Police spray tear gas at Liverpool fans outside the stadium as they queue prior to the UEFA Champions League final match between Liverpool FC and Real Madrid at Stade de France on 28 May 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

Liverpool, lies and France’s shame

The Stade de France fiasco bodes ill for forthcoming international sports events

This article is taken from the July 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Emmanuel Macron’s first term was damaged by the farcically violent behaviour of his chum Alexandre Benalla, a security lout. A minor matter eventually, it did not resound outside the hexagon. The president’s second quinquennat is already facing a much graver, potentially international problem which may come to define it. 

In a hasty evidence-free improvisation on Twitter the interior minister, Macron’s chum, Gérald Darmanin, a shifty sort currently not facing a single rape charge, blamed the chaos at the European Cup Final on 28 May on the “industrial” production and sale of fake tickets (Made in UK) to Liverpool fans. 

UEFA, Darmanin and the squirming half-witted wellness-drooling sports minister, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, are all desperate to exculpate themselves. The latter two lied throughout three hours of a Senate hearing. 

Chum or not, Darmanin’s position is parlous. In 2023 France stages the Rugby World Cup at venues which include la Stade de France. The following year Paris accepts the poison baton of the Olympic Games. One of Darmanin’s jobs — a strange position for a xenophobe — is to prepare France for those events. 

It is Darmanin’s gross misfortune that Macron supports him totally, unmitigatedly, beyond wholeheartedly — as any president would when his government’s probity is impugned by the man’s mendacity and the results of the legislative elections have been dispiriting. Polls indicate that up to 90 per cent of the French populace consider Darmanin to be a liar. 

Scouse-bashing will only make the situation worse. Incurious as well as dishonest, Darmanin fails to understand Liverpool’s defiant particularity, its spirited bolshiness, its square-peg place in the British psyche. It is a city liked and sentimentalised in France, a grey-sky Marseille. Post-Hillsborough it was betrayed by British justice. Its people are not going to be scapegoats again. 

Darmanin will learn what it’s like to be tackled from behind by Jimmy Case or Graeme Souness. Some of his excuses are the far side of pathetic. For instance, “The stadium had only three months to prepare when the final was moved from St Petersburg.” This has prompted incredulity. As has the vast discrepancy in the number of passengers to the stadium provided by the transport authority RATP and the number conjured out of thin air by Darmanin.

Simply, the stadium ought not to be where it is

He can’t blame the pigs because he is the chief pig and a pig’s first duty is to save his own skin. He can’t blame la racaille, as Sarkozy called the mob from the crime-ridden slums of Seine-Saint-Denis. That would be to break rank, to slaughter a sacred cow by admitting what everyone, including Macron, knows but dares not say: la racaille is out of control in zones urbaines sensibles, zones prioritaires, zones de redynamisation urbaines. The taxonomy of no-go areas is euphemistic, a mask. 

When Darmanin claims that without decisions taken by the prefecture there would have been deaths he is wading into a slough of mendacity. The chaos was caused by the prefecture under the reliably heavy handed préfet, Didier Lallement. 

There is ample evidence that the pigs attacked supporters with batons and tear gas but stood by doing nothing while la racaille, tooled up with machetes and knives, robbed those fans who, in the ambit of that stadium, are quarry. Pigs the world over have a compromised relationship with criminals: “Every cop is a criminal” — Lallement and Darmanin prove The Stones’ point in “Sympathy for the Devil”. 

But getting rid of that noisome pair will not — pace the ubiquitous Jean-Luc Mélenchon, la racaille’s apologist with a megaphone — alleviate the fundamental error that afflicts the Stade de France. Nor will little Éric Zemmour’s umpteenth tirade against immigrants, lawlessness and communitarianism.

None of these or scores of other parties with an opinion about what is absurdly styled “France’s shame” seems capable of appreciating that the problem is equally historic and urbanistic. It derives from a three-decade-old failure of strategic planning. 

Simply, the stadium ought not to be where it is. It is located only 8km from Place de la Concorde. It was built for the 1998 World Cup. Five potential sites had been considered. The others, situated in satellite new towns, were deemed too far from central Paris — though the 35 km to Marne La-Vallée has not thwarted Disneyland’s success. Distance rather than appropriate surroundings determined the site. However, the sporting bodies, politicians, architects and engineers forgot in their enthusiasm to meet the neighbours.

They were perhaps wise in their omission. A few years ago, I drove around Bobigny with a friend looking for film locations. Doors locked. However, Hugues forgot where he was and got out of the car to take a photo. Within seconds, from among the decrepit towers and burnt out cars and muggers doing wheelies and starving pi-dogs, there appeared a reception committee to welcome us to the Land Without Hope. 

It should make for an interesting Olympics — which Darmanin and Oudéa-Castéra will doubtless watch from wherever chance’s revolving door (la pantouflage) has deposited them.

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