Sheffield Derby: ‘It’s a matter of time before someone is killed’ – Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday fans condemn South Yorkshire Police’s tactics as supporters pelted with bottles, coins and fireworks

Rival supporters of Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United have joined forces this morning to criticise the tactics employed by South Yorkshire Police at last night's Sheffield Derby at Hillsborough.

By Danny Hall
Tuesday, 05 March, 2019, 17:08

The 131st competitive derby between the two bitter rivals finished goalless, after 90 minutes high on intensity but ultimately low on quality, and was overshadowed largely by crowd disorder before, during and after the game.

As early as the second minute of the game objects were thrown at United defender Jack O'Connell as he prepared to take a throw in - which could spark a Football Association probe - and at least one arrest was made before kick-off after a Wednesday fan attempted to break police lines.

But it was events after full-time that saw South Yorkshire Police (SYP) heavily criticised by supporters on both sides of the Steel City divide; especially after their press office published a story this morning in which chief superintendent Shaun Morley praised both sets of fans and added that "there was an exciting atmosphere for everybody to enjoy".

The reality, relayed to The Star by eyewitnesses at the scene, was rather different; with one left fearing that a supporter will be seriously injured or even killed in future in similar circumstances.

Fans reported being peppered with coins, bottles and even fireworks after being held back by officers, making them "sitting ducks".

Graphic photos on social media showed supporters with blood pouring down their faces and one video, shot by a Star journalist at the scene, showed fans being struck with batons as they retreated.

Fans have complained about police tactics at last night's derby game

One who was hit by a baton, who asked not to be named, said the heavy-handed police tactics began earlier in the day outside the Bankers Draft and continued after the game.

"I walked to Leppings Lane tram stop and all the trouble started when coppers were swinging at anyone they could see; children, women, men who couldn't move.

"Then a Wednesday fan smacked me and a copper did nothing but hit me with her baton because I tried to get on the tram.

"Leppings Lane was an absolute nightmare and the coppers didn't help one bit... they were using too much force to try and sort it out."

Fans have complained about police tactics at last night's derby game

Owls fan Ann-Marie Whittaker described her own experience as “horrible”.

“I’ve been going home and away following Wednesday all my life, and my two girls have had a season ticket since the ages of four and five,” she said.

“We have never witnessed anything like this, and the girls are really shaken up by it.

“We were lucky those United fans helped us out of the crowd otherwise I don't know what would have happened.”

Fans have complained about police tactics at last night's derby game

"[The police] literally pushed us into the fans wanting to fight," Ann-Marie added.

"We had my two young daughters with us, and we nearly got crushed.

"I had to scream at them...not to hit me, as it was the Wednesday fans pushing me and my girls into the police, who had their batons ready to use.

"Luckily, after being crushed in the crowd of people wanting to fight, we got dragged to safety by United fans and put on their coach until the fans dispersed.

"My kids are now not wanting to go to another game."

Morley reported that six arrests had been made as a result of "some minor disorder" and added: "This reduced level of conflict is testament to the attitudes and behaviour of both sets of supporters and the positive work by everybody involved.

Fans have complained about police tactics at last night's derby game

"Thank you to our officers and our colleagues from other forces for their efforts, professionalism and effectiveness in keeping the public safe, under difficult circumstances."

But another Blades fan, Pete O'Leary who watched the game from the upper tier of the Leppings Lane end, fears a supporter could be seriously injured or even killed if lessons aren't learned.

Describing the police's tactics as "a complete shambles", O'Leary added: "We were trapped outside in a pen with a bottle neck at the top to get out, with fireworks, bricks, bottles and all sorts thrown at us.

"We were sitting ducks and couldn't get out, and once we tried the police waded in with truncheons.

"When we finally got onto Leppings Lane both sets of fans became mingled together and kids were getting crushed and kicked all over the place.

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"I and a few others managed to push a few families away towards the coaches for safety, and we literally had to push them as the crush was that bad.

"Kids and women were petrified and the police just stood back. I saw two blokes with blood pouring from their heads being treated.

"Fan behaviour is always a major thing but the police get it so wrong, it's unreal. How that setup outside the away end is allowed for football matches is beyond me. It's a death trap and police didn't have any plan to combat it."

"It's only a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt or even killed if things don't change," he added.

"You are completely trapped coming out of that away end; it's frightening.

"Why don't the police keep away fans in the ground for 15 minutes, spend all the resources clearing as many home fans as they can and then let the away fans out? It really is as straightforward as that."

