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England thug 'hijacked' wheelchair user to blag his way into Euro 2020 final
3 December 2021, 10:35 | Updated: 3 December 2021, 22:18
A ticketless England fan “hijacked” a disabled man and separated him from his father in order to blag his way into Wembley for the Euro 2020 final, an independent review into the disorder has found.
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It was one of various instances of “sad and disgraceful” chaos surrounding the match against Italy in July, the review said.
It first identified the man in the wheelchair as a child, but sports charity Level Playing Field later clarified it was an adult.
Part of the review, led by Baroness Casey and published this morning, detailed numerous breaches at the stadium’s turnstiles, including targeting fans with disabilities “in a predatory fashion”.
The man's father, in evidence to Level Playing Field for the report, said the England fan had been wearing a high-visibility jacket in a bid to disguise himself as an official.
He said: “He’s then taken [the] wheelchair and pushed it towards the door… just as we got to the door we twigged what was going on and it turned out he’s just an England fan in a high-viz jacket that was literally hijacking a wheelchair to get into the stadium.”
It was an example of the type of behaviour which led the review to conclude that if England had won the final – Gareth Southgate’s side lost to Italy on penalties – 6,000 ticketless fans could have stormed Wembley with “horrific” consequences.
About 2,000 ticketless people had already gained entry to Wembley, with 6,000 more believed to be preparing to storm the stadium as legitimate ticket holders left.
An official from the London emergency services said the consequences of an England win would have been "horrific", and that a major incident would have been declared at Wembley and in central London. "I can guarantee that we would have been on our knees."
FA staff, the review said, actually "ended up with a feeling of huge relief at the result. In the end the penalty shootout went Italy’s way, the rain came down, and the crowds dispersed largely quietly.
"But we should not lose sight of how close the alternative was."
Baroness Casey, who pointed out nearly all the perpetrators of the disorder were men, said: "I am clear that we were close to fatalities and/or life-changing injuries for some, potentially many, in attendance.
"That this should happen anywhere in 21st century Britain is a source of concern.
"That it should happen at our national stadium, and on the day of our biggest game of football for 55 years, is a source of national shame."
The review said the easing of Covid restrictions, along with England's first appearance in a major final since 1966, had created a "perfect storm".
It said the absence of an official fan zone contributed to the chaos and would have acted as "a much-needed pressure valve". Thousands had instead gathered in Olympic Way on the long approach to the stadium, with the review labelling this an "unlicensed fan zone".
The report also stated the Met Police made repeated requests to the government for an official zone to be set up.
Witnesses also told the review that as well as alcohol, cocaine use was widespread and the drug was being taken "in plain sight". More than 3,500 respondents (47 per cent) said they witnessed illegal drug taking.
The disorder and criminality before and during the game – and the racist abuse online of players who missed in the penalty shootout – ultimately overshadowed England's performance in the delayed tournament, with Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and co having once again inspired the country after a successful World Cup campaign in 2018.
However, Baroness Casey added: "These men may wear England shirts but they can’t be allowed to represent us. I choose instead to be represented by the England team, and by organisations like the Football Supporters’ Association, who support all decent law-abiding football fans."
The review, while not apportioning blame to any single agency, did issue recommendations.
They included calls for enhanced security around matches of national significance, a review of stewarding, tougher penalties for those involved in football-related disorder and an FA campaign to prompt a "sea change" in attitudes among supporters.
FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said today his organisation fully accepted the findings. He apologised for the "terrible experience" many suffered at Wembley.
The FA had been sanctioned by UEFA last month, with the team forced to play its next home UEFA competition game in an empty stadium.