Leeds United - Time cannot diminish the events of a dreadful night in Istanbul

NOBODY should go to a football match and not return home.

Never forgotten: Leeds United fans gather to remember Kevin Speight and Christopher Loftus at the Bremner statue in 2010. Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of their deaths.

That sentence will always be a chilling and evocative one for residents of Yorkshire’s three major cities of Leeds, Sheffield and Bradford.

The murder of Leeds United supporters Kevin Speight and Christopher Loftus – tomorrow is the twentieth anniversary of their untimely deaths in Istanbul – may not have impacted upon as many families as events at Hillsborough in April 1989 or Valley Parade in May 1985.

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But it was an event which shocked a nation and provoked emotions of bewilderment, anger and horror alongside the considerable grief felt by followers of Leeds, not least among the families of both men and those who knew them.

TRIBUTE: The Elland Road memorial to Leeds United fans Christopher Loftus and Kevin Speight.

After the mourning, came the lengthy search for justice following the events of April 5, 2000 in the Turkish capital.

Loftus and Speight were among a group of around 25 Leeds fans who were attacked by hundreds of Galatasaray supporters outside a bar next to Taksim Square on the eve of an eagerly-anticipated Uefa Cup semi-final tie between the two sides.

They died after sustaining multiple knife wounds in the onslaught.

With CCTV evidence, four men were indicted for murder within a week, including cafe owner and chief suspect Ali Umit Demir, with the police finding a knife stained with the blood of both the deceased at his flat.

Even though Demir admitted the offence, the convictions of all four were later quashed. Following a re-trial, the men were re-convicted, but subsequently released on appeal – leading the families of the two murdered supporters to question whether they would ever receive justice.

It was a shameful episode which reflected terribly on the Turkish judicial system, with a lack of contrition from Galatasaray supporters compounding the sense of bad feeling since those terrible events of two decades ago.

Misconceptions and downright lies played in its part in the sense of ill feeling.

Wild accusations about the behaviour of United fans had begun circulating within hours of the deaths, including suggestions the Turkish flag had been disrespected and local women abused.

All were vehemently denied by those involved, claims that were backed up at the subsequent 2004 inquest in Leeds when a West Yorkshire Police officer on duty that night clearly stated an ambush had been planned by Galatasaray supporters.

As a club, Galatasaray’s actions and those of Uefa in the immediate aftermath of the dreadful events of April 5 were worthy of high censure.

Leeds were effectively forced by European’s governing body to take the field at Galatasaray’s Ali Sami Yen Stadium when forfeiting it would have incurred an automatic 3-0 defeat. Police also warned that a postponement could inflame the situation.

In the event, Leeds players, plainly in no mood for football, amid an evil atmosphere, lost 2-0. The team coach had been pelted with missiles on the drive to the stadium from the hotel.

The match was preceded by a minute’s silence but it was not officially orchestrated and confined merely to visiting players and Leeds’ travelling fans.

All the while, many home supporters in the stands mimed sickening cut-throat gestures at towards the away contingent.

Only the Leeds players wore black armbands, with the hostile arena resembling a bear pit, complete with the ubiquitous ‘Welcome to Hell’ banners that Galatasaray fans so revel in displaying.

The return leg in Leeds – minus away fans with just 80 tickets issued to Galatasaray officials and representatives of the Turkish government – ended 2-2, but football was somewhat incidental.

Almost two decades may have passed since that awful events by the Bosphorus, but Leeds never forgets and never will.

On the tenth anniversary of the pair’s passing, Whites supporters turned their backs on the game for two minutes during a match at Yeovil in April 2010, part in tribute to Speight and Loftus, part in disgust at the lack of repentance shown by either Galatasaray or their followers.

The memory of Speight and Loftus will always live on at Elland Road. A plaque was unveiled in 2001 and on every anniversary, they are remembered with reverence and respect.

Two lads who went to went to watch their beloved club with their mates and didn’t come home.

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