United angry as Lille point finger over fake tickets
LENS, February 22 (Champions League) - Manchester United have reacted angrily after attempts by French officials to blame the club and their fans for the crowd problems at their Champions League match against Lille.
United believe a tragedy was only narrowly averted after supporters became crushed into a section of the Stade Felix-Bollaert in Lens.
Lille's director general Xavier Thuilot has pointed the finger at United, claiming their early distribution of tickets allowed high-quality fakes to be produced.
Meanwhile, the head of security at the stadium has accused United fans of sparking the problems by 'violent behaviour'.
Thuilot said: 'We sent their quota of places to Manchester several weeks ago, as is the usual thing to do.
'But the English club, instead of distributing the tickets to their supporters on their arrival at the stadium, on their descent from the bus, sent them out a month ago.
'The result - some very good forgeries, which have allowed some supporters to enter the stand reserved for them. All the forged tickets on the night were Manchester United tickets.'
Lens stadium security chief Damien Vanoise added: 'There was not a problem of communication. From the moment we saw the supporters trying to pull on the railings, what interpretation we can make of that, as security guards? For me, it was violent behaviour.
'I can tell you that nobody was crushed in the wire fencing.
'There weren't too many people in that stand. The stand was not full.'
United will answer the allegations fully in their report to UEFA but are privately furious Lille are trying to blame them for their own shortcomings.
On the ticket issue, a club spokesman told PA Sport: 'Tickets were distributed by recorded delivery 11 days before the game or for collection from February 1. We would normally send out tickets for our home games at Old Trafford six weeks before the match and we have no problems with forgeries.'
It is understood United will tell the UEFA the poor quality of the tickets provided by the French club allowed forgeries to be made easily.
Meanwhile, Mark Harrison, one of the fans at Lens and a member of the Independent Manchester United Supporters' Association (IMUSA), hit out at the claims of violent behaviour.
He told PA Sport: 'That is complete rubbish. There was no violent behaviour until the police started firing tear gas, after which a few people did lash out.
'Before that people were genuinely scared, were shouting for help and were trying to get out of the stand.
'The police and stewards reacted by padlocking the gate and firing tear gas. They now appear to be trying to justify their actions because they are in trouble.
'There were far too many people in that section - far more than the number of seats, and the stewards did not even check the tickets properly of those going in.'
European football's governing body will deliver their verdict on March 22 - they view the incidents with such seriousness that they want a full session of the disciplinary panel to judge what action to take.
United will submit a dossier of evidence, including representations from fans, to the hearing. It seems likely that in future Lille will be forced to use the Stade de France in Paris for European games.
Meanwhile, UEFA are expected to tomorrow reject Lille's protest about the validity of United's winning goal.
The French club have lodged an official complaint after Ryan Giggs' quick free-kick secured a 1-0 away victory for United in the first leg of their last-16 match on Tuesday.
UEFA's control and disciplinary panel will make a decision on Lille's protest tomorrow afternoon but are expected to dismiss the claims.
It is understood that officials from UEFA will recommend to the disciplinary body that they are satisfied that Dutch referee Eric Braamhaar made the correct decision in allowing the goal to stand.
Lille are also likely to be fined tomorrow for the behaviour of their players, who threatened to walk off the pitch after the goal.