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Leeds fans exonerated over Exeter incident

This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and SD merged to become the FSA in 2019.

Leeds United fans who made the long journey to Exeter’s St James Park for their club’s League One clash earlier this season have been exonerated of any blame for a crush which developed in the away end.

United fans had complained to the FSF that they had been unfairly blamed for the incident which occurred on January 16th 2010 and a report compiled by the FSF – after meeting with fans, the police, and Exeter City – has cleared them of any wrongdoing. Exeter City have also apologised to Leeds United fans involved.

A large contingent of Leeds fans had made the long journey south, selling out Exeter’s away end, and demand was such that many Leeds fans purchased tickets for the home end.

Shortly before 3pm Exeter officials made a loudspeaker announcement asking Leeds fans in the home areas to move to the away section. They also threatened any travelling supporters with ejection if they were found in home areas after the game kicked off. Around 100 took up the offer and were escorted towards the away end.

At the same time a similar number of fellow Leeds fans were also outside the away end with many of these claiming their delayed arrival was caused by the police’s decision to hold Leeds coaches at the Moto services on the M5.

In the fourth minute, with more than 100 fans still queuing to get in to the away end, Exeter scored. People then poured into the ground in an attempt to see what was happening and a dangerous bottleneck built up immediately inside of the turnstiles with the situation worsening as yet more crowded in behind them.

You can see mobile phone footage of the incident from the following links: ‘Exeter V Leeds fans’  and ‘Leeds@Exeter’.

A dangerous situation arose as more people came through the turnstiles and added to the crush. Thankfully police and stewards, assisted by St John Ambulance staff, reacted to the problem and people were pulled clear or climbed a wall to escape the mêlée. Fortunately no-one was seriously hurt.

Subsequently the Exeter Express & Echo’s report carried statements from the home club which appeared to blame away fans for the incident. Leeds fans were accused of arriving late, refusing to move down the away terrace (turnstiles are only open at one end of the stand), and ignoring loudspeaker announcements.

Leeds United Supporters’ Trust and the Leeds United Supporters’ Club, both affiliates of the FSF, asked us for help after angry Leeds fans filled internet forums with a series of complaints against Exeter City FC and the Devon and Cornwall police. While the Exeter Safety Advisory Group (consisting of representatives from Exeter City FC, Devon and Cornwall police, the FA, and the County Council) had met to discuss the incident, no fans’ representatives were invited.

Therefore Ken Malley, who represents the South West and South Wales Division on the FSF’s National Council, arranged a meeting which took place on March 25th with Dave Gaertner of Leeds United Supporters Club in attendance alongside Frances Farley (Operations at Exeter City), Jim Eastment (Safety Officer at Exeter) and Inspector Matt Lawler (Devon and Cornwall police).

“We are grateful to the club and police for meeting with us and answering all questions in an open manner,” said Ken Malley. “Our investigation established that Leeds fans were not to blame for the crush at the away turnstile and we’re pleased to see that action will be taken to prevent this scenario ever happening again in the future.”

These actions include:

  • Removal of the ‘pinch point’ where the crush occurred. This will be achieved by stewarding the area so that no fans can congregate there until after the adjacent turnstiles close.
  • On any future visits to St James Park Leeds United fans will shadow Devon and Cornwall police so that better lines of communication are established between the two parties.
  • According to Leeds fans’ evidence some of the problem lay in the decision to hold back coaches before kick-off. Devon and Cornwall police have promised to review their procedures for each game on an individual basis to avoid an identical scenario occurring in the future.

It’s absolutely vital that supporters stick together and report incidents such as this. Thankfully nobody was hurt but next time fans might not have been so lucky. By reporting the crush to the FSF Leeds fans enabled us to constructively work with the club and authorities to put an end to this problem. Fans travelling to Exeter are now safer thanks to the work of the FSF and its Leeds United affiliates.

If you have any complaints in relation to policing and stewarding email the FSF’s Amanda Jacks.

Download the full Exeter-Leeds report from this link.

JOIN THE FSF FOR FREE TODAY AND GET YOUR COPY OF OUR MAGAZINE!

 

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