It wasn't until Thursday morning that solid details began to emerge about the chaotic scenes outside Athens' Olympic Stadium the previous evening. I'd been oblivious to it all as I nursed a sore head & a sense of disappointment at the result. However, late Thursday morning changed all that & the initial reports gave a flavour of what had transpired:
By Friday the Liverpool Echo was eagerly running with the story. Its take on events was predictably partisan:
However, the piece did quote Dr Rogan Taylor, a leading light in the Football Supporters Association after Hillsborough, & now a director of the football industry group at Liverpool University. Taylor was commendably even-handed in his analysis:
"Clubs have pressed too hard to squeeze the maximum amount of money from the sponsors. They have to instruct Uefa to do sponsorship deals which bring in less money & reduce the number of tickets to corporate businesses.
Fans must also recognise that if you get in without a ticket by being smart, it maybe deprives a dad & a daughter with tickets of their own."
Friday also saw the serious press sinking their teeth into an irresistible story. The Guardian sports weblog carried a piece by Gregg Roughley, a Liverpool fan who witnessed the scenes outside the stadium:
Roughley was eager to dissociate himself from the antics of those idiots who had tried to gain access, in Rick Parry's now unfortunate phrase, by hook or by crook.
Roughley asserted: "The behaviour of some Liverpool fans was certainly not beyond reproach, but they were given the opportunity by the inept Greek authorities & woefully ill-equipped stadium facilities deemed suitable by Uefa."
He pointed out that the so-called fanzone showed "no sign of fan-themed events taking place: no music, no drink (alcoholic or soft) & nothing remotely fun."
"In the ground, about 300 seats behind the goal where Liverpool supporters were housed remained empty for the entire match. Of those fans who did show up to take their seats in the second half, many were suffering sickness after being sprayed with tear gas, while others sat discosolately with their heads in their hands after being beaten by Greek police officers."
Roughley also noted: "Many ticketless Liverpool fans travelled to Cardiff for last year's FA Cup final after tickets had been stolen prior to the match, but the high standard of planning & organisation by police & stewards ensured that the day passed over without any major problems."
The Sun "newspaper" jumped on the issue with this opportunistic piece:
Yes, the rag that gave us "The Truth" pathetically tried to boost its pygmy circulation figures on Merseyside. [Before Hillsborough Murdoch's rag was selling 57,000 copies a day on Merseyside. After its infamous edition which accused Liverpool supporters of looting dead bodies & urinating on first aid staff, that figure slumped to 12,000. It has not risen significantly since.]
However, blame is clearly apportioned by Paul Wilson in today's Observer:
Wilson's piece begins: "Call me hard-hearted, if you like, but I found my initial sympathy for all the ticket-holding Liverpool fans tear-gassed & clobbered by Athens police evaporating at the airport the following day, on encountering scally after scally bragging about getting into the European Cup final for nothing."
Quite why Wilson should lump in the genuine ticket-holding fans with the feckless scum isn't explained in the piece.
Later in the article Wilson asserts: "Liverpool followers need no history lessons on why all-seater stadiums came about in the first place, & now they are here it does not take a genius to work out that the seats occupied by people without tickets must be at the expense of people who paid for them."
Augmenting this trend of thought is Patrick Barclay in today's Sunday Telegraph:
Barclay draws attention to an interview with "a pair of middle-aged drunken nitwits" on Greek TV. Asked why they had turned up in Athens without tickets, one of them replied:"'We're going to wait until the game's about to start, & then we're going to storm the stadium.'"
Barclay continues: "My stomach turned, as would that of anyone who experienced (even from a merciful distance) the horrific events of the crush at Hillsborough 18 years ago. But this turned out to be more than just a bad joke. In grotesque retrospect, indeed, it can be seen as a statement of intent."