Over Land and Sea (Just Not by Train)

May 24 • Guest Contributor, Opinion • 2309 Views • 11 Comments

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Dear Mr Platini,

First of all, can I please thank you and your organisation’s premier competition for giving me some of the greatest nights of my life this season. I watched my team beat Napoli at home having been 3-1 down, watched them beat Barcelona at home, watched them heroically defend their lead in the Nou Camp, and watched them win the trophy in Munich. I’ve never known ecstasy like it.

It is this last match I would like to discuss in this letter. The match itself was brilliant. The stadium is without doubt one of the best I have been to. However, the transport to and from the ground was nothing short of awful.

I used public transport to get around in Munich. This seemed to be the most sensible way to do things, it was the way I was advised by German friends of mine, and it is the way I am used to doing things in London.

I and the people I went with started our journey to the ground from near Odeonsplatz, which was the designated Chelsea fans’ meeting point. We walked to Marienplatz station, the central interchange in Munich. We were greeted there with what can only be described as a scrum on the platform.

I saw maybe 5 policemen within the station, none of whom were on the platform. The platform was full, more than 15-deep with fans from both teams tightly packed when we got there. It was 6:45 pm, two hours before the match. There was a train sitting at the platform when we arrived, already tightly packed. This train sat there for 20 further minutes. People kept on arriving behind us, still with no police controlling the crowds. Another train pulled in; it was out of service, so it kept on going. The next train arrived 10 minutes later. There was some space on this one, and once the doors were opened everyone pushed to get onto it.

People who wanted to get off couldn’t, and people who needed to get out due to undergoing panic attacks struggled. There was a child of no more than 10 years old sat on his father’s shoulders near the edge of the platform. They didn’t manage to get on the train in the initial crush, but whilst the train remained in the station, and some more space opened up when yet another person left to calm down having hyperventilated on the train, they got closer and closer to getting on the train. Eventually, the father was standing inside the train and the child was hanging out of the doors. People tried to push the child’s head into the train, which made him start to cry, something which worsened when the train doors closed on his head. A fight followed on the platform between someone who pushed the child’s head into the train and someone who objected to this having been done. This fight took place right on the edge of the platform, yet no security staff did anything – they could not, because they were not there.

[We decided that this was taking too long and was too dangerous to wait, so we went to look for a taxi. The difficulty in finding a taxi made us fear we would miss the match, but the shortage of taxis is not the focus of this letter.]

Following the match, which we fortunately got to the ground in time to see, we waited in the ground for more than an hour to watch the players’ celebrations. At 1:05 am, we made our way to Fröttmaning station, near the ground, to make our way back to our hotel near the airport. There were more police in attendance this time, but they seemed to be more interested in talking to each other than controlling the flow of people onto the platforms.

Trains were again slow to arrive, and featured a mass crush as soon as the doors opened. We managed to get on about the third one to arrive, which then proceeded to stop for 5 minutes at each station. More than once we decided to leave the train to try and find a taxi outside as it was taking too long; more than once we returned to the platform to wait for another train to arrive having failed to find a taxi, or having been unwilling to engage in fights to secure one, as we saw in the streets.

Eventually making it to the Marienplatz again, we looked around for a taxi, encountered the same problems, and returned to the station to get the train out to the airport. These were running once every 40 minutes. When we eventually got to the airport, there were no taxis there either. We eventually got to our hotel at close to 5 am.

Our experiences and complaints were not atypical. Appended to this letter are a selection of the public communications from supporters and/or journalists detailing their recollections of the transport to and from the stadium. One supporter (Appendix, paragraphs 48 & 49) even tells of how he saw a man pushed onto the tracks; luckily the man was pulled to safety and was unharmed, but that is hardly the point. I spent my time on the platforms of Marienplatz and Fröttmaning stations worrying that I would watch someone pushed off the platform to injury or death.

Two weeks before Chelsea played in Munich, they played the FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, the venue for the 2011 Champions League Final, and the venue for the 2013 Champions League Final. The match attendance was 89,102, more than 26,600 more than attended the game in Munich. The station closest to the ground, Wembley Park, was adequately policed; supporters were stopped from entering the station or making their way to the platform if the situation looked unsafe; trains ran frequently and to time; the rest of the rail network ran efficiently.

Why was Munich not similarly prepared? Did UEFA check that the city knew what it was doing? That enough police had been deployed to the likely problem areas and with the right instructions? Other questions need to be asked as well: Why were fans not instructed to leave more time to get to the ground? Why were extra trains not laid on? Why did already-full trains travel so slowly and stop at every station for a number of minutes to allow more people to cram themselves on? Why was nobody exercising any crowd control at the busiest stations either before or after the match?

