By Tony Attwood
One of my main complaints about the English media’s coverage of football is that it is not only anglophile, but also highly selective, ignoring the notion that there is a different focus elsewhere both on what issues are reported, and how various issues are reported.
The most obvious element of this at the moment is the fact that almost to a person, English journalists will not mention the chaos at the Euro final at Wembley when mentioning the chaos in Paris. It is as if this sort of problem only happens when Johnny Foreigner is in control. Johnny’s police force is vicious and violent and out to beat up anyone they can – although quite why it was only Liverpool supporters who suffered at the Euro final is not clear.
However not everyone takes this view. Forbes has an article headed “The other factors behind Liverpool’s Champions League Final Chaos” which does indeed look further into the issue.
We should also remember that in Europe, rightly or wrongly, the memory of Liverpool is not of the worst tragedy in English soccer history at Hillsborough in 1989 but of the Heysel Stadium disaster of 29 May 1985 where 39 died and 600 were injured.
On this occasion, the English media is resolute in blaming the French authorities for events at the Champions League final. And maybe they are right – but it is interesting that as ever, the English media does not take much note of what the rest of Europe says – especially the rest of Europe beyond France and Spain, where the media has an interest in protecting their own.
As one example, I’ve been having a look at the Swiss paper Blick and its take on the events in Paris.
They agree that the problem was counterfeit tickets but also tend to emphasise that the level of drinking (as symbolised by volume of beer cans on the ground) which is noted far more than in English reports.
It is also noted elsewhere that the demand for tickets, and willingness to travel without tickets, is very much an English thing. For example in 2018 when Liverpool played Real Madrid in the final in Kiev, Real Madrid did not sell out their tickets, while Liverpool could have sold their allocation several times over.
Fake tickets are also regularly mentioned – along with the fact that none of this happened around the Real Madrid fans. One clear suggestion oft-repeated is that Liverpool FC stated that they wanted paper and not electronic tickets for their fans, although why that might have been the case I am not sure.
Part of the blame it is noted must go to Uefa, for the game was supposed to take place in St. Petersburg, Russia but was moved because of the war. Choosing St Denis as the backup option was just plain daft.
There are also comparisons in some reports in European papers with the chaos before the Euro final – something not often found in English reports.
But mostly the criticism of using the selected venue made in the European media, was the long on-going problem of street maintenance in Saint-Denis, poor management of waste collection in the area.
Indeed the city of Saint-Denis is one of the poorest cities in France, and many comment on the fact that the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo got less than 2% of the vote when she stood in the recent French presidential elections. They really do see her as a failed leader.
It is also interesting that the French authorities claim they were rather pleased with their performance which they claim meant there was an absence of massive violence. In short, the argument is the reputation of Liverpool supporters preceded the event and the French police set themselves up accordingly. That is certainly possible. Liverpool might have removed all mention of Heysel from its website (a reporting that it very honourably did have for many years noting the darkest hour in the history of the club) but the memory in Europe is much stronger.
Moving on, and in another piece of news that makes the European papers but not the English media, this time from Le Matin it is reported by French investigative journalist Romain Molina, that Sepp Blatter, former president of Fifa, benefited from sexual gifts from the president of the Haitian Football Federation (FHF), Yves Jean-Bart when he was in power. Jean-Bart was banned for life by FIFA in November 2020 for sexual abuse of 14 players, including many minors.
According to Romain Molina, a specialist in sexual criminality involving children, for nearly two decades, the main officials of the FHF have built a vast network of sexual exploitation, under the protection of the Fifa Goal programme which is designed to encourage young people from deprived areas to play football.
In the report, the victims call the centre “hell on earth”, sexually groomed players, referees and employees were offered as “gifts” to visiting delegations.
The investigation mentions the rape of teenage girls and boys, abortions, blackmail and death threats. Josimar-football.com states it has Haitian court documents in his possession that prove at least one victim committed suicide.
In 2013, during a visit by Sepp Blatter to Haiti, an employee of the Center was allegedly sent by Yves Jean-Bart to the Hotel Oasis in Pétion Ville where the Swiss was staying to “sleep with him,” according to a statement by an FHF member.
So why do I bring that report of Blatter’s complicity in a sexual abuse scandal alongside differing versions of what happened in the Champions League final? Basically, the point is simple: the media in England club together to give us one narrative while in Europe the story is different. This might be a matter of emphasis, or it could be a different view of who and what was to blame (in Europe it is the French police and the decision to play the game in Saint Denis) or a difference in terms of what is thought to be important (historic child sex abuse and Fifa – worth mentioning or not?)
We just see the world in different ways.
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