Sat, Feb 24, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Directors of Lille blame Man United for crowd violence

WAR OF WORDS The English club claimed poor handling of security put fans in danger, but the French side said that fake tickets caused problems


Lille directors blamed Manchester United for the crowd trouble at their Champions League match, saying the English team's early distribution of tickets led to a high number of counterfeits being made.

No one was seriously injured on Tuesday when some United fans were pushed against high fences at Stade Felix-Bollaert in Lens, forcing several to climb over the barrier to safety on the field. Riot police also fired tear gas into the crowd.

UEFA has opened an investigation into the incident.

United, who won the match 1-0, said that Lille's poor handling of security put its fans in danger, but Lille responded by saying that forgers had time to produce counterfeit tickets because they had been distributed too quickly.

"We sent Manchester their quota of places a few weeks ago," Lille general director Xavier Thuilot said. "But the English club, instead of distributing their tickets upon arrival at the stadium, distributed them out a month ago. As a result, very good counterfeits permitted English fans to enter. All the counterfeit tickets came from England."

United denied that was the reason for the trouble.

"Tickets were distributed by recorded delivery 11 days before the game or for collection from Feb. 1," the club said. "We would normally send out tickets for our home games at Old Trafford six weeks before the match and we have no problems with forgeries."

Lille also said that a number of United's Category C hooligans -- regarded as the most dangerous by British police -- managed to enter the stadium.

UEFA will look at whether Lille breached safety and security instructions and examine alleged improper conduct of both sets of fans.

The match was played in Lens because Lille's stadium doesn't meet UEFA standards.

"From the moment we saw the supporters trying to pull on the railings, what interpretation we can make of that, as security guards?" stadium chief of security Damien Vanoise said. "For me, it was violent behavior."

There were also problems on the field.

Ryan Giggs scored the only goal in the 83rd minute with a quickly taken free kick. Lille maintained that the goal should not have counted because Giggs did not wait for the referee's whistle.

When the game restarted, the Lille players began to walk off the field in protest at referee Eric Braamhaar's decision to allow the goal to stand.

"Mister Braamhaar has exceeded the rights of the referee," Thuilot said. "His behavior is a defect of neutrality."

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