At the opening of the four-day Congress of European football fans in Manchester, UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin offered a candid assessment of the past season, with particular emphasis on the climactic finals organized under the UEFA umbrella.
Acknowledging Imperfections and Calling for Improvements
Čeferin was quick to acknowledge shortcomings, hinting at the problems encountered by fans in Istanbul during the UEFA Champions League final. "Given what some of you experienced recently, I would understand if I got a cold reception tonight," he remarked.
He didn't shy away from the difficulties, admitting that "in Istanbul, not everything was perfect." Recognizing these issues head-on, Čeferin emphasised the importance of continued collaboration to enhance the experience for fans, players, and officials alike.
"But let us continue working together to improve what we can," he asserted. "I'm thinking in particular about transport links to and from the stadium, the hosting of the stadium supporters, and ensuring universal access to water and toilets."
Celebrating Successes and Addressing Controversies
While acknowledging these shortcomings, the Slovenian UEFA chief took care to highlight some successes, particularly the trouble-free conduct of the men's and women's major finals.
Čeferin also praised the fan protests against the controversial Super League. However, he did not evade the darker moments that marred the season. He apologized to Liverpool fans for the unruly crowds and tear gas incidents that marred last year's Champions League final in Paris.
He also addressed the disturbances caused by West Ham fans at the Conference League final in Prague and the appalling attack on English referee Anthony Taylor by Roma supporters.
A Rallying Cry against Intimidation and Violence
Čeferin made a fervent appeal to the fans, calling for an end to the hooliganism and hatred that taint the spirit of the sport.
"We must shout, call out and rid ourselves of these idiots, who discredit both football and the fans," he implored. The UEFA President urged empathy towards football officials, referees, UEFA staff, federations, and leagues, reminding supporters that they too are fans, who love football, make mistakes, and have families, just like everyone else.
He concluded on a note of defiance, stating, "I will never accept the kind of threats and intimidation and violence that some people are subjected to as we saw just recently."