Ridsdale: why FA are right to play it safe

Turkey v England: Istanbul tragedy is forever on mind of former Leeds chairman
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The Independent Football

It was over three years ago now, and Peter Ridsdale's life and football affiliation has moved on, but the scene is still imprinted on his memory. It was Istanbul in April 2000, on the eve of Leeds's Uefa Cup tie against Galatasaray, when he was told that two Leeds supporters, Kevin Speight and Christopher Loftus, had been stabbed and taken to the city's Taksim hospital. The then Leeds chairman was one of the first people to arrive at the hospital. It was too late. The pair were dead. Reduced to tears, he said at the time: "I saw the stab wounds and I never want to see anything like that in my life again."

That explains why last night he was vociferously backing Sven Goran Eriksson's plea that England fans should not travel to Istanbul for the deciding European Championship group game against Turkey on 11 October. "What I know, from bitter personal experience, is that if people ignore the advice and if there is trouble, it can, in a worst case, end up with partners being bereaved and families losing loved ones," he said.

"The FA have taken exactly the right decision. Where that decision has been misunderstood is there is an assumption that, in asking England fans not to travel, people are criticising Turkish supporters. I believe that when the two groups come together there is a potential for trouble from whatever source. I'm not just pointing the finger at Turkish supporters."

Ridsdale, who vacated the Leeds chairmanship in April, is now chairman of Barnsley. But the Elland Road club inevitably remains close to his heart. His sensitive handling of the incident in Istanbul and the manner in which he conducted himself will not be forgotten, even by those who subsequently took him to task over Leeds's financial problems.

"I'll never forget that time," Ridsdale said. "It is so vividly etched on my memory of what the consequences were on the close members of the families. People must not go through that in the name of football. That must not happen again. On this occasion, there has been so much hype about it that the best thing for our supporters is to watch it on the TV at home, allowing the players to concentrate on doing the job that we want them to do, which is avoiding defeat out there and not having to worry about what is happening on the terraces."

For the return leg of that Leeds tie, Ridsdale decreed that Galatasaray supporters should not be allowed to attend the game. "I believe that I was right then. On this occasion, I believe that it would be wrong for England supporters to go. If nothing happened, fantastic; if something did happen, who then gets blamed for it? What are the consequences on people's livelihoods, their families and, indeed, looking at the least worse case, whether Turkey and England are allowed to compete in future European competitions?"

Eriksson has been unfairly criticised by Uefa's president, Lennart Johansson, for his "lives may be lost" remarks, as has the Turkish FA president, Haluk Ulusoy, for his response, claiming that the England coach "had forgotten Heysel". Johansson is also surprised that the Turkey's coach, Senol Gunes, has not agreed to attend a joint press conference with Eriksson in an attempt to calm the situation prior to the game.

England fans attempting to travel to the Euro 2004 qualifier will undergo police checks as they leave the United Kingdom, and there will be strict controls on anyone entering Turkey. Police also plan to set up security cordons around the stadium, where every spectator must show a Turkish identity card.

Ridsdale, formerly a member of the Football Association international committee before he resigned from the FA in December, added: "All those people jumping up and down now and shouting about restrictions of civil liberties - where would they be, and would they stand up and be counted, if something happened? Both the Turkish FA and our FA are trying to make sure that the memory is only what happens on the football field and that all supporters can look forward to watching the match without any danger to personal livelihood."

Recently installed in his new role at Oakwell, Ridsdale anticipates that Barnsley may soon be taken out of administration. A fresh challenge after an unenviable period at Leeds? "People forget what happened in my first five years," he said. "Top five, five years running; European qualification five years running; two European semi-finals; and until the end, very good trading figures. We may have had a lousy ending, but we were in the process of correcting it. Unfortunately people [some Leeds supporters] don't allow you to stick around to sort it out."

Ridsdale added, however: "It was not a question of being pushed out [at Elland Road]. I went to the board and said that my family and I had had enough. I always said that there was only one thing that would be an issue and that was if the fans turned against me - and they obviously did. I also felt that the pressure on me personally was distracting the players on the field. It was the right decision to go, and something of a relief when I eventually did.

"Here, at Barnsley, it is important for my own peace of mind that I have the opportunity to set the record straight by demonstrating that I have the skills to run a football club properly.

"If I do that successfully, the supporters of Barnsley will benefit, too, because they deserve success."