I am delighted that nobody was seriously hurt on the public transport networks in Munich on the night of 19th May 2012, but that was by luck not judgment, and the fans of both teams should be praised for their patience and control. I have heard that other finals were subject to similar issues – Rome 2009 and Istanbul 2005 have been mentioned in these terms, among others – and yet the problems recur.

The safety at football grounds has improved beyond measure in the last 25 years. With any luck, we shall never again have a disaster of the ilk of Hillsborough or Heysel. But the football family’s work is not yet done. Nobody should set out for a football match and not return. As someone who feared they would witness that very thing happening, I ask you to ensure that greater care is taken to ensure that the systems and infrastructure upon which fans will rely is up to the task.

Being unprepared for the number of visitors and running out of sausages at 2 pm, as happened in some restaurants in Munich, is poor planning but not dangerous. Being unprepared for the number of visitors and not deploying sufficient numbers of police or running sufficient trains potentially could have been.

I ask that greater care and supervision is taken over these issues in future, and I thank you in advance for your assistance in this matter.

Kind regards,

A Chelsea fan

For photos and tweets from people who were there, please click here. If you would like me to remove a comment, please email joe{at}plainsofalmeria.co.uk or ask me on twitter @JoeTweeds.

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11 Responses to Over Land and Sea (Just Not by Train)

  1. Blue Baby says:

    I completely and utterly agree with the sentiments expressed by the writer of the letter. I would however like to take this opportunity to express my concern, and it is a safety issue, about the cost of water in the stadium. A mineral water (sparkling, not given a choice) cost 4 Euros. In total I spent 40 Euros in the ground on 8 waters and 2 cokes for myself and friends, due to the heat. Mineral water should be available at a much lower cost, and adequate drinking water (i.e. not bottled) should be available free. Many Chelsea fans I know have felt the effects of dehydration over the past few days and UEFA could assist supporters in years to come by insisting the host stadium make sure supporters are given an opportunity to rehydrate, particularly in hot weather, without breaking the bank

    • JoeTweeds says:

      I didn’t actually think about the prices at the time. Spent near €80 in there just on coca-cola & sparkling water (why?!).

      Have wondered why my throat felt like razors for 2-3 days.

  2. Paul says:

    It was a total disgrace, I eventually got back to my hotel at 4am, no trains, taxis. No one can do big crowds like London can. And the comment about the water is correct, it was very hot, €4 a glass of sparkling water is a joke.

  3. john says:

    agree re terrible transport, no water – took me 2 hours to get back to marianplatz and there none of the drink machines worked. Trains to airport took hours to arrive, I was an hour late for my flight but luckily they kept it waiting as so many people were late. Thought London was bad!!

  4. Ray from the East Stand says:

    It didn’t end with the Metro – I had a seat reservation on the 0325 train from Munich to Brussels – just as well as the whole train was reserved. Why then did Deutsche Bahn let everyone pile on to the train, then refuse to let the train depart unless all standing passengers got off? There was no station control and no other trains were laid on until after more than an hour’s wait. This resulted in my missing my connections at Cologne and Brussels – in fact most of the passengers were Bayern supporters who suffered. Bear that in mind if you are tempted to criticise railways in Britain (although also bear in mind that Chiltern, Arriva Cross Country and London Overground are managed by DB).

  5. Ashley says:

    This is why I booked with Thomas cook as although I was involved in the hell of a underground ride, luckily I had a seat for it, I came out of the stadium got on to a coach and straight to the airport then was in bed at 5 30 GMT. the water was over priced, same as Wembley due to captive market selling where they no if you want something you’ll pay for it with no other option. I will have some good memories and some bad ones, but we won so I’m happy and lets try and get to Wembley

  6. neil forrest says:

    totally agree with the article with regards to the transport system. overall the day in munich was brilliant with the hordes of germans rubbing shoulders with us chelsea fans and virtually no animosity between the fans. but the whole thing nearly unravelled when it came to getting from the town centre to the stadium. we eventually found a minibus to take us to the stadium, but it was more luck than judgement.

  7. Charles says:

    I am a member of the UEFA away scheme, so I’m more attuned to the challenges and rip-offs that occur for freshments in overseas stadiums. At least the problem was the price and not the lack of the items (Germans bring drinks to your seat.

    The Transportation situation was crazy, if UEFA and the local Munich authorities do not investigate; it will be criminal.