Several tannoy announcements during the game informed Owls fans on the South Stand that they wouldn't be able to exit via Leppings Lane, but several fans told The Star that no such communication was forthcoming to away supporters at the game.

"It is very lucky nobody was seriously hurt," said Ivan Neary, whose daughter was struck by a bottle.

"I have been a season ticket holder for over twenty years and this was the scariest and most unnecessary yet.  I'm no expert on policing but there should have been a lot more done to keep fans apart.

"Hold back United supporters and let north stand fans out and move them on. Segregate ways out of ground. Don't kettle in one group of fans as targets for others.  Let fans know over tannoy what is happening and best exit routes. All of these would have helped."

Blade Stephen Davie described exiting the ground as "the worst thing I have experienced in my years of attending football" and added that "the police should be completely ashamed of how they handled this and a full apology should be issued", while Jas Colliver questioned why both sets of fans were allowed out of Hillsborough at the same time.

"Police wouldn’t allow United supporters back to their coaches to return home, and families eventually jumped on any coach they could to protect themselves and get away from the violent clashes between both supporters and the police," he said.

"There was no consideration for the safe exit of Blades fans from the ground, by asking us to stay behind for ten minutes while the crowd calmed so we could’ve got on the coaches in a calm manner.

"It seemed like there was no real planning and knee-jerk reactions to what would be expected if the police ask both sets of supporters to exit in the same direction.

"Why on earth would the police ask coaches to park where they did, and then not allow us on the coach? It left many supporters in a more vulnerable position not knowing what to do.

"My dad helped young Harri Parker and his mother Jeni onto a random bus while I protected an elderly male with a walking frame who could not move but was getting pushed by the aggressive approach of the police."

Fan Tim Smith, in a written complaint to South Yorkshire Police seen by The Star, raised "serious concerns for the safety measurements" in place at the end of the game.

"I exited the stadium within around 15 minutes of the final whistle sounding and waited for ten minutes as the communications pre-match said we should do," he wrote.

"Although there was no announcement at the ground to explain this, nor did any of the many stewards employed explain that we were to wait before exiting.

"Within a minute two glass bottles had been thrown over the fence into the very large crowd of fans being funneled into the bottleneck, one landing a couple of feet away from me and thankfully not hitting anyone. I tried to alert the police officers stood in the line that missiles were being thrown, and asked where I should go, but received no response.

"A couple of minutes later a lit firework was thrown over the fence and landed around a metre away from me; this firework seemingly hit a lady on the side of the head before landing on the floor and exploding in the middle of the large crowd that was stuck with nowhere to disperse to.

"This made the police officers react as they created a line on Leppings Lane between the two. This didn't ease the flow of people as more missiles continued to be thrown, from both sides, indiscriminately into crowds of innocent people with nowhere to go.

"At this point I managed to move as far away as possible from the fence and had my back to the wall next to the river. I was still stuck for a further ten minutes or so as the bottle neck slowly eased, and many more missiles were thrown in to the crowds.

"I am not naïve enough to expect there will not be any violence at a football match of this magnitude, it is sadly a part of the game which will always be present. However, the arrangements for fans of both sides exiting the stadium at full time presented a very dangerous situation.

"I was penned in to a very large crowd, with nowhere to go, while missiles were being thrown in to the crowd. The only saving grace is that from what I saw not many people were injured, but that is sheer luck and should not be commended. The situation could have resulted in many injuries last night.

"There seemed to be a lack of communication, direction and organisation by those involved, and it is the first time I have ever felt in danger at a football match. I understand that such matches take a lot of organisation, but being penned in to an unsafe area with no communication on what to do or where to go is incredibly dangerous.

"This was my second time visiting Hillsborough for a Sheffield derby, and will be my last. I unfortunately have very little confidence in the policing and stewarding at the ground to ensure that I feel safe entering and exiting the ground."

Morley today defended the police’s tactics, adding: “There were some issues. You are always going to get some on emotive occasions like this when supporters of both sides who feel so strongly come together. These issues will be investigated thoroughly.”

In a statement, Morley promised an investigation into the force’s tactics and added: "We are aware of the disorder as people left the stadium, where we saw a small minority of fans take the opportunity to launch missiles at rival fans, causing injury and significant concern.

"This is unacceptable behaviour and will not be tolerated. Arrests were made and we will continue to actively seek to identify those involved.”