Police reaction 'just made things worse' for fans

February 21, 2007

Manchester United fans caught up in a crush scare during their Champions League game in France today blamed the police for over-reacting.

In a chilling reminder of the Hillsborough and Heysel football disasters, some visiting United fans appeared in danger of being crushed against a 10ft-high metal pitch perimeter fence.

At least two supporters were lifted over the barrier, while security officials slammed shut a gate which had been pushed open by United supporters trying to relieve the pressure.

UEFA are expected to launch an investigation into the incident during the stormy match against Lille, which United went on to win 1-0.

Lifelong fan Mark Harrison, 27, from Lymm, Cheshire, said panic erupted in the stands at the Stade Felix-Bollaert.

He said: 'One young woman fell forward and was crushed against the fence, I don't know what caused it.

'She was crying and tried to climb over the fence. When all the other fans saw this they started to panic and did the same thing.

'I think people were worried it might be like Hillsborough and so they started climbing the fence and trying to get out the stand.

'The police reaction was well over the top, they started spraying us with pepper spray, my eyes were streaming and I couldn't catch my breath.

'The police reaction just made things worse.'

Mr Harrison, who remained in the stand, said he saw riot police hitting supporters with batons.

He said: 'I've seen trouble at football matches before but never to this extent. It was quite frightening to witness these kind of scenes.

'I think some of the fans may have initially over-reacted themselves to the situation in the stand but the police made the situation escalate out of control.'

United keeper Edwin van der Sar complained of double vision following the game, thought to have been caused by the pepper spray.

Officials at the club have appealed for fans who were at the ground to contact them to establish what went wrong.

Phil Townsend, director of communications at Manchester United, said: 'We have obviously received a lot of information from various sources but we would welcome any more detail from fans in the affected area because it is important we establish precisely what has happened.'

Representatives from Manchester United and the Football Association are expected to meet with the UEFA match official to discuss the safety scare.

A United club official at the match said he had not been made aware of any injuries to fans.