Football: 29 hurt in French stadium barrier collapse

Several supporters tumbled around 1.5m down to the side of the pitch and were crushed by fellow fans.
Several supporters tumbled around 1.5m down to the side of the pitch and were crushed by fellow fans.PHOTO: AFP

AMIENS, France (AFP) - Twenty-nine fans were hurt, four of them seriously, when a barrier collapsed on Saturday (Sept 30) at a stadium in the northern French city of Amiens when away supporters celebrated a goal.

A fence separating Lille fans from the pitch gave way as they surged forward to celebrate a goal against Amiens, a regional rival which has just been promoted to the top flight in French football.

Several tumbled about 1.5m and were crushed by fellow fans who fell on top of them.

Referee Thomas Leonard suspended the match in the 16th minute as Red Cross and emergency workers rushed to help the injured, but the fixture was later abandoned.

The prefecture of the Somme department, or county, gave a provisional toll of 29 hurt, four of them seriously.

The incident happened when Lille’s Fode Ballo-Toure ran towards the section of visiting fans after scoring the opening goal, prompting a surge that caused the barrier to give way.

Built in 1999, the Stade de la Licorne (“Stadium of the Unicorn”) is the smallest of the 20 French Ligue 1 clubs, with a capacity of only 12,000.

Renovation work is taking place throughout the 2017-18 season, as newly-promoted Amiens bring the ground up to a higher standard.

The venue boasts an eye-catching, futuristic design with a transparent roof, which is being renovated. The seats are also being progressively replaced under the 7.5-million-euro scheme.

“The consequence is that we’re going to lose seats in the ground but we’ll make up for it by adding additional temporary stands,” local politician Alain Gest said last May.

The Amiens public prosector, Alexandre de Bosschere, said an investigation had been opened into “accidental injury,” focussing on why the barrier gave way.

“We have put legal seals on the site (to bar access to it), and an assessment will be carried out in the next few days.”

Amiens’ president, Bernard Joannin, dismissed any idea that there were “problems with the barrier.”

“The police had warned us that there were 200 hard-core fans, really wound up, who were in the section set aside for Lille fans. They surged forward, chaotically, more than 500 people, against this barrier, which was in perfect condition.”

Gest, in his comments in May, had suggested that upkeep of the stadium had been neglected by previous local administrations but was now “perfectly in line with regulations” and “up to standards for playing in Ligue 1.”

A safety audit in 2016 had noted that the stadium roof presented “serious dangers,” he said.

“This forced us to dismantle at the beginning of the year all the (roof) glass – almost 2,000 glass plates per stand.”

The official said the plates had to be replaced by “a rigid and transparent plastic material like those used at the stadiums of Le Havre and Nice”.