When Steve Rotheram, mayor of Liverpool, finally got to speak to the president of UEFA in Paris on Saturday night, he was most probably in a state of agitation.
He had not arrived at the Stade de France in a chauffeur-driven vehicle, or as part of a VIP entourage. He had been directed down a dead end blocked off by police riot vans, then told to climb over a fence to escape the crush.
As he did, thieves stole his mobile phone, his bank cards, his money and his match ticket. The police weren’t interested. Only when some lads alerted them that Rotheram was the mayor, via a picture on Google, was action taken on his behalf.
Police couldn’t retrieve his belongings, but they could get him through to an entrance where a replica ticket was issued. And that’s how he ended up in front of UEFA’s Aleksander Ceferin in the VIP area.
Thousands of Liverpool fans were pepper sprayed and mistreated by police prior to the Champions League final at the Stade de France in Paris last week, including Liverpool’s mayor
When Mayor of Liverpool Steve Rotheram (not pictured) approached UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin (middle) to discuss the issues, Ceferin thought it to be disrespectful
‘He didn’t want to listen to what I had to say,’ Rotheram explained. ‘He said, “You don’t know how difficult this has been to organise in just a few months”. He said they killed themselves just to get this game on. I said, “Don’t kill the fans outside”. It didn’t even fall on deaf ears. I said, “You need to do something”. They said I was being disrespectful. Ceferin said the conversation was over.’
And there it is, laid bare. The monstrous arrogance of the breed running sport. The callous absence of concern for the ordinary fans, the despicable self-regard, the selfishness.
Ceferin thought it disrespectful that he should be asked to help those being attacked and injured outside the stadium. He wanted sympathy for not being able to organise a football match at less than a year’s notice.
And why was there merely a three-month lead time for the 2022 edition of the Champions League final? Because UEFA had initially seen fit to award the match to Russia — a nation that corrupted sport with its systemic drug-taking regime. Ceferin thinks he can fool us, but Russia didn’t become a rogue nation overnight, when it invaded Ukraine. It went rogue in sporting terms decades before.
So if UEFA and Paris only had three months to plan, that’s on UEFA and Ceferin, because they gave the match to Vladimir Putin’s favourite city, St Petersburg. There was always a chance Russia’s host status would become unacceptable. This is UEFA’s mess. But let’s move on, for within four days, Amelie Mauresmo was explaining another organisational catastrophe in the French capital.
As director of the French Open tennis tournament, she was trying to justify how the match of the competition so far — Rafa Nadal versus Novak Djokovic — had been allowed to conclude at 1.15am, more than an hour after the last Metro had stopped running, with no way for the majority of the 15,000 crowd to get home.
Taxis were at a premium. True, there was no threat of death by misadventure as there had been outside the Stade de France — the 16th arrondissement is very different from St Denis — but one fan reported being asked £81 for a journey of little more than a mile. Others were left to walk for hours, or wait for ages.
Mauresmo, though, would have been unaffected. She would have had a tournament car, or her own, parked on site and waiting. Even so, the absence of understanding of what it is like to be a paying customer displayed the following day was astonishing.
At the French Open, one of the directors, Amelie Mauresmo was unaffected by the travel chaos that affected the 15,000 who stayed beyond the last metro for Novak Djokovic vs Rafa Nadal
It was not Mauresmo who agreed a package with Amazon Prime that involved starting a main match at 8.45pm local time — but she was in situ when it should have been discussed how that might affect people once the trains stopped running.
‘I’m learning a lot of things regarding the scheduling of the tournament,’ she said. ‘We haven’t planned anything yet, but obviously we need to organise ourselves differently.
‘If we continue with these night sessions, people need to make sure they have a way back home. We do not have the means to organise this for 15,000 people yet. For the moment, there is nothing.’
In other words, she’s useless. They’re useless. It’s really no surprise, then, that the French Tennis Federation chief executive, who departed on the eve of the tournament and presumably left no plan for how late-night tennis was to work for its paying customers, was Amelie Oudea-Castera, the new sports minister, who has spent the past week propping up police and UEFA lies about what unfolded at the Stade de France last Saturday.
But this is not just about France, or tennis or football. The paying public were treated with contempt at Lord’s yesterday, too, and many of them missed the eventful start of the first Test against New Zealand.
There were once again deaths at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon earlier this year; the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua where England toured last winter is built miles from the nearest centre with no public transport bar taxis. And nobody in authority cares about any of this. They schedule fixtures for television and expect you all to provide the colourful backdrop regardless.
Their events are successful despite them, not because of them. The World Cup in Qatar will be the same.
Sport’s chiefs need to spend a day as a fan to see how their poor leadership is causing damage
The problem is these people are unaccountable. It would be wonderful to make Ceferin attend six huge tournaments with nothing but the cheapest tickets and access only to public transport.
Mauresmo might have given a little more thought to the night owls at Roland Garros if she had to stay to the bitter end, and her car keys were dropped in the Seine.
Fantasy, of course. They never get to see it through your eyes, these people. They insulate themselves against their own rotten leadership.
Yet we need to find a way of addressing that complacency because the last week should be the last straw.
If a man like Ceferin doesn’t care whether you are safe in his football grounds, why should he expect to feel welcome in yours? He needs to hear what disrespect sounds like; he needs to feel the anger of more than one man behind VIP ropes.
So should they all. This should be a watershed. If sport is turning its back on the fans, maybe it’s time fans beat them to it.
HOW MANY £1M DISPLAYS HAS POGBA PUT IN FOR UNITED?
