FSF - Exeter City v Leeds United
On 16th January 2010, Leeds United played at St James Park, Exeter in Division One game. Leeds had taken there full allocation of tickets and it was generally known that some of their supporters had also succeeded in purchasing tickets in home areas of the ground.
Shortly before 3pm Exeter officials made a tannoy announcement asking that any Leeds fans in the home areas could move to the away section. Any found in home areas after the game commenced would be ejected. Approximately 100 took up this offer and were escorted to the away end.
In the 4th minute, with 100 or more fans still queuing to get in to the away end, Exeter scored. With people still pouring into the ground and straight away trying to get a view of the pitch, a bottleneck built up in the area immediately inside of the turnstiles. A dangerous situation arose as more people came through the entrance and increased the numbers in a crush. Police and stewards, assisted by St John's 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.
The Exeter Express & Echo, in their report of the incident, carried statements from the Club which appeared to place the blame on the late arrival of some fans and the reluctance of those already within the stadium to move along the terrace when tannoy announcements requested that they should. Angry Leeds fans filled internet forums with a series of complaints against Exeter City FC and the Devon and Cornwall police. Leeds United Supporters' Trust and the Leeds United Supporters' Club, both affiliates of the Football Supporters' Federation, asked the FSF for help in determining the causes of that day's events.
On the following Thursday, 21st January, the Exeter Safety Advisory Group, consisting of representatives of the Exeter City FC, the Devon & Cornwall police, the FA and the County Council met to discuss the incident and ways to ensure that it should not happen again. Fans' representatives were not invited.
The football Club announced a voluntary reduction in the capacity of the away section of terracing from 1053 to 900. The 'pinch point` where the crush occurred will in future be a sterile area until the turnstiles close.
On March the 25th, Ken Malley (FSF) and Dave Gaertner (LUSC) met with Frances Farley (Director of, ECFC), Jim Eastment (Safety Officer ECFC) and Inspector Matt Lawler (D&C police).
We are grateful to the Club and the police for answering all the following questions openly.
Fans were concerned that moving away supporters from the home sections into an away end where the allocation was sold out, increased the numbers beyond a safe capacity. The Club explained that, with the approval of the SAG, the figure of 1053 had intentionally been set at a lower figure than was safe in order to be able to adjust in circumstances such as these.
The voluntary reduction by 150 would allow the 'pinch point' to be kept empty in future until such time as it was safe to fill it.
Some fans, including Exeter supporters, had suggested that alternative turnstiles at the opposite end of the terrace would fill the area more equally. The Club have investigated this and it is not possible. An old entrance around the corner in Well Street cannot be used as the pitch of the steps is greater than is allowed by health and safety laws.
It was queried why spectators with tickets for the seated area (approx 150) in the old stand, had to enter through the terrace turnstiles and pass through the complete length of the terrace. Until Exeter's promotion back into the Football League in 2008, away fans had entered the stand with home fans as there is only one entrance to that small stand. They had also shared facilities there, food and drink and toilets. But the FL would no longer allow that and the away seats now have to be completely segregated meaning that the only way to access them is through the away terrace.
Fans complained that a turnstile operator had a small child in his booth. The child was 8 years old and did not interfere in any way with the operation of the turnstile; however the Club have put a stop to this.
The Club had made tannoy announcements requesting fans to move along the terrace, which were apparently ignored by the Leeds support. Home fans in all areas of the ground had claimed to hear the tannoy and in some videos (on YouTube) the announcements can be clearly heard. It was pointed out that the away terrace is in the open air and the game had already started so there was background noise although it was also claimed that some Leeds fans were singing "we're not moving". The tannoy system has been checked and is working perfectly.
The most common claim from Leeds fans was that the reason for the majority of latecomers was that the police held coaches at the Moto services on the M5 and escorted them in too late for the turnstiles to cope with those numbers before kick-off. Inspector Lawler informed us that the police plan, discussed with the club, was felt to be the safest way for all supporters. The police stated that they had also sought the cooperation of the coach operators. It is also noted that there are no facilities to park that many coaches in the vicinity of the stadium. The Leeds police intelligence was that approximately fifteen coaches were expected. The two turnstiles can, between them, process 1200 customers per hour in total. The coach operators had been asked to rendezvous at Moto by 2pm latest and were to be ferried to the ground 5 at a time. Two coaches turned up early and were escorted to the ground. It is unclear how many coaches arrived before 2pm but by 2.19 there were a further 7 coaches and one mini-bus and the decision was taken to escort them to the ground. It is 3.5 miles from the services to the stadium through heavy traffic. The first of the convoy arrived between 2.40 and 2.45. It is not known if the balance of the suggested 15 arrived or not. Nor is it known if they arrived at the same time as the ones from the services. The police have reviewed this strategy and although they have not dismissed this policy, Inspector Lawler listened to our concerns and assured us that in future the system of escorting coaches will be reviewed for each game individually.
Inspector Lawler has agreed that should these two teams meet again, he will approach the Match Commander to see whether it would be feasible for two Leeds fans to shadow the police on the day, including the pre-match briefing.
Frances Farley, on behalf of Exeter City Football Club, apologised to the Leeds fans that had been involved in this.
Dave Gaertner and I thank the police and the Club for allowing us the chance to meet and discuss the problems of that day. We are convinced that open discussion between all parties, especially including fans' representatives, can only improve relationships and lessen the possibility of future incidents.
I would also thank Gary Cooper (LUST) and Geoff Milton (LUSC) for their help in compiling a dossier of information from fans that were involved.
Ken Malley (Chair FSF SouthWest and South Wales Division)
For further information contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read about this, and more, on the Football Supporters Federation (FSF) site by Clicking Here.