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Two 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 right decision.''

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.

If you think that this match shouldn't have been played, contact us

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
like this.''

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 have behaved.''

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 night.

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 aggression.

 

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All pictures are courtesy of Reuters Limited