European games largely incident-free as tight security works
Stadiums were on high security alert as domestic leagues around Europe resumed a week after deadly attacks in Paris
Stadiums were on high security alert on Saturday, as domestic leagues around Europe resumed a week after the deadly attacks in Paris that took 130 lives and left hundreds more injured.
Security measures were stepped up everywhere in wake of the attacks, which began with explosions outside Stade de France — where France was playing Germany last Friday night — and carried on elsewhere on a brutal night of bloodshed that shocked the watching world.
What would normally have been billed as mouth-watering contests on Saturday between Real Madrid and Barcelona, Manchester City and Liverpool, and Juventus and AC Milan were all played amid a tense atmosphere. Fans — and even journalists — were subjected to far more stringent searches than usual and some armed police looked on.
But on a somber day of reflection, it was more about doves flying in the air, impeccably observed minutes of silence and moving words scribbled on banners.
Although there was some trouble in Germany and in the Greek city of Athens, this was fan-related and not related to an outside danger.
The threat of violence inside stadiums never materialized, allowing fans and players alike to pay their respects to the victims as the French national anthem resonated.
Here is a look at how Europe’s top leagues and their legions of fans dealt with increased security on a somber Saturday for football:
It was a calm, controlled atmosphere as Lorient fans queuing up to enter Le Moustoir stadium for the game against Paris Saint-Germain.
Both adults and children were stringently searched late Saturday afternoon, although none seemed to object.
Bag searches were more thorough, heavy objects were not allowed inside, and some metal detectors were used in stadium around the country, but the attitude was cooperative.
There were no away fans present anywhere, so as not to stretch France’s overworked police forces any further.
They would not have been needed anyway, it seems, such was the somber mood of reflection in Lorient, where 11 doves of peace were released and a minute’s silence impeccably observed.
“It was important to show the solidarity of France, or Paris,” PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said. “Of course everyone was affected. It was very hard for us, but life must go on.”
Thousands of French tricolor flags were waved across France’s stadiums.
The most heavily scrutinized game of the weekend was in Madrid, where Real Madrid hosted archrival Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeau.
Unprecedented security measures were in place, with nearly 3,000 policemen and private security officers working to maintain public safety outside and inside the 81,000-capacity venue.
But there were no problems reported.
As part of the measures, police checked nearly all manholes outside the stadium to guarantee there were no hidden explosive devices. There were also plain-clothes agents monitoring the streets surrounding the stadium, and police helicopters hovering around the venue from time to time. Both teams were heavily escorted on their way to the stadium.
“We are not afraid,” said 68-year fan Nissin Levy, who brought his 11-year-old grandson to the game. “We are seeing that the security is really good everywhere.”
As the players lined up in midfield for a minute’s silence, a large French flag was displayed inside the stadium.
The few hundred Barcelona fans stayed celebrating a 4-0 win until the home crowd cleared and left without incident.
“A Mon Cousin Paris” (For My Cousin Paris) read one poignant hand-made placard held up at Vicarage Road in greater London, where Watford was playing Manchester United.
The first weekend of English Premier League action since the Paris attacks was played amid tightened security, and also appeared to pass off without any major incident.
There was an increased police presence around the grounds as the clubs followed guidance from anti-terrorism agencies. Enhanced searches took place, with some clubs asking supporters not to bring bags.
But it was more about remembrance than fear.
At Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea hosted Norwich, a giant French flag was unfurled and passed above the heads of fans.
Back at Vicarage Road, French players Morgan Schneiderlin and Etienne Capoue sang along with their heads held high as La Marseillaise rang out, and over in the Midlands, France striker Olivier Giroud tilted his head back and raised his arms in the air after scoring for Arsenal against West Bromwich Albion.
Security measures for Bundesliga games were even higher after the cancellation of Germany’s friendly with the Netherlands in Hannover on Tuesday.
Police, some armed with machine guns, maintained a visible presence at all stadiums. Fans were checked, bags were searched and the increased measures led to Stuttgart’s game with Augsburg being delayed by 15 minutes. Fans had been advised to arrive earlier for games because of the increased measures.
Fans reacted with sympathy and compassion for the victims of the Paris attacks, displaying banners saying “freedom” and “equality” and all games were preceded by a minute’s silence.
Cologne’s French striker Anthony Modeste shook his head as if still trying to comprehend terms with the carnage.
Cologne players had been due to wear a special “carnival kit” in conjunction with the local carnival celebrations, but the club decided it was inappropriate.
Still, Germany’s games did not pass off incident-free. Gelsenkirchen police said there was trouble at the late game between Schalke and Bayern Munich when Bayern and Bochum supporters attempted to storm a cash desk at the stadium. Bochum is close to Gelsenkirchen.
“Numerous people were injured,” Gelsenkirchen police said in a statement. “Only a swift and consequent intervention by police forces prevented worse.”
There were lots of extra checks outside the Juventus stadium in Turin for the visit of AC Milan, as Serie A’s two most storied sides prepared to meet.
Nothing was left to chance.
Even journalists were screened with metal detectors, handing over plastic bottles and even lighters, rather than walking straight in after showing their press credentials.
Although there was a heightened police presence, with sniffer dogs and a bomb disposal car nearby, neither fans or police officials seem worried.
The general feeling was that it was the right decision to come and the atmosphere was largely relaxed, given the difficult circumstances.
“We thought for about five seconds about not coming! In seriousness, my friend called me on Thursday and we talked about it a bit but then decided to come,” AC Milan fan Francesco Artioli told The Associated Press. “I would be more worried about going to the supermarket.”
Italian tifosi usually relish using pyrotechnics and flares when supporting their sides, but there were none on display this time.
Fans and players alike applauded during the national anthem.
The match between Panathinaikos and bitter rival Olympiakos was postponed after home fans clashed with police before the game and threw flares at Olympiakos players walking onto the pitch.
Clashes started outside the venue about two hours before the game when Panathinaikos fans, apparently without tickets, attempted to storm the gates and threw rocks at the police.
Problems continued inside the ground until it was evacuated about an hour after the referee decided not to start the match.
Journalists were also set upon, and the empty field was littered with hundreds of broken plastic chairs and a few metal pipes.
A flare thrown from the stands hit Olympiakos forward Alfred Finnbogason in the leg. The Iceland international was filming the clashes with his cellphone. Olympiakos officials said he suffered mild burns and was spared a worse injury because he, like his fellow players, had not taken off his tracksuit. Defender Luka Milivojevic was also slightly injured and three policemen were hurt.
Olympiakos finally left the central Athens stadium two hours after the game was canceled, as police secured nearby streets.
It is standard policy in the violence-plagued Greek league not to allow visiting fans, so no Olympiakos fans were at the game.
Anderlecht’s game away to Lokeren was called off because a high police presence in Brussels meant security could not be guaranteed in Lokeren, located in the province of east Flanders.
The threat alert had been raised to the highest level in Brussels amid fears of copy-cat attacks from the ones in Paris.
That meant the extra officers needed for security purposes in Lokeren could not be moved in from Brussels. Anderlecht is the only team in Belgium’s top flight playing there.
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