The Metropolitan Police has denied that its policing operation at Wembley “failed,” as it emerged England fans were openly discussing ways to force their way into the stadium in the days leading up to the Euro 2020 final.
The denial comes as a senior Tory suggested the joint British-Irish 2030 World Cup bid now looked “dead in the water”, thanks to the chaos on Sunday.
A senior Metropolitan Police officer previously claimed that “nobody was expecting large numbers of people to try and incur into the stadium,” but The Independent has seen public social media posts discussing the so-called “Wembley jib” from at least three days before the historic match between England and Italy.
Thousands of people joined open groups on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, where they discussed how to forge tickets, break into Wembley or bribe stewards to let them enter.
A dedicated Telegram group with around 500 members called “the Wembley jib” has now been deleted but invite links remain on Twitter and other platforms.
A man, who spoke to TheGuardian anonymously, said he had set up a separate group containing around 200 people and saw others, including one containing 800 members.
The 24-year-old estimated that he was among around 300 fans who entered Wembley via a disabled entrance in block K, and thought that at least 5,000 entered without a ticket overall.
Some fans in the now-deleted chats claimed they had successfully bribed stewards, while others forced their way inside alongside ticket holders.
News of the groups were shared on other social media platforms, including Twitter, where one person noted on Thursday: “I reckon there will be thousands on the jib this weekend.”
The following day, another user posted: “Amount of people on the Wembley jib today, there could be 120k+ inside there.”
More references were made to the “jib”, which is slang for getting in without paying, throughout Sunday and shortly before a major push on security lines at 6pm a fan posted: “The great Wembley jib in has begun, good luck to all those involved.”
Julian Knight, Tory chairman of the Commons culture committee, said the management of the Euros final was “an absolute shambles” and suggested it would prove fatal for the joint British-Irish 2030 World Cup bid.
He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One that “it really is absolutely staggering that has been allowed to happen”.
Following reports of crushes inside the stadium and injuries to Harry Maguire’s father, the Solihull MP raised concerns that people could have died or been seriously injured.
“We cannot allow a situation to occur in which we could actually see people losing their lives and being seriously injured just to go and watch a football match.”
“When it comes to the World Cup, yes, I think it will make a huge difference. Frankly we’re vying with Spain and Portugal for Uufa’s backing, and if we don’t have that we’re dead in the water. I think what has become quite a low chance of getting it has become even more remote due to the events at Wembley.”
And Jim Boyce, the former Irish FA president who is also a former Fifa vice-president, told the Belfast Telegraph: “People at Fifa will obviously take a dim view of what happened … the events of Sunday night do not enhance the prospects of [hosting the 2030 World Cup] happening.”
Jo Stevens, shadow secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport told The Independent: “For the criminal behaviour of a small number of thugs to threaten our 2030 World Cup bid would be grossly unfair.
“But it’s absolutely clear we need robust action to avoid any risk of those scenes being repeated.
“Reports and video footage from Sunday’s final are deeply distressing.”
The official capacity for the match was around 60,000 – the largest since before the coronavirus pandemic – and the true number of spectators who made it inside the stadium is not known.
Witnesses reported that booked seats were taken and gangways, stairs and the areas behind Italy’s goal became crowded with intruders.
The first major breach through a security line in front of the main entrance happened at around 6pm, two hours before kick-off.
Around 40 minutes later, photos were shared online of people climbing the side of entrance steps to bypass the cordon, and shortly after hundreds were seen running into the stadium.
At the same time, numerous fans who paid for tickets reported people forcing their way in at turnstiles.
A video posted on YouTube showed teenagers separating flimsy temporary metal fencing surrounding the stadium and squeezing in through a fire exit that had been left ajar.
Shortly after 8pm, Wembley officials released a statement acknowledging an incident at the “outer security perimeter” but claimed people without tickets had not got inside.
A later statement said there had only been a “small group” of intruders and authorities, who have now announced a formal review, have not given an official estimate of numbers.
Attendees have criticised security measures at Wembley, including a perceived lack of stewards, insufficient outer security cordons, the use of weak “Harris” fencing that could be pushed over easily, people without tickets forcing their way in behind paying guests, and booked seats being aggressively taken by intruders.
Critics view the situation, which is subject to an investigation by the Football Association (FA), as particularly dangerous given the Covid pandemic and “substantial” terror threat level.
Metropolitan Police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick backed her officers amid mounting criticism.
Dame Cressida, who was honoured at an investiture ceremony on Wednesday, said: “I’m very proud of my officers and the command team.”
Another senior officer insisted the force had “deployed one of the most significant and comprehensive policing plans” ever used at a football match.
Jane Connors, the deputy assistant commissioner, added: “I do not accept that the policing operation failed and I stand by the difficult decisions made by police officers and the Met’s public order commanders.”
She admitted that “soon into the day it became clear that a high number of fans were arriving without tickets” and police commanders “recognised this could result in ticketless fans attempting to get into the stadium”.
The senior officer said security officials were updated at Wembley and public order officers were deployed to support stewards as a precaution.
“Soon after gates opened, the stewarding and outer security perimeter became overwhelmed and fans began pushing through security checks,” Ms Connors said.
“I want to praise the quick response by police commanders and those brave officers who confronted these subsequent scenes of disorder and violence. I am in no doubt that their swift action prevented any further escalation.”
Ken Marsh, chair of the Metropolitan Police Federation, accused security guards of telling police about the potential breach too late.
“By the time we had it brought to our attention that several thousand people were trying to force their way in it was too late for us, because we were the wrong side of them and unable to repel them from doing so,” he told Radio 4.
“We had flagged this up previously because there were far too many people within the area of Wembley for an 8pm kick-off.
“There were tens of thousands floating about, it was unprecedented numbers.”
A spokesperson for the FA said it would carry out a full review and investigation into the events that took place before and during the final.
“Security and stewarding numbers for the Uefa Euro 2020 final exceeded the requirements for the match and were greater than any other previous event at Wembley Stadium,” he added.