    We all have our gripes about Wembley, but no one is exaggerating about the horrors of what happened and indeed the serious risk of tragedy. The chaos, the difficulties and animosity was created by a complete lack of communication and control by the authorities. I witnessed fights, disputes, crushing, u-bahn breaking down and at one point German just smacked a Chelsea fan who was completely crushed in the head. This last action, ironically, calmed the situation because the more sensible Chelsea and Munich fans took among themselves to help each other out. Those were able to communicate in the respective languages could make sure sufficient people understood what was going on.

    What is more shocking is the lack of preparation to manage the situation and potential risks. It was predicatable to anyone with any common sense, that fans will be excited by such an occassion and a significant number of children will be present and over excited. The large portion of adults had been drinking all day and the heat hardly reduces the quantity drunk. Those who had flown in on the day would probably had started drinking early in the morning and meant dehydration on the metro is likely.

    As I said, if you travel away, you are more attuned and prepared. I had lunch in Marianplatz and then went back to pick up my ticket from the hotel, freshen up with a cool shower etc. I also picked up some water and celery. I must say that I actually hardly drunk a quarter of my bottles in the hour at the station. It was obvious some fans were in serious problem, so I gave my bottles to fellow fans and got some to eat the celery. Yes, we can laugh about our songs but they can have positive usage … I am not trying to be a matryr but those Munich officials should have had more sense to forsee matters (have small water to give it out, communicate to people, put on extra trains and move on broken train so it did not block the whole line – which is what caused much of the problems going North). But only having one main metro station to arrive at a stadium is crazy. Look at the mutiple access points / transport options to Wembley or the Olympic Stadium.

    We have some good memories from winning but the above was a bad one (but not a tragic one.) We won so we are happy, I worry less about Wembley but the following year is Lisbon. If you think Munich transporation is a challange – I really not sure how Lisbon will cope. It was bad enough for the limited AWAY group we had for our Benfica … quarter final …

  8. Paul kelly says:

    Same problem at Odeonplatz; 20 odd of us and 5 trains came that were all packed. When the next one came I, and two others crushed in to the annoyance of many around. I think nearly half of us made it onto a train. Cracking sing song on it though.
    I refused to pay €4 for water. Disgrace.

  9. Matt Jacomb says:

    What a great great day, both sets of supporters were brilliant. I thought the trains were bad but It probably felt a little more worrying because we were all super excited and therefore extra sensitive to things ‘going wrong’ – however you would think it would not be that difficult to put on a stadium shuttle of buses in Germany 2012 (they did this for getting to the stadium in Mexico 1986).

  10. Tim Walls says:

    Couldn’t agree more; at Odesonsplatz we were held with a few hundred other fans at the top of the stairs to the platform by two lines of police, one in front one behind, for what seemed like forever.

    The police did not communicate at all; no indication of what was happening, how long we would be, anything. Naturally, after a while, people start getting worried they’re going to miss the match at this rate – some basic communication from the police (“don’t worry, we’ve got everything under control, we know it’s uncomfortable here but we’ll make sure you all get to the match on time”) would have made a world of difference.

    The only communication I got was from a (very friendly) Bayern supporter stood next to me in the crush, who explained that most of the Bayern supporters were likely getting on at Marienplatz, so by the time the trains got to Odeonsplatz they were already full. Which is a reasonable explanation, but why on Earth didn’t they do something like stop alternate trains at Marienplatz/Odeonsplatz to give people a chance to get on? Bear in mind we had been told in advance that Chelsea supporters *should* catch the trains from Odeonsplatz – so if that was the official recommendation, why had absolutely no thought or planning gone into it?

    To cap it all – once they decided to let people on to the platform, they did it by parting the police line at *one* of the sets of stairs. With the entire crowd then pushing everybody down a very narrow funnel directly down a flight of stairs – I’m astonished nobody went down face first.

    Once on the train, it was naturally horrific; I think in general the good nature of all the supporters – Bayern and Chelsea – under the circumstances was astonishing, and praise is due all round that the whole mess was tolerated so well.

    I’ve been to Wembley enough times and I’ve never seen anything as bad as that… Who on Earth thought building a brand new stadium with only a single tube line for transport was a good idea.

    That said – once we were there, it is one hell of a stadium!

    (Oh, and I concur on the water/dehydration points too – by the end of the pens I was ready to collapse and not just because of the stress of the game! 4 euros for a cup of water is ridiculous (and astonishingly enough, the first bar I went to had run out of water of all things…)

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