Leeds fans were stabbed to death in Istanbul
LEEDS' UEFA Cup semi-final first-leg tie with
Galatasaray will go ahead tonight, despite two United supporters having been
stabbed to death during disturbances in Istanbul city center. Elland Road
chairman Peter Ridsdale said: ''UEFA have decided the game will definitely go
ahead, their rationale being that it has to be played at some stage. We
acknowledge that on balance, and under the present circumstances, it is the
The first man, named by the Turkish authorities as Christopher Loftus, 37, was
stabbed in a scuffle in the center of Istanbul after a group of Leeds supporters
were reportedly involved in an argument with workmen in a passing van. The
second, who also died of stab wounds, has been named as Kevin Speight.
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Ridsdale added: ''Tonight is going down as one of those black nights in history.
It is a tragedy. One minute I was talking to Galatasaray directors to promote
the friendship between the two clubs and the minute I receive a telephone call
telling me there had been some problems in town and a fan had been killed.
''It is obviously a horrendous situation and something I have never been through
before. I was with the brother of one of the dead men when he identified the
body and it is something that will live with me forever.''
Chief Superintendent Steve Matthews of West Yorkshire Police, who travels with
the club on their European trips, said: ''We had taken precautions against
violence but we never expected anything
FA spokesman Steve Double said: ''It would be wrong to point the finger of blame
in any direction at the moment without knowing exactly what happened. All we
know is that there has been some sort of incident in and around the restaurant
in the middle of Istanbul and a number of Leeds United fans were stabbed.
''We need to establish exactly what happened before we start saying
who is to blame. The behaviour of English fans abroad in Europe this season has
been excellent and they have received an awful lot of praise for the way they
Paul Thomas, international co-coordinator of the Football Supporters
Association and a Leeds United season ticket holder, said he had advised friends
against going to Turkey because of the Galatasaray fans' reputation. ''I only
heard of between 200 and 300 people going down to Istanbul and I understand the
club only sold about 500 tickets,'' he said. ''Not a lot of the people I know
fancied it because it is well known as a dodgy place to travel to.
''The fans have a bad reputation as well so I warned my mates not to go. But the
worst thing is that there is never any police protection for the fans there.
Even if the Leeds lot were being a problem it is their job to get in between the
two sets of fans to stop anything happening. The lack of police help is a big
problem for English teams playing abroad but it is particularly bad in Turkey.''
Grieving families and stunned fans were coming to terms today with the night of
violence. Apart from the two dead fans, several more were hurt.
British diplomats, who promised to monitor closely police inquiries into the
murders, urged the dozens of fans already in Istanbul to stay indoors today.
The Elland Road club immediately scrapped a supporters' plane set to leave for
the match this morning and Ridsdale said: ''In the light of last night's tragic
events... we have decided to cancel all official flights scheduled to travel
today. We are also appealing to any supporters who were intending to travel
independently not to do so. This advice has been given for everybody's
well-being and personal safety.''
Turkish police were today taking statements from some 20 Leedssupporters who
witnessed the knife attack in Taksim Square. At
least four other Leeds fans were injured in clashes, although only one remained
in hospital today, the Foreign Office said. He was in a serious but not
life-threatening condition in the city's German Hospital.
Turkish television showed footage of running battles between rival
fans, with chairs and bottles being thrown as youths rampaged through the city's
streets. Leeds fans arrived at Leeds-Bradford airport this morning still hoping
to travel to Istanbul for the semi-final first-leg clash with Galatasaray.
But Elland Road chairman Ridsdale had cancelled the charter flights
in a bid to avoid further trouble after the death of two Unitedsupporters. But
supporter Lee Farrer, who arrived at the airport
in the early hours for a flight, said: ''I haven't missed a game
for 10 years and to be told I can't go is very disappointing.
''What happened last night was an absolute tragedy but we could have traveled
later and been bussed straight to the ground. There's been trouble over there in
the past but nothing like this. I think the game should have been called off.''
Leeds United fans have not been involved in major incidents of hooliganism since
the riot at Bournmouth in May 1990, when troublemakers went on an end-of-season
wrecking spree to celebrate promotion from the old Second Division. Concerns
when Leeds returned to European competition had proved unfounded until last
A violent fringe of the club's supporters began to acquire an unsavoury
reputation after they rioted at the 1975 European Cup final against Bayern
Munich in the Parc des Princes in Paris.
In September 1988, hundreds of Leeds supporters caused £100,000
damage near their own ground, Elland Road, after a defeat by Chelsea.
Last month, a youth and his father were injured when they were attacked by Roma
fans in the Italian capital before an earlier UEFA cup match. Efforts to ensure
good behaviour by traveling fans have borne fruit and it remains to be seen
whether they broke down last night, or whether Leeds fans were the victims of