Stadium lockout threat for fans next season after rules flouted again
’Stay at home’ instructions ignored in Liverpool and Leeds Safety experts against plans to allow restricted attendances
Major doubt has been cast on plans to allow crowds back into football grounds following the repeated refusal of thousands of Liverpool and Leeds United fans to obey coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
has been told that football safety officers are opposed to proposals that would see a limited number of spectators attend matches next season – a view that has been compounded by the scenes at Anfield and Elland Road on Wednesday night.
Thousands of Liverpool and Leeds fans once again disobeyed instructions to stay at home as their teams lifted the Premier League and Championship titles respectively, raising serious questions over whether supporters could be trusted to follow strict social-distancing rules during games. Liverpool yesterday said they were “disappointed with the scenes outside Anfield” after John Newsham, a consultant for the Football Safety Officers Association, declared that a significant number of fans had shown “they can’t follow guidelines from clubs”.
He said: “The season should start again behind closed doors, as it’s finished, until such a time that Boris [Johnson] says you can have your capacity fans back into your grounds now.”
Peter Houghton, the FSOA’s director of operations, revealed that other safety officers shared the view that keeping fans locked out while social distancing remained in force was a “better solution”.
The Sports Ground Safety Authority last week published draft guidance for planning for social distancing at sports grounds.
It included a sample of a proposed spectators’ code of conduct, which featured rules such as:
◆ At all times and in all parts of the ground, observe social distancing and avoid close contact with others not in your social bubble.
◆ Remain in your seat or place at all times wherever possible.
◆ If you are seated, when moving past other spectators, to and from your seat, please avoid face to face contact with other spectators.
◆ Avoid hugs, high-fives and any close contact with people who are not within your social bubble.
Houghton and Newsham revealed that safety officers had serious concerns the SGSA’s plan was neither workable nor affordable, especially for lower-league and non-league clubs. “It’s going to be a nightmare,” Newsham said.
Both were critical of the decision to allow Leeds to salute fans outside Elland Road on an open-top bus,
something that angered supporters who had stayed at home. Leeds said the bus had been put on standby following consultation with the city council and Safety Advisory Group, as a measure to “assist dispersal should a crowd congregate”.
The approach was in stark contrast to that at Anfield, where Merseyside police had issued a dispersal order.
Newsham said: “If they’ve gone on an open-top bus to help disperse the fans, that is a mistake from my point of view, and that should not have happened, and it should not have been sanctioned by the Safety Advisory Group either. I can see where some of the Leeds fans are aggrieved about that because they abided by the rules. Those that turned up benefited from it eventually, because they saw the trophy.”
Houghton said: “The way that Merseyside Police dealt with it, by putting in position a dispersal order, carries a bit more weight in more ways than putting an open-top bus out there.
“If you’re going to have an opentop bus, you may as well have a parade in the city centre.”
Supt Jackie Marsh, of Leeds District
Police, said there had been four arrests for public order offences and that one officer had received a minor injury which did not require hospital treatment. She also said missiles had been thrown, forcing police to don protective equipment.
Merseyside Police said there had been nine arrests outside Anfield for affray, assault, drunk and disorderly behaviour and drug-driving. It said it had now made 20 arrests over the disorder and criminal damage that had occurred in the city after Liverpool won the Premier League last month.