in the crowd had already caused firecrackers to be released by some supporters in the crowd, and medics were therefore forced to check the ears of young fans.
Families and children were separated - there was a case of a father in tears after losing his son during the police’s barrage – while others lamented the extreme lack of control. A few thousand people missed the start of the game, but almost all fans entered the stadium with their passions cooled by the welcome.
How could the security forces create such an atmosphere? Supporters came as families to watch the final but endured a terrible experience before the match. Between a long wait in a stifling environment followed by a reception of tear gas, which caused children to become lost, this pre-Euro 2016 test was an abject failure.
And this was while many families made up the bulk of the crowd – what if there were violent fans present?
Is it better to deal with 25,000 in an hour through a single gate and become quickly overwhelmed by the crowd, or deal with multiple access points with tighter controls but in a more relaxed environment?
The management of the Marseille fans was particularly disastrous. Contrary to what they had been told, there was no police escort for the bus of the visiting fans. Some coaches were even stoned near Stade de France, while all the fans were funnelled into one area as they had only one entrance.
On the field, the match was electric – worthy of a final between two great clubs. But even if PSG came through 4-2, it was in the stands that things became heated.
Perhaps a consequence of the poorly managed entrance gates into the stadium, many fans managed to reach their seats with flares. Firecrackers were let off in the traditional manner to celebrate each of the six goals, but the scenes after the match were quite amazing as Marseille fans started several fires in their tribune. Stadium staff were unable to control these, and some burned for more than 10 minutes.
These events raised further questions. How could fans get into the ground with tools to start fires? And worse, how could these burn for several minutes without the ability to contain the supporters, put out the fire or even ensure fan safety?
Three weeks before the start of the European Championship, this is alarming.
On Monday morning, the problems were acknowledged by Philippe Gali, prefect of Saine Saint-Denis to Europe 1. “There are a number of points that need to be addressed. Security will be recalibrated,” he said.
The organisers of Euro 2016 have many questions to answer and only three weeks to find solutions. Such was their stunning failure on Saturday, concerns that they will be unable to do so appear legitimate.