28/04/2008 : Yeovil Town Blog : Crowd Disturbances At Huish Park
28 April 2008 : Crowd Disturbances At Huish Park
On Friday night (April 25th 2008), the Huish Park attendance record was broken for a League One match against Leeds United. A total of 9,527 spectators got into Yeovil Town's stadium for the final match of the 2007-08 season, in what should have been a positive night for the club after a season of fairly mediocre attendances. Instead it has become overshadowed by many Glovers fans, particularly on the home terrace, being intimidated and assaulted by Leeds fans that had got into the wrong ends of the stadium, contrary to Football League Ground Regulations. For many, the first half of the match at the very least was spoilt.

That there were Leeds fans inside the home areas of Huish Park should come as no surprise to the club or to Avon and Somerset Police. Both the Green Room and the various Leeds forums were full of postings - some going back as far as Christmas - indicating that Leeds fans were purchasing tickets in home areas, so there was plenty of time for planning how to deal with such a difficult situation. We know that club officials frequently print out and pass on relevant postings from the Green Room so it is difficult to believe that the authorities were not aware of the potential for possible problems to develop in this area.

Even outside the stadium, it was quite easy for Yeovil supporters to be able to pick out some of our northern cousins as they toured the ground. OK, so a few used the odd zipped up jacket routine, albeit with a glimpse of white underneath that was a bit of a giveaway. But if you watch people it is easy to pick out those who are new to a stadium - those who walk around a stadium seemingly using their ticket as a compass, those who go round the outside of the stadium taking photos of the exterior before going inside. We know all of this because as seasoned away fans, it is what we end up doing at every new away ground. But when you see them doing it around the home end of the ground, your suspicions grow rather strongly. Some we gather were more brazen - turning up at the turnstiles without even attempting to cover up their allegiances.

Entering the ground at Huish Park was the same as entering the turnstiles at any other Yeovil Town fixture. The usual cheery two stewards on our turnstile. OK, so our party mostly wear replica shirts and are probably well known faces, but we saw nothing additional in the way of personnel, police or procedures being adopted during the two or three minutes before we went through the turnstiles.

I think that many people in the home terrace were acutely aware that there were two pockets of visible Leeds fans amongst us as early as half an hour before kick-off. Visible because several were now openly wearing Leeds replica shirts, and because the two pockets were not even attempting to be incognito. Those presenting the end of season player awards at 7.15pm said they could hear chants from Leeds fans coming from the home terrace during the presentations. This should have acted as a giant alarm bell for those looking after stadium safety.

By the time kick-off arrived, I doubt that anyone in Huish Park could have failed to have spotted these two pockets. We're not talking supporters who know they are in the wrong end, and so avoid wearing colours, pick a quiet corner of the terrace, keep their head down and hope no-one spots them. We're talking singing, jumping, pushing, shoving Leeds fans. Roughly in two groups of 20, one to the left of the goal, one to the right of the goal. Their behaviour had gradually caused a ripple of mainly younger Yeovil fans to stream to the front of the terrace wall, presumably to steer clear of an area of the ground where they felt intimidated. When Leeds scored a 4th minute goal, some clear fights broke out to our right and one hooligan was removed. A few dozen more supporters decided to move to the front of the terrace wall to get away from the area. More scuffles broke out but still with no sign of a response.

It took until around 8.00pm for the first signs of a reaction to the "7.15pm" alarm bell to be seen - a long line of police, snaking their way in and positioning themselves by the terrace wall, but still making no attempt to stop any of the problems. Leeds fans took this as a green light to continue their open jumping around and intimidation of Yeovil fans.

