Leeds United Supporters Trust 'astonished' as Chelsea blame crush on 'aggressive' away fans

Leeds United Supporters Trust say they will involve the Independent Football Ombudsman after Chelsea blamed the behaviour of Whites fans for overcrowding outside Stamford Bridge last month.

By Graham Smyth
Thursday, 20th January 2022, 10:27 am

The Blues received a number of complaints from Leeds fans directly and were passed others by LUST and the Football Supporters Association, after difficulties arose before the match on December 11.

Visitors to the ground described their fears that a crush was developing, claimed the turnstile technology was not working correctly and accused the Met police and stewards of a heavy-handed approach to the arrival of away fans.

Chelsea declined to comment to the YEP last month while the Met police released a statement saying crowd safety as fans entered the ground was the home club's responsibility, but when an issue arose over a ‘surge’ of supporters their officers were on hand to assist stewards.

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The Blues did however respond to Whites supporters who contacted them, including Heidi Haigh who experienced crushing and turnstile issues during a lengthy wait to gain access to the stadium.

An email from Chelsea's Supporter Services, on behalf of their Matchday Safety team, said the issues were caused by around 500 Leeds fans arriving 20 minutes before kick-off. Chelsea also alleged abusive behaviour and an 'aggressive and orchestrated surge' by visiting supporters, some of whom tried to get into the ground unlawfully.

The email read: "Turnstile capacity at Stamford Bridge is more than capable of handling organised entry of all 40,343 supporters attending the stadium.

"However, a group of approximately 500 away supporters arrived approximately 20 minutes before kick-off and rushed the turnstiles causing significant disruption and slowed entry in that area.

CONCERNING REPORTS - Leeds United Supporters Trust will involve the Independent Football Ombudsman after Chelsea blamed crushing issues on an 'aggressive and orchestrated surge' of away fans. Pic: Heidi Haigh

"A large number of those supporters were verbally and physically abusive towards Club Stewards and Police, while also attempting to gain unlawful entry to the stadium via fire exit doors, which other away supporters were attempting to open from inside to try an facilitate ticketless entry to the match.

"Extra Security and Police had been brought in before the game in anticipation of difficulties with the away supporters, however it was impossible for them to immediately control such an aggressive and orchestrated surge.

"The behaviour of those away fans resulted in an unpleasant overcrowding of the turnstile area.

"Order was subsequently restored and away supporters gained access via the turnstiles, including a group of 60 that Security and Police had held back for their own safety.

"We have not experienced similar behaviour from other visiting domestic away fans. Indeed, the last two home matches against Tottenham Hotspur and Chesterfield saw approximately 10,000 away fans safely accommodated in Stamford Bridge’s away section with no issues witnessed or reported at all during entry to the stadium.

"Chelsea FC takes the safety and well-being of all supporters that visit our Stadium extremely seriously, and we go to great lengths to try and ensure our Stadium is a welcoming place for everyone that visits.

"It is a shame therefore that away fans’ behaviour marred your Stamford Bridge experience and that of others."

Haigh told the YEP she refuses to accept Chelsea's response, which did not address the turnstile malfunctions experienced by her and other Whites before the game.

In an email to the London club, seen by the YEP, she counters their argument that Leeds supporters were to blame for the crushing.

"I am astounded by your accusations," she wrote.

"I was one of those people in the queue and I can assure you that no one rushed the turnstiles and despite queuing for 40 minutes I didn't get in until 12 minutes after kick-off. I have attached photos I took in the queue before the game plus a further four from when I was nearing the turnstiles which I have just found on my phone. Please note that the game had already kicked off at this point.

"The biggest issue you failed to act upon in your response, was the fact that the turnstiles were not operating correctly and malfunctioning which contributed to everyone not getting in as soon as they showed their tickets. The fact that not one person has taken accountability for this is unacceptable and blaming away fans for my experience when I was one of those, is frankly disgusting.

"I do not accept what you have written and I feel it is a disgraceful response as well as a dereliction of duty and care to us on the day."

Leeds United Supporters Trust have told the YEP they are 'astonished' by Chelsea's response.

A spokesperson said: "We are extremely disappointed to read the response from Chelsea Football Club to the feedback we provided from our recent visit to Stamford Bridge, which was submitted alongside the FSA and LUSC.

"To attribute the issues solely to the behaviour of our fans is unacceptable, and to not acknowledge their part in what was a totally chaotic set up, is potentially dangerous for future visiting fans. The lack of remorse or accountability is not good enough and football fans deserve better. As a Trust, we can’t remember the last time we were so inundated with emails and social messages about the poor set up, organisation and ticket gate system failure. We are astonished that the issues our fans encountered is being pushed back as “away fans’ behaviour”.

"We won’t stop here. We are continuing to work with the FSA and other supporter groups to take all the witness statements to the Independent Football Ombudsman. We will update fans as this progresses."