By the time all the numbers are taken into consideration – the transfer fee, the wages, the bonuses, image rights, even that incongruous £3.78million loyalty payment for a player who couldn’t have done more to destabilise Manchester United if he’d actually signed for Manchester City – there should be little doubt about the success or otherwise of Paul Pogba’s second coming at Old Trafford.
The bill comes in at £218.93m, which works out at £968,716 per game. And did Pogba have many £1m games? Barely.
Pogba failed to live up to the world record £89m fee United paid to bring him in from Juventus
Think of the number Kevin De Bruyne or even Ilkay Gundogan have turned in for Manchester City. Think of how many Son Heung-min has played for Tottenham, or Trent Alexander-Arnold for Liverpool. Games in which that individual, more than anyone, decided the outcome. Not because he scored the goals, but because of his wider contribution.
Oleksandr Zinchenko has had more games like that for City than Pogba did for United. And in his six years at the club, Pogba spent 40 per cent of matches injured. The jury is no longer out. The verdict is in and, sadly, unanimous.
MEDIOCRITY WON’T DENY SCOTLAND A WORLD CUP SPOT IN FUTURE
Scotland were dismal against Ukraine on Wednesday night. You might not know this. Certainly, if you listened to the commentary, you may feel confused.
When Scotland pulled one back with 11 minutes remaining, the outpouring of emotion suggested this was a nation famous for its revivals, not one that hadn’t ventured to a World Cup finals this century.
Let’s face it, until UEFA let half the continent in – an idea that originated in Scotland, unsurprisingly – they weren’t getting to the European Championship finals, either.
Andrew Robertson is their only world-class player, and he was ordinary against Ukraine, too. Wales on Sunday should prove a tougher test, but Ukraine looked a good, technical team – and are clearly responding to a higher calling right now.
Scotland were mediocre against Ukraine but that sort of display won’t be punished in future
Still, from a Scottish perspective, the future will be brighter. Not because they will get better necessarily, but because by 2026, FIFA will have opened the gates wide as UEFA did, so mediocrity will no longer prevent entry.
At last summer’s European Championship, Scotland finished bottom of their group, scored one goal and earned one point.
We can look forward to that high level of quality brightening the World Cup in North America in four years’ time.
Elite competitions are increasingly a race to the bottom these days.
SELLING REBEL TOUR IS NO JOB FOR DREARY DJ
Dustin Johnson, it is fair to say, is not prone to complexity, or insight, or wit. That didn’t matter previously because he was there to play golf, which he did rather well.
By its nature, however, the rebel tour needs captivating figures. It needs selling, personality. Good luck, now Johnson is the man intended to headline that show.
As it is, he is simply the most famous name on a roster of largely spent forces and mediocrities.
Louis Oosthuizen is in good form, but won his only major tournament in 2010; Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Charl Schwartzel are all major winners too, but their achievements seem largely in the past. Johnson has won two majors, but still trails Padraig Harrington and Jordan Spieth. Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy have as many major wins as the entire rebel field combined.
Anyway, why go to watch such a small group of major champions when the average start list at a PGA Tour event boasts many more?
Dustin Johnson (right) is the face of the breakaway Saudi-backed rebel series shaking up golf
Tiger Woods has almost double the rebels’ total of eight major wins.
If golf had a Ronnie O’Sullivan figure, a high-profile competitor still at his best, with a winning personality and a winning game that the entire sport would pay to watch, it would be different. That individual could be a pied piper, dragging the crowds and the performers with him.
Woods was that man in golf, but it’s a battle for him to finish a tournament now, let alone be relied upon to sell a brand new tour. Anyway, he’s in opposition. Phil Mickelson? He appears to have alienated both sides and, at the moment, has declared for neither.
This leaves Johnson. The rebels paid him £100million to get on board. That could fund a lot of scriptwriters because now he certainly needs one.
RED TAPE WOULD LEAVE FOOTBALL IN A PROPER MESS
Now Nottingham Forest are promoted, owner Evangelos Marinakis must pass the Premier League’s fit and proper persons test.
Marinakis, also the owner of Greek side Olympiacos, has been no stranger to controversy in the past, and is very litigious when protecting his reputation. Still, the Premier League have their job to do.
Imagine, however, a decision that went against Marinakis. How would that be received in Nottingham, among fans who have waited so long for this return? Would they welcome the thorough, professional process of governance; or declare war?
And that’s the problem with all the wonderful red tape football is going to be getting. The rogue owners it is claimed would have been wheedled out rarely look dangerous at the time. Right now, Forest fans think the best thing that happened to their club is Marinakis and, whatever was unearthed, would not wish to consider any other narrative.
KEEP SPORT OUT OF THE COURTS
Huddersfield are demanding an explanation over a penalty call, denied in their Championship play-off defeat by Nottingham Forest.
It is being asked why Jon Moss, the referee, wasn’t summoned to the pitchside monitor by VAR Paul Tierney to reconsider a barge by Max Lowe on Huddersfield’s Lewis O’Brien.
Almost certainly it will be because Tierney did not feel a clear and obvious error was made, so stayed neutral. He is making, after all, a judgment call, which will be subjective. He may be wrong, or right, but that isn’t the point. It was his call to make, and he made it.
Huddersfield believe Lewis O’Brien should have got a penalty after Max Lowe’s challenge
Huddersfield say they will consider their options after hearing the explanation of the PGMOL, the referees’ body.
These options wouldn’t include another tedious threat of litigation, would they? Here we go again. Huddersfield had all season, plus a round of play-off games, to get promoted. It doesn’t come down to a split-second call and, even if it did, that’s football.
Unless swiftly curbed, these constant attempts to replay the season in the law courts will kill the game.
Turns out it does matter if you pick the best bowlers. You learn something new every day.
Well, Sir Andrew Strauss does.