Pitch incursions have been all over our screens in the past week, with a number of incidents in the Premier League, EFL play-off semi-finals, and non-league drawing widespread condemnation.
Supporters should not enter the field of play, unless invited to by their club, and the FSA absolutely condemns the assaults and intimidation of players that we’ve seen at games.
While there has been a tradition of celebratory incursions in decades past (think Ronnie Radford, Jimmy Glass) many of those took place before it was a criminal offence to enter the pitch. It’s now illegal to do so and nobody would suggest that supporters are above the law.
We know that many thousands of fans will have jumped on the pitch in the past week with nothing but positive intentions – but they might still be charged with a criminal offence. We’ve already been contacted by one fan in that position.
You could get a very long club ban, a criminal record and a Football Banning Order (FBO) – a hat-trick we don’t want to see any supporter scoring. FBOs are very serious, as you might have to periodically surrender your passport and be banned from city centres on matchdays for years to come.
And if thousands enter the pitch all it takes is one or two idiots to cause problems for everyone.
Billy Sharp’s attacker at the City Ground was rightly jailed, but even at the lesser end of incidents, individuals or small groups surrounding and mocking the opposition on the pitch isn’t right. Players and managers have an absolute right to leave the pitch without being attacked or antagonised.
Pitchside fences were removed from football stadiums at the end of the 80s and, part of the behavioural pact that went with that, was that fans stayed off the pitch. That shouldn’t be forgotten.
No-one’s suggesting that those types of potentially deadly fences will return but there is a possibility that other restrictions could make live football a worse experience if pitch incursions continue.
This isn’t an empty threat – the Safety Advisory Group at York City last week cut capacity from 8,500 to 7,500 following a pitch incursion versus Chorley. That’s a 12% capacity reduction. Replicate that in a larger stadium and huge numbers could be excluded from going to the match.
We’re sure local safety officials will be considering other strict measures aside from significant capacity reductions too, maybe relating to alcohol sales around grounds or netting laid across the first few rows of seats. All possible outcomes which could make football worse and that’s before you even get to ‘nuclear’ options like full stadium closures or points deductions.
They’re all punishments on the majority, for issues caused by a minority.
Thousands might be on the field but many more thousands are often in the stands, waiting patiently for the pitch to clear in order to watch their players lift a trophy or complete a lap of honour. The vast majority of fans do not enter the field of play.
We’ll be speaking to the football and safety authorities over summer and into 2022-23, making the case for a proportionate response, and outlining the negative consequences for those who break the rules to supporters.
When individual supporters are charged with pitch incursions we often pick up the pieces, explaining to young fans that yes, it is against the law, and yes, it will affect your employment and educational opportunities. There’s no nice spin we can put on that.
When it comes down to it, the stands are for the fans and the pitch is for the players.