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Flare play: Pyro and the law

Last weekend’s FA Cup final between Chelsea and Liverpool might have been short on goals, even if it was a great game, but viewers will have noticed an abundance of smoke bombs.

There is no denying the fact that many supporters, particularly younger fans, feel that they add to the atmosphere and spectacle – and TV directors certainly seem to agree.

This article isn’t an analysis of the rights or wrongs, dangers or not, of bringing smoke bombs and flares into football stadiums. But it is an honest assessment of our experience of dealing with supporters who have been caught using smoke bombs or flares in stadiums.

And we use the word “caught” deliberately – most fans who use pyro might have positive intentions, to liven things up, but whether you agree with that or not possession of pyro remains a criminal offence and supporters are prosecuted.

This is something we’re not sure all fans know, so we want the message to be clear.

Prosecution

You don’t have to let off a flare inside a stadium for it to be a criminal offence. Possession of a smoke bomb or flare is itself a crime if you even attempt to enter a stadium – and that can include possession en route to the match. The law doesn’t actually distinguish between smoke bombs, flares or fireworks either.

Such is the normalisation of flares at events – whether that’s seeing them waved in the crowds at Glastonbury or during organised post-match celebrations on the pitch – it isn’t inconceivable that some supporters might not fully understand the potential consequences. So what are they?

FSA caseworker Amanda Jacks regularly hears from fans who have been prosecuted in court, then given three year Football Banning Orders, as well as bans handed out by the clubs themselves.

“Supporters who let off pyro inside stadiums might want to improve the atmosphere but they’re putting themselves at risk of lengthy club bans and criminal prosecution,” Amanda says.

“Over the past decade we’ve spoken to lots of fans who’ve been prosecuted, and even jailed, for letting off flares or smoke bombs in stadiums.” – Amanda Jacks (FSA)

“It isn’t worth it and can harm your current or future employment, university or college applications, travel, insurance premiums and even housing options.”

Amanda has spoken to distraught mothers and anguished partners who fear their loved ones will be sent to prison if found guilty. And they might be. Is it worth it for a few minutes of coloured smoke?

Barrister Alison Gurden specialises in football-related legislation, and has acted for supporters in court for more than a decade. We’d encourage supporters to listen to her advice.

“If you are thinking about it, or you hear your mates talking about taking a smoke bomb, flare or firework to a game, just remind them what the consequence of doing so may be. We can help with legal advice, but we can’t always pick up the pieces afterwards,” says Alison.

Contact the FSA’s caseworker Amanda Jacks:

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