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Liverpool and Leeds supporters' behaviour makes it more likely that stadiums will remain empty

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Liverpool fans with flares as their side faced Chelsea inside the stadium – the aftermath saw a big clean-up and attracted much criticism on Merseyside. Photo: Reuters

Liverpool fans with flares as their side faced Chelsea inside the stadium – the aftermath saw a big clean-up and attracted much criticism on Merseyside. Photo: Reuters

Action Images via Reuters

Liverpool fans with flares as their side faced Chelsea inside the stadium – the aftermath saw a big clean-up and attracted much criticism on Merseyside. Photo: Reuters

Major doubt has been cast on plans to allow crowds back into football grounds following the repeated refusal of Liverpool and Leeds United fans to obey coronavirus restrictions.

According to well-placed sources, 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 the clubs 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.

Yesterday, Liverpool said they were "disappointed with the scenes outside Anfield" after John Newsham, a consultant for the Football Safety Officers Association (FSOA), declared a significant number of fans had shown "they can't follow guidelines from clubs".

He added: "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."

Solution

The FSOA's director of operations, Peter Houghton, revealed that other safety officers shared the view that keeping fans locked out while social distancing remained in force was a "better solution".

The UK Sports Ground Safety Authority last week published draft guidance for planning for social distancing at sports grounds.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, please 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 said: "If you've got two groups of three in the middle of the row and they all end up hugging each other and jumping up and down when your team scores, how safe is it from a Covid-19 point of view for a steward to go in and say, 'Excuse me, can you three stand here and you three stand there?'"

He and Newsham revealed safety officers had serious concerns that 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.

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Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa whose side’s fans were also castigated for their behaviour after their celebrations last weekend. Photo: Action Images

Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa whose side’s fans were also castigated for their behaviour after their celebrations last weekend. Photo: Action Images

Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa whose side’s fans were also castigated for their behaviour after their celebrations last weekend. Photo: Action Images

Both were also 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 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 added: "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 open-top bus, you may as well have a parade in the city centre."

Superintendent Jackie Marsh, of Leeds District Police, said it had been anticipated that some fans would gather outside Elland Road and that an "operation was put in place to make sure that this was managed safely and effectively".

Arrests

She 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.

She added: "Assaults on police officers will not be tolerated and enquiries will be made to identify those responsible so appropriate action can be taken."

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.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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