At the end of last season pitch incursions were all over our screens, occurring in the Premier League, EFL play-offs and in the National League. On a number of occasions we saw managers or players antagonised, or even assaulted, as in the awful case of Billy Sharp.
This week we’ve joined up with the leagues and players to, once again, make clear our view on this subject – the stands are for supporters and the pitch is for the players.
Fans should not enter the field of play and there are many good reasons for that…
1. It’s illegal and punishments can be very severe
We know that many thousands of fans over the years have entered the field of play with nothing but good intentions in a moment of celebration. But in the eyes of the law it doesn’t matter – it’s illegal and the law doesn’t discriminate.
You could get a very long club ban, a criminal record and a Football Banning Order (FBO).
There’s an important distinction to be made between clubs bans and FBOs too. The former is, in effect, a private business banning you from their premises. A total waste of a season ticket, and you’ll not see your team in person for a while, but that’s more or less it.
FBOs are very serious and can be imposed by a court following conviction. If you get an FBO you may have to periodically surrender your passport on matchdays and be banned from your team’s city centre. Imagine not being able to go shopping on a Saturday or abroad for a holiday because you once ran onto the pitch? It’s a very real possibility.
When individual supporters are charged with pitch incursions we often pick up the pieces, explaining to fans that yes, it is against the law, and yes, it will affect your employment and educational opportunities.
It’s also worth noting that, while there might have been a tradition of celebratory incursions in decades past, many of those took place before it was a criminal offence to enter the pitch.
2. It’s not fair on players
As the saying goes, football without fans is nothing, but football without players ain’t up to much either – we have to listen to their voices too.
We’ve talked to the PFA and they understand that 99.99% of fans have nothing but good intentions but players are understandably worried about that one idiot getting to them.
If hundreds, or even thousands of fans, flood onto the pitch all it takes is for one moron to cause problems for everyone. You might run on to celebrate but can you guarantee every single person who jumps on the pitch has good intentions? No.
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. Do it from the stands, that’s your choice, but the pitch isn’t the place for it.
Losing a play-off semi-final, or relegation decider, can be a career defining moment and the last thing a player wants is to have an opposition fan rubbing salt in the wound. Players and managers have a fundamental right to leave the pitch without being attacked or antagonised.
3. Wider consequences
There’s an unwritten behavioural pact that we all benefit from – stay off the pitch and crowd management restrictions will be much lighter touch. If that pact breaks down football will be worse for us all as rules will tighten.
We’ve met with the authorities on this – government, police, football leagues – and there is no doubt in our mind that there will be future consequences if we see a repeat of last season’s incursions. It’s not an empty threat.
The Safety Advisory Group at York City last season cut capacity from 8,500 to 7,500 following a pitch incursion. That’s a 12% capacity reduction. Replicate that in a larger stadium and huge numbers could be excluded from going to the match.
Other measures we’ve heard mooted relate to alcohol sales around grounds or netting laid out across the first few rows. Both are possible outcomes which make football worse. And that’s before you even get to ‘nuclear’ options like full stadium closures or points deductions.
Not every fan will agree with our position on this issue but if they don’t take notice and enter the field of play they are responsible for the negative consequences which follow. And sadly, the majority of fans in the stands would suffer from the actions of a minority on the pitch.
Do not be the supporter whose action punishes your fellow fans.