Leeds United Supporters' Trust and West Yorkshire Police react to last night's Elland Road open-top bus celebration

Leeds United have set out their reasons after the club's players boarded an open-top bus outside the stadium at Elland Road last night.

Thursday, 23rd July 2020, 4:45 pm
The open-top bus celebration at Elland Road last night. Picture: Gerard Binks.

The Whites were officially crowned league champions during a trophy presentation ceremony yesterday, following a 4-0 victory in their final fixture at home to Charlton Athletic.

Despite pleas from the club and authorities before the match, for supporters to stay away from Elland Road to comply with social distancing guidelines during the pandemic, crowds of fans gathered near the stadium.

After the trophy presentation inside the stadium, players then boarded an open-top bus at Elland Road outside the ground and celebrated with supporters below.

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A club spokesperson said: "Following consultation with the SAG and Council, Leeds United arranged for a bus to be parked outside the East Stand reception as a contingency to assist dispersal should a crowd congregate at Elland Road despite a month long campaign from the club and supporter groups to encourage supporters to stay at home.

"The safety group believed that a brief appearance from the players with the Championship trophy, would help to signal an end to proceedings, encouraging fans to head home safely.

"In challenging circumstances fan safety has always been our priority."

Before the match, the club had issued open letters - published in the YEP - from captain Liam Cooper and chairman Andrea Radrizzani, pleading with supporters to stay at home and comply with social distancing measures.

"I promise that when the time is right, we will celebrate in style," club chief executive Angus Kinnear added before the game yesterday.

But the scenes of the open-top bus celebration outside the stadium last night prompted a backlash from some fans and sections of support, including the Leeds United Supporters' Trust (LUST).

The trust had been running a Stay Away campaign during the pandemic, urging supporters to comply with government guidelines following the outbreak of coronavirus and not congregate on matchdays.

In a statement, LUST said: "We have received many messages from members outlining their anger, frustration and disappointment at being asked to Stay at Home and then missing out on the events that unfolded at the ground.

"We completely understand that frustration. We also empathise with those that made a personal decision to attend the ground last night to feel part of a shared moment.

"We do however feel that the use of such a potent symbol of celebration, The Open Top Bus, was a dreadful own goal by the club and begs the question as to if this was as much about securing powerful video footage as anything safety related."

The statement suggested that an "impromptu display from the East Stand windows or steps" would have have been more appropriate.

It also urged the club to apologise to fans who may have felt excluded and avoid "a sour taste" at the close of the season.

The statement added: "This club is better when it’s Together.

"This Club is better when it’s United. We urge the club to take steps to heal some of the disappointment and hurt felt by many right now.

"These are actions that will help us to move forward into the Premier League as one."

West Yorkshire Police confirmed that four people were arrested over alleged public order offences and one police officer was injured during the celebrations last night.

Force Superintendent Jackie Marsh, of Leeds District Police, said: “The safety of fans and the wider public has always been our primary concern and that is why we advised the safest way for people to celebrate in these times was in their own homes.

“However, it was anticipated that some fans would gather outside the ground last night to celebrate and a police operation was put in place to make sure that this was managed safely and effectively."

Supt Marsh added: “While most of those who gathered did so with good intentions, there were some missiles thrown which resulted in officers having to wear protective equipment.

“Assaults on police officers will not be tolerated and enquiries will be made to identify those responsible so appropriate action can be taken.”