The events of last night have been the cause for considerable discussion at the Trust today.
A night of celebration has been, for many fans, transformed into an evening of disappointment and a sense of exclusion. Whilst for others, it formed part of a series of celebratory moments that will live long in the memory.
Since before the restart the Trust has worked tirelessly to bring together a significant collective of fans groups to support a Stay Away campaign urging fans to honour to keep themselves and those loved ones around them safe at this unusual time.
The campaign received little active support from the Club, who acknowledged that it had been exceptionally well received by the footballing authorities. As an aside, the campaign was also praised by West Yorkshire Police as the messaging was both on point and powerful enough to reach a wide supporter audience.
It was with some surprise that the Club’s own messaging amounted to a couple of small videos and used an entirely different message of Stay at Home rather than Stay Away.
Up until Friday evening, the messages shared by the Trust and supporting fan groups had been highly effective. WYP had informed us that they had only felt the need to speak to a very limited number of individuals who had attempted to travel to games or indeed attend the area around Elland Road. Their conversations were purely advisory and no one was issued any fines or penalties.
Friday night saw a change in our fortunes as a club. 16 years outside of the top-flight changed in an instant with the events along the A62 in Huddersfield. The nature of the Stay Away campaign didn’t change but ultimately the messaging was no longer powerful enough to prevent mass gatherings as the outpouring of emotion, joy and relief lead to an impromptu crowd of approximately 4,000 appearing at Elland Road.
This started a chain of events that ultimately resulted in last night. Once the seal of mass gatherings was broken, it became normalised and the emotional response from players and Club officials, provided moments of shared joy with those congregated at the ground. Once this had happened, it became inevitable that further celebrations would be loud and continued and importantly it massively raised the expectations of a similar show of Togetherness between fans and players on Wednesday night.
As celebrations continued over the weekend the club continued to push a Stay at Home message, with interviews by Andrea Radrizzani. By Tuesday, it was clear to the Trust board that any messaging by ourselves was insufficient to keep people away and perhaps may be considered out of kilter with the celebratory mood of fans. We pushed a message of ‘If you are going to celebrate collectively, please do so safely and with respect for others and the city’. This acknowledged the personal choices that people were clearly going to make regarding attending celebration gatherings.
We have huge respect for our members and fans who have chosen to maintain the Stay Away approach but human emotions are a strong motivation and can empathise as well with those drawn to Elland Road and other mass gatherings.
Onto Wednesday. The club continued their Stay at Home messaging. From first thing, Wednesday we urged them to come out and categorically state that no trophy celebrations would be held with fans. This we felt was clear and would drastically reduce the numbers expected at the ground. It was inevitable that some fans would come anyway but the numbers expected were key here.
The club declined to heed our requests and we were informed late in the day that they had been in discussions with SAG and LCC and had agreed upon a strategy of attempting to minimise the attending crowd whilst also putting a plan in place to disperse any crowd gathered, quickly and effectively at the end of the evening. West Yorkshire Police had advised that the majority of issues at previous gatherings had happened late on, generally after 10.30pm and they were keen to manage this. As a fan group we may not agree with their decision but we must respect that this decision was made by multiple parties, experienced in these decisions.
We have received many messages from members outlining their anger, frustration and disappointment at being asked to Stay at Home and then missing out on the events that unfolded at the ground. We completely understand that frustration. We also empathise with those that made a personal decision to attend the ground last night to feel part of a shared moment.
We do however feel that the use of such a potent symbol of celebration, The Open Top Bus, was a dreadful own goal by the club and begs the question as to if this was as much about securing powerful video footage as anything safety related.
If the message was exclusively about safety, we feel that much more could have been done by doing so much less. An impromptu display from the East Stand windows or steps, with a formal announcement once done that no more player interaction would happen.
As the dust settles at Elland Road and the area around the ground was rapidly cleaned and reset, we feel that as we reflect upon the joy we have had over the last few days, we want to move forward without the sour taste left in the mouths of many fans. We call on the club to apologise to those left feeling excluded and to promise to take serious action to ensure that we will truly celebrate this victory Together as an entire fanbase and city, once it is safe to do so.
This club is better when it’s Together. This Club is better when it’s United. We urge the club to take steps to heal some of the disappointment and hurt felt by many right now. These are actions that will help us to move forward into the Premier League as one.