Leeds United ‘must do more to marginalise football hooligans’

Police keep a watch on Leeds fans outside Elland Road. Picture by Tony Johnson
Police keep a watch on Leeds fans outside Elland Road. Picture by Tony Johnson
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A senior Yorkshire policeman has called on Leeds United bosses to develop better relationships with supporter groups in a bid to “marginalise” the hooligans who are damaging the club’s reputation.

West Yorkshire Police assistant chief constable Mark Milsom says his force has done as much as it can to lower the cost of keeping the peace at Elland Road and that the club now needs to take a lead with a “community-based approach”.

ACC West Yorkshire Police Mark Milsom

ACC West Yorkshire Police Mark Milsom

He said: “Where we are now is the club making big efforts on a longer-term sustained basis on improving the behaviour of their supporters and drawing out the hooligan element.

“We are looking for the club to engage with the numerous supporters groups that exist and start to develop that sense of community that exists in clubs, and develop improved crowd behaviour.”

He added: “There are large numbers of different supporter groups and developing relationships and initiatives would be a really positive step in terms of increasingly marginalising the hooligan element that so affects the reputation of ordinary Leeds fans, the club and the city of Leeds as well.

“We are looking to the club to do that and we have offered to assist them with that.”

It comes as West Yorkshire Police revealed that it paid out a total of more than £1.35m million to the club for wrongfully-levied matchday charges after agreeing to hand over an extra £123,000 in an out-of-court settlement.

The two sides were involved in a dispute after a court ruled in 2012 that charging for ‘special policing services’ provided by officers outside their Elland Road ground was “in part unlawful”.

The club claimed it was entitled to more than £2.5m but by the time the case came to court last summer West Yorkshire Police had only paid £1,238,817.

After a judge clarified the methodology for deciding costs the two sides met out of court and the police paid a further £123,000.

Mr Milsom says his force had previously tried unsuccessfully to meet Leeds United bosses to resolve the dispute but were only able to do when new owner Massimo Cellino took over.

He said: “The agreement we have got with Mr Cellino, we are happy with how we settled this matter.

“We were able to have a cordial discussion with him but the previous regime had been refusing to meet with us. For 18 months we weren’t allowed to discuss it.

“David Haigh wrote to me and said he was not going to discuss it with us on the legal advice of the solicitors then representing the club. We haven’t been able to sit down and talk about it.

“Between the 2013 Court of Appeal hearing and going back to court we only had one meeting with Leeds United, that was with Shaun Harvey just before he stepped aside from his chief executive role. Thereafter the club refused to talk to us.”

It was revealed last month that West Yorkshire Police faced costs of nearly £250,000 when policing Leeds United games at Elland Road last season.

According to statistics from the UK Football Policing Unit, Leeds United had 91 supporters arrested during the 2013/14 season, the highest total in the Championship and second only behind Manchester United for the four top English divisions. Forty-one of the arrests were at home games at Elland Road.

Prior to September 2014, 52 banning orders were issued against Leeds United supporters, the third highest total in the Championship but four fewer than Bradford City over the same period.

Matt Child, chief operating officer for Leeds United, said only a “tiny, tiny minority of fans misbehave” and that ensuring “the safety and the enjoyment of the game for the vast majority of the fans is right at the centre of what we are trying to achieve.”

He said the club had “a very healthy relationship with West Yorkshire Police” and that officials had “a good, open dialogue with them”.

Mr Child said: “There is nothing we would like more than giving them the opportunity to have more police officers on the street and fewer at football matches.

“We know we have a role to play in that and there is always more room for improvement, which is why we are talking to the police on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. We talk about not only home games but away games.

“For consistency the majority of our stewards are Leeds United stewards, which is important because that means the fans become familiar with the stewards, which creates a better environment. We also offer our stewards to away games because they have familiar faces.

“We have a new safety officer this season who brings significant experience from a host of other clubs and works closely with fan groups on the club’s behalf.

“We do feel as though we have the same objectives as West Yorkshire Police, which is to ensure safety for all our customers and ensuring matches go on in the spirit of the game.

“We are looking at the possibility of club security only at some of the lower attendance games as some other clubs do successfully; we have to think carefully about how we achieve that, and the basis of building towards that opportunity is good behaviour in the ground. Customers’ safety is the main thing.”