For most of Saturday, it had looked and felt like a dream European trip.
The sun was shining, spirits were high and Paris was a sea of red. Liverpool fans were preparing to watch their team in another Champions League final, and the mood was one of celebration, hope and optimism.
“A big, Scouse party, with everyone having the time of their life,” as one supporter puts it.
By the end of the night, however, everything had changed. For thousands of Liverpudlians, the dream became a nightmare.
“It was the worst experience I’ve ever had at a football match,” Paul Machin, of The Redmen TV channel, tells GOAL. “I’ve been going to games since I was six years old, and it was unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed.”
His sentiments will be echoed by scores of fellow supporters, some of whom were subjected to tear gas and pepper spray attacks by French police outside the Stade de France, and in the designated ‘fan meeting zone’ at Cours de Vincennes.
Others found themselves under attack from gangs of local youths. At least one fan had his face slashed, while another suffered a suspected broken leg in a street attack. Many others required hospital treatment, and even more were shaken to the point that they will seriously consider whether to follow their team abroad again in the future.
After the game - which finished 1-0 to Real Madrid, as if it really matters - Machin witnessed, close-up, the heavy-handed treatment of fans by police en route to Saint-Denis Porte de Paris train stations. He saw armed officers pointing guns at terrified supporters, while others ran for safety.
“It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life,” he says. “To be so close to something like that, I don’t have the words to describe it.
“Can you imagine walking away from a concert, or any other big event, and having a gun pointed at you? It’s insane.”
Another fan, who asked not to be named, tells GOAL: “This was my seventh European final watching Liverpool, and it will probably be my last. I don’t ever want to go through something like that again.”
The problems started as soon as supporters disembarked at the Stade de France metro station. From there, they looked to make the short trip up to the stadium, which on a normal day would take 15-20 minutes, only to discover huge queues as, with minimal ticket checks and little to no signposting, fans found themselves penned in as they made their way over, or under, the busy A1 highway.
“It was a nightmare,” says a fan who spent more than two hours in the queues, which were made worse by the presence of police vans, parked diagonally across the street beneath a bridge.
“There were no checks until you reached the bottom of this ramp which leads up to the stadium, and even then there were maybe six stewards - not police - looking after thousands of fans. They were barely checking tickets, just dabbing them with a pen, a bit of a search and that was it."Getty Images
The situation was no better at the turnstiles. When fans, most of whom had been shoved through a dark, narrow underpass and had encountered local pickpockets who worked their way through the slow-moving queues, finally arrived at the ground, they found a series of closed gates, with police and stewards uninterested in their concerns.
“I was in section Y,” says one fan, a season-ticket holder who arrived at the metro station at 6.30pm local time, two-and-a-half hours before kick off. “There were people queuing, four deep, for as far as the eye could see.
“Those on the inside were trapped against the gates, nobody was moving, and nobody on the other side of the gate was communicating at all. They were treated like cattle.”
With scores of supporters, including children, disabled fans and elderly match-goers, stuck in the queues outside, many of them in distress and fearing for their safety, UEFA took the decision to delay the kick-off.
The news arrived 14 minutes before the scheduled start time, but was not communicated to those still waiting outside - a move which would have at least alleviated some of the tension that had built up over the previous two hours or more.
Inside the stadium, a message on the big screens relayed the news. The delay, it said, was due to “the late arrival of fans”, prompting boos and whistles from supporters.
It was an outright lie, a disgusting and blatant attempt by UEFA at shifting the blame. Liverpool fans have seen that game before, of course, and as more and more stories emerged from outside the ground, it became clear that UEFA’s narrative should not, and must not, be accepted.
Of course some are desperate to accept it. Within minutes, videos were circulating on social media showing Liverpool fans climbing over a wall, apparently to illegally gain entry to the stadium.
Shamefully, several accounts with large followings shared the videos, thus repeating the lie that here we had Liverpool supporters, misbehaving again.
The truth is that those fans were not ‘bunking in’ but climbing to safety, having been caught in the crush on the ramp leading up to the stadium. On the other side of that wall was not the Stade de France itself, but more barriers, more gates and more police.
On the concourse inside the ground, a journalist, who had travelled as a fan, approached what he described as “a very worried-looking UEFA official”, asking for an explanation.
“He told me the reason they’d said that on the big screen was to prevent panic inside the stadium,” he told GOAL.
Meanwhile, those trapped outside were about to be subjected to a horrific attack at the hands of the police.
“It was like something out of a war film,” says one fan, a veteran of more than 30 years and a good friend of this correspondent.
“All of a sudden, out of nowhere, people start dropping to the floor, grabbing their faces. My eyes started stinging and streaming, and that’s when you realise ‘f*cking hell, they’re gassing us!
“There were kids in there, families, older fans. They had tickets and were trying to get inside to see their team play a final, and they’re being tear-gassed by the police. F*cking incredible.”Getty Images
By this point a number of journalists had made their way outside from the press box to capture the scenes. ESPN reporter Mark Ogden filmed a police officer pepper-spraying a fan, while Carrie Brown, of BeIn Sports, spoke to fans who had made their way inside once the gates were belatedly opened.