Some steps were taken to remove some of the ringleaders around the half time break, but prior to that we witnessed two events that are to say the least extraordinary. In the first, one Yeovil fan in front of us got fed up with a lone Leeds fan in the section in front of us, and decided to forcibly eject him himself, grabbing hold of him and wrestling him down to the front of the terrace creating a clear and visible disturbance. In front of us we had five policeman who stood and watched, and made no attempt to step in and either separate or deal with the two supporters. The Leeds fan, eventually pushed out of the terrace area, walked away along the perimeter walkway straight past all five policemen. When they were barracked by Yeovil fans for their in-action, some decided their the sight of their shoelaces looked more interesting than the sight of Yeovil fans.

Five minutes later, another Leeds fan walked past, making various hand gestures at the Yeovil fans, stopping right in front of the five policemen and continuing his barrage of abuse with a stream of words that for the sake of this site will just be considered to begin mostly with the letter 'F' and the letter 'C'. Again our uniformed friends stood there motionless. It was a minor miracle that all Yeovil fans did the same. Most of us spent more time in the first half looking around us on the terrace than watching the game - it was impossible to concentrate fully on the action on the pitch.

The second period passed far more peacefully with many of the Leeds yobs kicked out of the home end, although it appears their 'punishment' was to be repositioned in the ground at the Copse End. So that gives the clear message to any away fans without tickets for a game at Huish Park that the easiest way to get hold of a ticket in the other end of the ground is to create a scene and lo and behold you'll land in the end you wanted to get into in the first place. Nice one! Some people though have remarked that it was almost a good thing that Yeovil Town lost the game 0-1 to an early goal. Had the Glovers scored, or had there been late controversy, then the home end in particular was a tinderbox waiting to go up.

Since the game, Glovers Chief Executive Martyn Starnes has supplied his own statement via the official site, with the club suggesting that Leeds fans had "infiltrated" the stadium. Mr Starnes is quoted as saying:

"Every possible effort was made by our ticket office staff and the Police to try and ensure that no tickets in Yeovil designated areas were sold to Leeds supporters. Unfortunately despite all our and the Police's efforts, larger than acceptable numbers of Leeds fans acquired tickets, especially in the Carlsberg stand, and there were a few incidents, when Leeds scored their goal. We'd like to apologise to our fans for any problems this may have caused - it spoiled a great day for the club, along with the scoreline. We will be having a full investigation into our ticket selling proceedures to try and ensure this problem does not happen again. I'd like to thank the Police, our stewards and staff for all their efforts last night, in what was a very difficult situation,and we will be continuing our dialogue with fans to ensure these problems don't happen again."

As fans, we'd question some of the points made in that statement, and raise some of our own. Firstly the statement appears to have already exonerated the policing and stewarding side of the operation - something that we would find surprising in any postmortem. Surely less than 24 hours after the end of a game it is impossible to place outright blame or otherwise on any part of the night's events, hence we have concerns that the club's primary concerns are to investigate their "ticket selling procedures" when in our view the problems lie in many more areas than the ticket office.

Not that the ticketing procedures are without flaws. Many Yeovil fans spoke to Leeds fans during the day, including ourselves, and the consistent message that we got back was that Leeds fans couldn't believe how easy it had been for them to obtain tickets for the match - citing both internet sales and phone calls as a means of purchasing. Some who had purchased early had managed to do so using 'LS' postcodes whilst some said they had purchased tickets in the kind of bulk quantity that even an Abbey Manor postcode would have implied some kind of a sell-on.

The stable door was eventually shut, but even then many still managed to find ways to get tickets, particularly as the club's set of acceptable postcodes were published in full on the internet. Find a mate who knows a mate in that neck of the woods - the set of BA, TA, DT, SP, BH, BS, GL, TR, PL and EX postcodes covered most of South-West England - and hey presto suddenly your fellow fans have got a route through.

So yes, the ticketing procedures need to be looked at. The long-running battle that Yeovil Town supporters have had to try and persuade the club to set up a Membership Scheme would no doubt have provided the club with valuable information if it had been in place. Banning internet sales entirely and restricting them to club members or to personal callers during the season would also have helped. But this will never be a cure-all. For example we are aware of one Leeds supporter who works for a well-known firm in the town and was at the game to support Leeds. It is a complete impossibility to stop someone in that position from getting a ticket, or indeed a ticket for any of his mates. You can reduce here, but you can't eliminate.

