It’s unlikely that Leeds United will be playing Galatasaray in the next couple of years or so. An element of racour still exists between the two clubs following serious crowd disturbances surrounding their Champions League matches played in 2000 which resulted in the death of two Leeds supporters in Istanbul. The subsequent police investigation and failure to prosecute those suspected of having committed the murders has left an arguably justified feeling of injustice in that particular corner of West Yorkshire, but the reaction to Harry Kewell’s decision to join the Turkish club has demonstrated that there can be such a thing as an over-reaction to such a set of circumstances. Kewell’s departure from Leeds to Liverpool was shrouded in controversy, with rumours abounding that Kewell’s agent, Bernie Mandic, ended up pocketing a sizeable amount of the transfer fee. It would be pushing the bounds of credibility to suggest that Kewell’s spell at Anfield was an unqualified success – he’s probably best remembered amongst Liverpool supporters for his early substitution in the 2005 European Cup Final. At this stage in his career, a move away from the Premier League might prove to be the right thing for him, but Leeds supporters have hardly been sympathetic to his choice of clubs.
Whilst the choice of club has been unfortunate, it’s difficult to see what Leeds United’s supporters stand to gain from launching a vociferous protest against Kewell’s move. The tragic incident that occurred in Istanbul was over eight years ago and, whilst Galatasary have probably not shown enough remorse for the events of that particular night there, to expect a professional player to make some sort of moral judgement based upon it seems to be something of a stretch. Ray Fell, the chairman of the Leeds United Supporters Club, had this much to say on the matter:
Many of us are appalled by Kewell’s decision. They will see this as callous, uncaring and a real kick in the teeth to them, the two lads who so tragically lost their lives and the football club. I am shocked and extremely disappointed that a member of that Leeds squad, who along with his team-mates, the families of Kevin and Christopher and everyone else connected with the club went through the trauma and sadness of that occasion, has signed for Galatasaray. For us now to have to see one of our ex-players from that sad time taking the applause from Galatasaray fans will be sickening. Nobody here had a bad word to say about Harry when he went to Liverpool because the fans could understand the reasons why he was leaving. There was no blame attached to him then, but this is different. The fans won’t forgive him for this.”
If Kewell had gone directly from Leeds to Galatasaray, one could understand and make allowances for this point of view. However, he left Elland Road five years ago, and to expect a professional player to make some sort of moral judgement based on this seems to be rather too much. Ultimately, the responsibility for the death of the two supporters when Leeds played them in the Champions League lies with the individuals that committed the acts concerned, and not with the football club itself. If we are to start judging football clubs on the historical acts of their supporters, precious few would be joining Leeds United, whose supporters have, time and again, proved themselves to be amongst the worst-behaved in England (they covered themselves in glory again at York on Saturday). As it stands, however, it’s difficult to see what they could possibly gain from such an antagonistic attitude. It would be much more healthy to simply let Kewell and get on with it, and put these things behind them.