Steve Douglas, a reporter with Associated Press, was accosted by a police officer who bundled him into a security hut and threatened to remove his accreditation unless he deleted the video footage he had captured outside the ground.
Robbie Fowler, the Liverpool legend, spent most of the first half outside. His son, Jacob, and brother Scott were among those caught up in the carnage. Jason McAteer, another former Reds player, said his wife was mugged and his son was attacked. Jim Beglin, a double-winner with the Reds in 1986, called the scenes "reprehensible."
Mike Gordon, one of Liverpool’s owners, and Marvin Matip, brother of Reds defender Joel, were also among the melee. Matip sheltered in a local restauarant with his pregnant girlfriend. Andy Robertson revealed that one of his friends had been refused entry, accused of presenting a fake ticket.
“He luckily managed to get in because one of the club representatives sorted it,” Robertson told reporters afterwards. “But they said it was a fake, which I can assure you it wasn’t, so I think they were making it up at times and panicked.
“For me it shouldn’t really happen, UEFA should have been better organised.”Getty/GOAL
Others, such as Gary Lineker and Kelly Cates, shared their experiences from outside the ground on social media, their stories differing wildly from the ones being peddled by UEFA, the police and, shamefully, a number of French politicians.
The game eventually kicked off at 9.36pm local time, UEFA ensuring that the pre-match show involving Camilla Cabello went ahead. There were boos from the Liverpool end as the Champions League anthem was played, and the club issued a statement during the game in which it condemned the “unacceptable” treatment of supporters, and said had “officially called for a formal investigation” into the causes.
On the pitch, and with the atmosphere in the Liverpool end subdued, to say the least, Vinicius Junior’s second-half goal settled matters, but by that point UEFA had already begun to change its tune. The kick-off, it said now, was put back because “thousands of fans who had purchased fake tickets” had “blocked the turnstiles at the Liverpool end”, causing the delay.
“What is it they say; the one who is lying is the one who changes their story?” one disgusted fan told GOAL. “First it was late arrivals, then it was fake tickets. I’m just surprised they didn’t use drunkenness as an excuse, for the full house.”
The authorities’ position was made clear as the game headed into stoppage time. Hundreds of black-clad riot police made their way to the Liverpool end of the ground, lining up menacingly in front of supporters. At the other end, the jubilant Real Madrid fans had only a smattering of stewards in hi-vis vests for company.
There was little or no trouble inside the ground, as the Reds section emptied rapidly after the final whistle, despite more inexplicably-closed exit gates. But outside the ground, the nightmare was about to restart.Getty Images
“There were gangs roaming around outside, looking to mug and attack Liverpool fans,” says one eye-witness. “We saw one lad have his watch robbed then my brother, who was a minute or so behind me, started shouting that someone had taken his phone and his money.
“A few of them managed to catch the lad, but then four or five others came from nowhere. My brother had his face slashed, his mate had his head cut open, and another lad was bottled.
“They walked to the police station and were basically told they weren’t interested. ‘Go to the hospital’ was the gist of it.
“When they got to the hospital, there was a fella in there who had been hit by a metro train when running away from someone with a knife, there were loads who’d been beaten up or hit with bottles. It was grim.”
Another fan encountered a fellow supporter who had been attacked by a group of youths. His head was bleeding and he feared he might have broken his leg. The victim was with his young son.
Others tell similar tales. One journalist, Caoimhe O’Neill of The Athletic, describes her terror as a gang charged at her and a group of supporters outside.
“I never thought I’d be glad to be leaving such a beautiful city,” she tweeted on Sunday morning.
Plenty feel the same. GOAL spoke to several fans waiting for the Eurostar at Gare du Nord station on Sunday. All had stories to tell, all felt let down by the authorities.
None are in a hurry to visit Paris or the Stade de France again any time soon.
“The best way I can describe it,” says one, “is that it was like the 1980s had arrived and taken over.
“I’ve seen trouble at European aways before. Athens 2007 was bad, but this was worse. It was a complete failure of the organisers and the authorities, and it could have been a lot worse than it was.”
As it was, it was bad enough.
“It’s put me off going again, if I’m honest,” says Reds fan Carl Clemente, who was caught up in the tear gas incident outside the ground with his nine-year-old son.
“Obviously I’ll still support Liverpool, but I’ll definitely think twice about going to games. It was like a war zone, groups of locals charging the police, and the police responding with pepper spray.
“Me and my lad were stood waiting for a taxi, and we were hit by pepper spray. I hit the deck, my lad was in tears. We couldn’t breathe properly, our eyes were stinging.
“He’s nine years old. It was his first big European final. Do you think he’ll want to go again? I’m not even sure I do.”
That, really, is the saddest part. This story is not about fan disorder or hooliganism. It isn’t about fake tickets or late arrivals or alcohol or misbehaviour.
It’s about safety and security, about those who went to watch on a dream trip to watch their team - and paid a fortune for the privilege too, don't forget - and found themselves in the middle of a nightmare, because those who are supposed to organise didn't organise, and those who are supposed to protect didn't protect.
As Kenny Dalglish tweeted afterwards: “nobody should ever be afraid to go to a football game.”
Plenty of Liverpool fans were on Saturday night. Some didn’t even make it inside and some may not return.
And it is UEFA and the French authorities who must answer the questions as to why.