This is, in effect, why examining the ticketing procedures alone is in our view insufficient, because you've got to have a Plan B for when Mr Leeds Fan of Abbey Manor, Yeovil acts as a conduit for his mates up in Yorkshire. Look around on the Leeds message boards and it was pretty obvious that sort of thing was happening. If there is a system, it is there to be broken.

Plan B takes effect when you know Plan A has failed. It was widely known that it had failed around Christmas. The club must have known that because there was a policy switch on the sale of Leeds tickets over the internet, albeit one that still allowed for the potential of an obvious loophole. But Plan B only appeared to be executed belatedly. We can't tell what was said in the Huish Park Control Room and how various parties reacted to the incidents, but to the naked eye far too much appeared to be reactive rather than proactive. From this point of view, we'd have a set of questions that the club and the associated authorities should be asking.

For all of these questions, interchange club/stewards/police as you see fit as at times it is not clear to ordinary supporters who is leading the operations, and at times supporters who interrogated stewards or police found them openly blaming other parties in the network:

1. Was the decision to hold the game on a Friday night, which allowed many Leeds fans to make full weekend plans and spend the whole of Friday drinking the correct decision with hindsight?
2. At what stage in the calendar year were the club aware that Leeds fans had purchased tickets in home ends and what action was taken, both from a ticketing point of view and from a stadium security point of view?
3. Prior to the match and spectators entering the stadium, what additional procedures were put into place to try and stop Leeds fans entering the stadium? What would have been done if any had been spotted prior to entry? Were any stopped?
4. At what stage were the Control Room aware that Leeds fans were openly 'parading' themselves in a manner that was likely to cause significant problems to Yeovil Town fans? Why did it take what appears to be a 45 minute period to see a response to the situation?
5. Why were singular Leeds fans able to commit public disorder offences yards from police (as described above) without any action being taken?
6. Why was the decision taken to only attempt to remove the Leeds fans around the half time period, even though it was causing many Yeovil fans clear discomfort and alarm?
7. Why was the 'punishment' for breaching Football League Ground regulations by knowingly being in the wrong end of a football stadium, merely to allow them to watch the game from another end of the stadium? What disincentive does that give for them to not do it again? When a Yeovil Town fan made a single gesture at the recent game against Millwall, he was ejected from the stadium for the whole game.
8. Why were Yeovil Town fans told to remove Yeovil flags from the back of the Cowlin Stand during the Millwall game yet complaints of Leeds fans putting up flags over Cowlin Construction advertising boards in the Main Stand were ignored by stewards?

There are of course many other questions that could be raised, and we'd recommend that the club convene either an 'Achieve By Unity Fans Partnership' meeting or an open supporters meeting to centre purely on this topic as it is clear to us that there are a lot of supporters on Friday night who were angry, scared or perhaps both, at what thy had to endure.

Perhaps until now the club have had it very easy over the years. Our life in the Football League has been a near trouble-free occasion. Firstly it is therefore worrying that such scenes should happen when so many people are in the stadium that have probably only been to Huish Park a few times in the last few years and perhaps left the ground unaware that Huish Park is one of the safest Football League grounds that you can take your family to. Secondly though, perhaps it is such friendliness that has made our club unprepared in terms of how to deal with such a situation. Surely therefore the investigation must consider all aspects of the night's operations, and not just how a ticket was sold six months ago.

Finally, our home supporters deserve huge credit for their patience and ability to turn the other cheek. It is probably only for that reason that Friday night did not turn into something far nastier, and the club should be putting on the record their sincere thanks for the restraint shown by those inside the ground. Next time, the club and the supporters may not be so lucky.

Right Of Reply: If any interested parties would like to pen an alternative opinion or provide any additional information, please do so by emailing webmaster@ciderspace.co.uk and we'll be glad to publish your views.

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