UEFA match to go on despite fan deaths

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The Independent Online

Soccer's European organisation UEFA decided that the game between Galatasaray and Leeds United would go ahead despite the fatal stabbing of two Leeds fans in Istanbul last night.

UEFA called a meeting of club officials and police to reconsider its initial decision to let tonight's game go ahead. After the meeting at the stadium, Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale said the outcome was to press ahead with the match.

"It was UEFA who made that decision and we have acknowledged and concurred with that," Ridsdale told waiting reporters.

"There were three options - not to play the match at any time and pull out of the tournament completely, to play the game at a future date which would have led to heightened tensions before a prior date, and the third was to play the match.

"On balance it was decided to play the match and fly home straight afterwards."

Meanwhile English soccer authorities will consider banning Galatasaray fans from the UEFA Cup semifinal second leg at Leeds in two weeks to avoid further trouble.

The two supporters died after clashes between fans in Istanbul's Taksim Square, a popular entertainment district, after a Leeds fans reportedly insulted a group of men sitting in a van. Six more English fans were injured and a number of Galatasaray fans arrested.

Looking ahead to the second leg at Leeds Elland Road stadium, Football Association spokesman Steve Double said there was a possibility that Galatasaray fans would not be allowed to travel to the return leg to avoid further trouble.

"That's something that will be addressed in the days to come and clearly it will be a game that needs special consideration," he said.

Asked if the FA had the power to ban the Turkish fans, he replied: "That would be something we would discuss with the security authorities and is something that's on our agenda at the moment.

"Let's get through tonight, let's hope tonight goes ahead peacefully and that there are no other problems."

Double said the FA had no arguement with UEFA's initial decision to go ahead with Thursday's game.

"Clearly UEFA have taken the decision in consultation with the local authorities and I would imagine they would take the view that calling off the game, with hundreds of Leeds fans already in Istanbul, could create problems and perhaps heighten tensions," he said.

"So with the limited facts that we have available you would have to say, on balance, that is the right decision."

Double said the FA would make its own inquiry to establish precisely what happened to start the violence.

"During the course of today we will be making our own inquiries to establish exactly what has happened," the FA spokesman said.

"Safety must be at the forefront of people's minds. The football match seems almost seems unimportant at this stage, obviously it was an appalling tragedy."

Ridsdale, who was with Galatasaray officials when he first heard the news of the trouble, also spoke to UEFA about whether Thursday's game should go ahead.

"It was a difficult decision," he said. "I was with UEFA officials and the chief of police and their view was that if it was not played tonight tension would be heightened. The view was to play the game and leave Turkey as soon as possible.

"Now is not the time to say he or she started it. We had to deal with two Leeds supporters who had died. Frankly those investigations will take place later. The concern was for the bereaved and safety of our supporters in Istanbul."

He said that official Leeds trips to Istanbul on Thursday had been canceled and he strongly advised any more Leeds supporters planning to travel independently to stay at home.

"We have not even thought about the game," Ridsdale said. "The events of the last 12 hours or so have overshadowed everything else. We are talking about two people whose friends and family are suffering pain and anguish."