Five days removed from the shameful crowd trouble seen before and after England’s Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy, stories continue to emerge of the harrowing lengths that certain ticketless individuals were willing to go to in order to force their way into Wembley.
Graham Hiley, a lecturer in sports journalism at Solent University in Southampton, was among the 60,000 lucky enough to have a legitimate ticket for Sunday’s showpiece occasion. Mr Hiley attended the match with his sons Martin and Tim, together with Tim’s best friend Joe.
Both Tim and Joe are wheelchair users, something that one unscrupulous man sought to exploit to gain access to the national stadium.
Despite having their tickets in hand, Mr Hiley’s group initially struggled to get stewards to let them into the venue due to the chaos that was taking place around Wembley.
“They (Graham and Martin) were trying to get me and Joe into the ground, and they (the stewards) weren’t opening the door for us, Tim told The Athletic (subscription required). “Whenever the door did open, it was normally them chucking someone out.”
Italy win Euro 2020 (The Football Terrace)
However, it seemed that things were looking up for the party when a man sporting high visibility attire made his presence known, apparently to help escort them to their seats. The individual was dressed as a steward, but it soon became apparent that he was not part of the stadium staff, but rather a member of the public looking for an opportunity to sneak into the match.
“A guy in a fluorescent jacket took charge and shouted very authoritatively, ‘Right, come on! Let’s get the disabled in. They’ve been waiting here for half-an-hour, we need to get them in now,'” explained Mr Hiley. “The door opened and he started pushing Joe’s wheelchair towards it.
“As he was pushing Joe towards the door, my first thought was, ‘Thank God. Someone is finally helping us’, but then you think, ‘No. He’s with me and you aren’t taking him in’.
“Suddenly, I realised he wasn’t a steward at all. He was a fan in a fluorescent jacket hijacking a wheelchair to try to use it as a way to get in. I tried saying Joe was with me but the guy said, ‘No, I’m trying to get the disabled in. Let’s get him in’. I pushed him out of the way and the actual steward said, ‘If you hadn’t done that, I would have just let him in’. They tried to hijack a disabled person in a wheelchair!”
The group’s experience is yet another example of the dreadful conduct displayed by some at Wembley last weekend. Unfortunately, even after being granted access to the venue, the party still had to fight their way through hordes of drunken England fans with two wheelchair users.
“There was absolutely no social distancing, Everyone was stood on the concourse drinking, chanting, pushing and shouting,” said Mr Hiley of the scene inside the ground.
“They were all p***** up, but some would create a passage for you to get through. It was hard work. I was trying to stay calm, but it was still scary.”
Regrettably, after attending the final on Sunday, Mr Hiley and Tim have both tested positive for COVID-19.
Tim, though, insisted that the experience would not put him off going to other big events, although he admitted he would think twice about being present at another England match.
“I haven’t ever experienced anything remotely close to that,” he revealed. “I said to Joe that it was the first time I have felt unsafe at an event. It’s not necessarily English matches, but England matches. It might put me off going to other England games at Wembley and it does make me question the security at Wembley. It doesn’t happen at an FA Cup final or a League Cup final.
“This is a real underlying thing about the security there: any one of those people could have had a bomb. Luckily for Wembley, they were all enthusiastic amateurs as opposed to a calculated terrorist.”
No fan should ever feel unsafe or threatened at a sporting event. Hopefully, lessons can be learned from Sunday’s debacle.