Liverpool vs Real Madrid: 'I was pepper-sprayed outside Champions League final'

ITV Granada Reports video journalist Jahmal Williams-Thomas on the chaos he witnessed as Liverpool fans tried to get into the Champions League final in Paris.

Walking up to any football match should be a joyous occasion.

The smell of food from the catering vans, the chanting as you approach the stadium and the general camaraderie of the company you are with.

What I was met with at the Stade de France couldn’t have been further from that - it was chaos.

For the record, this is my account of what I had witnessed on one side of the stadium.

I set off for the stadium with a good couple of hours to spare so that I could pick up my accreditation and get inside.

As I approached the outer area of the stadium, I noticed that there was a mass of fans gathered on the street and nobody seemed to be moving into the stadium.

Liverpool fans met with barriers as they tried to get into the Stade de France

Police Nationale were directing people any which way and it didn’t seem like there was any plan.

Four stewards were checking tickets at the bottom of the ramp that hundreds of fans were using to get onto the main concourse around the stadium.

This caused one thing- a bottleneck of both Liverpool and Madrid fans. I thought I’d not waste any time in getting in the queue - if you could call it that.

As I stood clutching my phone, tapping my pockets every minute to make sure I hadn’t been pickpocketed, the cries started to ring out.

Huge crowds outside the Stade de France as fans tried to get inside for the Champions League final

Cries such as: “This is just like Hillsborough,”, “This is dangerous,” “I can’t breathe," , “Let us through.”

The anger towards the police and stadium staff was growing.

Drawing nearer and nearer to kick-off, the worry of not making the start of the game started to set in - and so did the pushing.

Young children were quickly hoisted upon shoulders in an attempt to get them out of the crush.

The pressure from behind could be felt as one thing went through my head - this must have been terrifying for those who witnessed Hillsborough 33 years ago.

Riot police outside the Stade de France with shields and tear gas

Every few minutes there was a wave of fans pushing forward, desperate to watch their respective teams, before everything suddenly halted and boos rang out.

Several fans then headed back towards safety, pushing through, looking incredibly distressed and crying saying that they simply needed to get out.

Once I’d made it through to the front, the four stewards were hostile. They’d been made to scan hundreds and hundreds of tickets between the four of them and it was clear they’d had enough.

They simply shouted “ticket,” and if you didn’t have one for them to scan- or like me you had an email from UEFA saying to collect your accreditation- they simply were not interested, even resorting to physically pushing people away, back into the crowd.

I heard clattering behind me and turned around to see that the police had had enough and put barriers in front of the crowd. A sign that nobody else was getting in.

At the accreditation desk, I was duly warned that journalists had come back and complained saying that their accreditation had been stolen, and that I must be vigilant at all times.

Accreditation collected, I headed round to entrance U which had been signposted as the TV & Media entrance- as I got to gate T, it was clear something was wrong.

I was approached by a group of fans rubbing their eyes and crying. They’d told me they’d been tear gassed.

Their apparent crime was simply standing in the queue waiting to go through the turnstiles. The Police Nationale did not discriminate when it came to their targets.

Grown men, women and children were targeted. The sound of crying children is the last thing you would expect to hear outside the stadium, moments before a big match.

One woman with her family told me through red eyes: “trying to get in the stadium has ruined our day.”.

As I spoke to the family, a huge rush of people suddenly started running through at speed, covering their eyes and mouths.

Behind them, a line of riot police coming to an abrupt halt after sprinting towards the civilians.

On first glance, there were a few fans in colours involved but a large majority were those who seemed to be locals as I gathered by the French they were speaking, and honestly didn’t seem like fans of either side.

Then I tasted it. The tear gas that the fans I’d spoken to had been talking about. As I tried to move away and make sense of it all.

The gates were now shut and fans were not allowed in, even those with a genuine ticket who’d paid hundreds of pounds to be there.

An announcement blared over the tannoy declaring that kick off had been delayed due to the “late arrival” of Liverpool fans.

This was blatantly untrue, as I was standing with a large majority of them getting crushed two hours earlier.

If anything, they had tried to get there extra early to avoid things like what had taken place anyway. With the fans now locked out, the anger started to rise and tension had mounted.

Fans showing their tickets for the match

Fans feeling penalised for no reason, now with tear gas and pepper spray in their eyes to add insult.

Some people who weren’t wearing any colours were attempting to climb over, which only antagonised police even more.

The only things these fans that had been locked out could see, were the French tricolore fireworks overhead from the Champions League Final’s opening show.

Feeling a little worried for my own safety now, and knowing the game had kicked off, I thought it was best to head into the media entrance and so I made my way around to entrance U.

On arrival I was greeted with a locked gate and a man behind simply shrugging his shoulders.

There was also a journalist next to me with accreditation who was being ignored. I desperately held up my pass shouting that I was here to work and I needed to get it- all my pleas falling on deaf ears.

Queues at the turnstiles at Stade de France in Paris

I had no choice but to hunt around the outer concourse for an alternative entrance. My hunt took me right back to gate Y, where one small section of the large gate had been opened for the remaining fans to enter- once again causing a bottleneck of fans desperate to get in at least before half time.

I joined the large queue of fans and when I was near the front, witnessed what I’d been told was going on the whole time.

One of the thieves lurking around the stadium had snatched a ticket out of the hand of a Liverpool fan. After a scuffle and handing the fan a right hook, the gang got away.

The victim’s protests to the stewards and police who were just yards away were ignored and he was left ticketless and devastated.

Suddenly someone shouted “gas!” and as I turned towards the fence, I saw a gas cannister in an officer’s hand and all of a sudden blue liquid.

I spun around desperate to protect my face but the damage had been done. I began to taste pepper. The back of my throat was on fire slowly spreading behind my eyeballs and then into my eyes.

The stinging was unbearable, all the time thinking “I’m here to work."

Once I was able to stumble away and compose myself I turned back to the tiny gate, where fans had continued to let in. Once I’d got there I was let in with my pass and headed to the press area to watch the remaining 25 minutes of the first half.

After the game, I had arranged to meet my colleague, ITV Granada Reports sports correspondent Chris Hall, to gather fan reaction for the programme.

When I’d texted him to get a meeting point, he said he had been mugged. Luckily he’d got his phone back but it was a stark reminder how dangerous it was outside the stadium.

Street gangs were lurking ready to prey on the supporters leaving the stadium- with barely any police in sight.

Many of the gates on the perimeter of the stadium were locked, causing bottlenecks down the very few available routes out and forcing people to climb gates and over walls in order to get out of the potential crushes.

There were more reports from fans we spoke to saying that the police were still gassing and spraying people as they left.

With no crowd trouble between both sets of fans, it seems the Police Nationale were more concerned with exercising unnecessary force on the exiting supporters of both teams, rather than protecting them around the stadium and on the metro.

There will be an investigation - but it’s a catalogue of failures from the top. Whether it’s UEFA, the stadium staff, the police or the ticketless supporters to blame.

One thing we must all agree on is that this cannot happen again.