Supporters Trust publish highly anticipated report into Newcastle United fan experience at Elland Road

The results of talks between the Newcastle United Supporters Trust, Leeds United and West Yorkshire Police have been published.

The Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) has published a full report on what went wrong when Magpies fans visited Elland Road in January and what changes Leeds United is making as a result.

Newcastle fans travelled to Leeds on January 22, 2022 but were caught up in a crush outside the away end before the game.

Supporters shared stories of stewards laughing at their distress and having to crawl under steward arms as tensions soared - a Leeds fan also spoke of worries at the club’s stadium operations.

Immediately after the incident, West Yorkshire Police confirmed an investigation has been launched, the findings of which have now been published by NUST.

The Trust received approximately 125 reports from fans in days after the game and contacted the Yorkshire club on the Monday following the match.

From the reports, Trust Vice Chair Thomas Concannon provided Leeds with a detailed view of Newcastle fans in attendance that day.

Two meetings were then held with Leeds United with representation from the West Yorkshire Police and the Football Supporters’ Association.

The Trust shared concerns around the operation of the turnstiles, which fans reported were unable to read tickets, causing the bottleneck.

There were also reports of the barcode being ripped from the ticket due to the perforation line on the ticket, which Leeds acknowledged was a contributing factor to the incident.

Concerns were also raised around communication with supporters from both Leeds United West Yorkshire Police, and the Trust say they are happy these points have been acknowledged and acted upon.

NUST also praised Leeds United for taking the incident “very seriously” and making quick changes.

The Trust also added they were “pleased” that West Yorkshire Police had committed to improve their communication with supporters going forwards.

NUST said: “We would like to place on record our thanks to Leeds United for treating Newcastle United fans with the respect they deserve following this incident and appreciate the seriousness in which they handled gathering evidence to create this report for your consumption.

“We would like to thank Newcastle fans who sent reports in, especially in such detail which helped us form our presentation to Leeds United and the West Yorkshire Police.

“We can only hope going forward that an incident like this doesn’t occur again, and that lessons are learned, and continue to be learned to ensure the safety of supporters.”

What happened on the day?

LEEDS, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 20: Police officers are seen outside the stadium prior to the Premier League match between Leeds United and Manchester United at Elland Road on February 20, 2022 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

As part of the published report, a thorough timeline of events on January 22 was published.

It was at 2:11 pm that the Leeds United Control Room first received a report that one of six readers at the turnstiles became blocked.

Three minutes later a call was made to the Head of IT to arrange for an engineer to attend to the issue.

A minute later, the Control Room was alerted that another turnstile was now also blocked.

This issue would persist throughout the afternoon and eventually affect all the turnstiles in the away end

At 2:16 pm Leeds United was notified by West Yorkshire Police that three more away supporter coaches would be arriving at Elland Road imminently.

Around this time the club had also concluded that the broken turnstiles were caused by ticket stubs stuck in the readers.

At 2:31 pm a double-decker bus from the city centre arrived with 100 away fans on, which leads to queues becoming even longer. Stewards ask fans to move back and away from the turnstiles.

At 2:45 pm, last orders are called at the away bar, Howards Bar.

This leads to more fans entering the busy area.

A minute later extra stewards are called in to try and assist the unfolding incident.

At 2:50 pm PA announcements were used by the club to ask away fans to move back from the turnstiles - although feedback from the NUST suggested these could not be heard clearly by the crowd.

Two minutes later an override card was used at the away turnstile to let fans in with ticket issues and shortly after a request was made for assistance from West Yorkshire Police.

Just before 3 pm, barriers were removed at the queuing area in the hope of creating more space.

The club reported that at kick-off just over 2,000 out of 2,626 away fans were in the stadium.

At 3:07 pm the Safety Officer gave the instruction to prepare to open the W2 Exit Gate, although this was not completed until 3:16 pm.

By 3:18 pm, all Newcastle fans were in the stadium.

Once there, some supporters felt no proper direction to their seat was given, although Leeds United maintain stewards were working to do so.

What changes are Leeds United making as a result?

Leeds United has implemented changes as a result (Image: Getty Images)

A list of changes being implemented by Leeds United as a result of the investigation has been published.

They are as follows:

  • Double-decker buses need to be scheduled into the coach compound. 
  • Better management system and controlled movement of away fans from the coach compound down to the away turnstiles is required. 
  • Once the away fans have taken from the bus, thyey need to be held in the coach compound area and pulsed down into the turnstile area in a safe and managed way.  
  • More robust “Disney style” queuing system needs to be implemented and new permanent barriers will be erected outside the turnstiles to avoid fans overcrowding them. An improved temporary measure will be in place for our next fixture. 
  • Paint lines and cross hatchings at the turnstiles showing no go zones to create sterile zones have been implemented. 
  • The away fans bar (Howards Bar) should open from the inside of the ground. Fans will need to scan through the turnstiles to gain access into the bar. The current external entry point into the bar will be an emergency exit only. This change of access will prevent away fans leaving the bar and queueing at the turnstiles in large numbers just before kick-off. 
  • Even though we have never experienced any issues with the perforated ticket stock that we use for the visiting supporters, we have taken the decision to order replacement ticket stock with no perforations, these will be issued to away supporters at our next home fixture. 
  • Plans are underway to upgrade all of our turnstile readers to an alternative model where there is no ‘slot’ to insert match tickets; it will be a screen where the barcode of a ticket is presented. 
  • Full review of the override card functionality and implementation in the event of turnstile issues. 
  • Security measures will be implemented to protect the safety of the SKIDATA engineer in the event that he is called to attend a turnstile.

NUST has also recommended to Newcastle United that any future tickets with perforation lines should not be folded at the perforation line in order to fit them into the envelope before sending them out to supporters.

What has Leeds United said?

The situation was caused by broken turnstiles (Image: Getty Images)

A summary of events from Leeds United in the report read: “Overall, we feel that the issues experienced with the turnstiles ultimately set off a chain of events which created further challenges.

“Whilst none of the turnstiles broke down completely, each of them experienced difficulties and all due to the same issue which was the ticket stubs becoming removed from tickets and placed into the scanners which eventually blocked and needed emptying by an engineer.

“The turnstiles experienced these difficulties in the 45 minutes before kick-off which is clearly the busiest time which led to intense queues. “Both Leeds United and West Yorkshire Police are committed to working with our officers and stewards respectively to ensure they know exactly how to help supporters should this issue arise in future.”

What has West Yorkshire Police said?

Police at Elland Road (Image: Getty Images)

In the report, a statement from West Yorkshire Police read: “Every public order event has a debrief and this includes every football fixture.

“The debrief for this fixture was conducted by trained officers who did not work on the day but involved all staff as well as public order training.

“The debrief for the police did not focus on the mechanics of the turnstile operation but rather the actions taken by officers on the day.

“The main learning points were for officers to communicate better with the fans waiting at the turnstiles and to try and intervene with the build-up of fans by preventing more people joining the queue, though this was very much a consideration in hindsight as this situation had not occurred before and there was still a belief right up until kick-off that the fans would get through the turnstiles.

“For the next fixture West Yorkshire Police have significantly increased the use of police liaison teams to enhance communication and have already developed contingency plans with the club to ensure the problem is identified early and the issues are mitigated before a build-up of fans can occur.”