The Champions League returned last night with a game that almost began in tragedy but ended in pure farce. A largely uninspiring encounter on the pitch between French club Lille and Manchester United was marked by two rather dramatic incidents. Both will require careful attention from UEFA and could result in the French club being expelled from the competition. And such a result would be far from an overreaction given the events that transpired. The first incident saw police - unaware that a potentially fatal crush was developing - fire tear gas into the end where the United supporters had been herded. The second involved Lille players staging a walk off protest after Ryan Giggs scored the only goal of the match (I could add 'in somewhat controversial circumstances' but as quickly taken freekicks are not prohibited by the rules of the game, I shan't!).

The events surrounding the beginning of the tie provided an ugly reminder of the terrible proceedings at Hillsborough 18 years ago. Whilst United fans were pushed against the high perimeter fences, riot police fired tear gas and swung truncheons at those who, in desperation, tried to climb to safety. The French police, not known for their softly-softly approach, swung their batons with such fervour it was as if they were repelling revolutionary hordes intent on seizing power, not desperate fans trying to escape a potential crush. In scenes reminiscent of the early 1980s, it seemed as though the police had travelled to the game in a time machine, hell-bent on crushing a hooligan element that hasn't been witnessed in English football stadiums for almost 20 years. To say that the policing of the situation was merely a little heavy handed would be a complete misrepresentation of what happened. It would not be out of place to suggest that they totally misread events due to an ill-informed and out-dated collective assumption that crowd trouble and pitch invasions were to be expected when the English came to town.

Of course, serious questions need to be asked as to how so many United fans ended up in one particular end of the ground. The French authorities claim the cause was a number of away fans gaining entry to the stadium with forged tickets. Countering this, United supporters are adamant that the root cause was a security blunder that saw many of them who'd bought tickets to sit with the home fans being rounded up and squeezed into one end of the ground. Neither explanation reflects well on the French club's ability to stage a top-level football match, though the latter would suggest a total failure on their part to implement basic safety measures.

Blame for the incident, however, does not sit squarely at the feet of the French club. UEFA, will no doubt, come down hard on Lille, but they themselves must share responsibility for what happened. United claim they had expressed concerns about the basic facilities at the ground long in advance of the match, but the governing body took no action. Although it would seem ludicrous to allow Lille off scot-free, there is an element of injustice in punishing the club after UEFA themselves were made aware of specific safety issues, yet did nothing. Perhaps now they will move to prevent games being played at stadiums that do not come up to their own safety standards. This, however, is unlikely. Given new UEFA president Michel Platini's desire to see more and more smaller teams involved in the competition, they will probably continue turning a blind eye to obvious safety issues, and merely punish clubs retrospectively when incidents occur.

If, somehow, Lille do escape sanction over stadium safety, they must be punished for the ridiculous and childish reaction of their players following Ryan Giggs’ opening goal. Although only short lived, their unprecedented protest demonstrated a total lack of respect for the sport and the spirit of competition. Whilst, as Alex Ferguson was quick to point out, their actions had the unsavoury effect of whipping up the crowd into something of a frenzy. Ferguson, quite correctly, described it as an obvious attempt to intimidate the referee.

In a rather bizarre effort to defend his team’s behaviour, the Lille president has suggested that it was never anyone's intention to walk away from the match, but what we witnessed was actually an example of how the game is played in France. Apparently, when French teams disagree strongly with a decision they stage a protest at the first available stoppage. Now, it is obviously part of French culture to protest at any given opportunity, but to suggest that disrespectful protests of this nature are an integral part of the game in France is an outright lie. And, in any case, this rather flimsy moral relativism provides scant defence of his team's actions. If accused of stealing, a thief will gain little advantage in court by pleading that he comes from a community of thieves!

UEFA are not known for the fair and even distribution of their punishments and disciplinary decisions are often motivated by the political and financial implications of taking action. However, should they fail to administer an appropriate punishment against Lille, then a rather dangerous precedent will have been established. What a ridiculous situation we would have if teams believed that when in disagreement with the referee, they could escape sanction if they left the pitch in protest. Refereeing mistakes are commonplace in football (not that the referee was mistaken on this occasion), but no match would ever be completed if every error by one of the officials were followed by a silly walk-off.

Platini’s campaign to be elected president of UEFA focused almost entirely on how the big European clubs needed to have their power and influence curtailed. In an ironic twist of fate, his first major act as president will be to deal with a small provincial club from his own country who have brought shame on Europe’s premier sporting competition. Will he be brave enough to throw the book at Lille? Failure to do so could well have drastic consequences for the future of European football.