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Stringent Rules Will Be Enforced For Pitch Invasions & Pyrotechnics This Season
Tuesday, 26th Jul 2022 09:43

Last season saw a rise in pitch invasions both by individuals and by larger numbers and the Premier League along with the Football League are working with their clubs and are determined to crack down this season with stringent measures.

The first thing to realise is that these are not new rules, they have been in place for a long period of time. however in terms of pitch invasions at least, the spirit of the law has been applied rather than the letter of it, but slowly but surely the boundaries have been pushed over the past couple of seasons.

Individual pitch invaders during games have always been dealt with as by the letter of the law, whether they have been making a political protest as was the case with the spate of protesters trying to tie themselves to the goalposts or simply someone looking for a few minutes of fame.

They have been easy to identify and in the Premier League at least if you run on during a game the sheer number of stewards mean it is virtually impossible to escape.

There has been increasing issues with children being sent on the pitch by their parents at the final whistle in order to try and get shirts from players, which whilst harmless in isolation are becoming a nuisance.

Large scale pitch invasions these days are usually restricted to celebrating fans at the end of the season, there are usually tolerated as they are good natured, but of late some have taken a more sinister tone, a Nottingham Forest fan being jailed recently after headbutting former Saint Billy Sharp when he playing for Sheffield United at the City Ground.

Aston Villa keeper Robin Olsen was also assaulted at Manchester City on the final day of the season and the authorities now seem to want to nip it in the bud before it escalates.

The use of pyrotechnics is also going to be clamped down on.

The first measures will be that clubs will automatically ban supporters who encroach on the field of play. It is an offence for fans to enter the pitch "without lawful authority or lawful excuse" under the Football Offences Act 1991 - but offenders have not always been prosecuted.

That looks likely to change and it seems that prosecution will also be used as a default response now.

Clubs will be working with their respective Leagues as well as the police to implement stricter measures and will:

Work with clubs to improve searches of individuals
Increase use of sniffer dogs at grounds
Work with social media platforms to quickly remove fan-generated videos of illegal behaviour
Ask the government to restrict the supply of pyrotechnics and smoke bombs
Potentially ban accompanying parents or guardians of children who take part in illegal behaviour
The Premier League, EFL and FA will also work with police forces to "establish a new principle for cases relating to pyrotechnics and smoke bombs".

Premier League clubs agreed new measures to deal with pitch invasions last month following a series of incidents.

In truth this should not affect 99.9% of match going football supporters, in Saints games at least individual pitch invasions have been minimal aside from the aforementioned kids trying to get shirts and pyrotechnics although not unusual are not seen at every game and more prevalent at away games.

The only real issue I see would be end of season celebratory pitch invasions, we haven't had many in recent years, but this is a combination of covid curtailing two seasons of attendance at the last game of the season as well as not much to celebrate.

The last invasion was probably in 2018 when supporters poured onto the pitch to celebrate the team achieving survival after the final day of the season in 2018, although going back to the days of the Dell and the early days of St Mary's the end of season pitch invasion had become something of a tradition with the team taking to the Directors box to acknowledge the fans.

Technically as mentioned this has been an offence since 1991, although no one was prosecuted unless they committed any other offences.

But in the last 10 years it has become less prevalent and feedback from other fan groups has been that the worry is that some police forces may use the letter of the law to ban fans whom they see as part of a risk element, but have committed no actual offences other than take part in a celebratory pitch invasion.

The Law actually states that the offence occurs not when stepping on the pitch, but when crossing a line between the spectator area in the stand and the perimeter of the pitch, with players running to the crowd to celebrate goals, it is easy to get caught up in the excitement unwittingly and in doing so commit an offence and get banned.

Whilst no one is condoning violence and unsocial behaviour, we have to be careful that we don't use the clampdown to sanitise the game, football is all about passion, sometimes that passion spills over, common sense has to be applied to the law.

Saints fans will remember Jose Fonte's last minute winner at Brighton in 2011 as shown below, this all happened a long way from the pitch, but technically offences had been committed, to my knowledge no one was prosecuted, it wasn't hooliganism it was just pure joy.

FA chief executive Mark Bullingham had this to say.

"Together, English football has introduced new measures and stronger sanctions, for the start of the coming season, to send out a clear message that we will not tolerate this type of illegal and dangerous behaviour.

"It is the responsibility of everyone in the game, including governing bodies, clubs, players, coaches, and fans, to ensure that we all play our part in protecting our game and each other."

Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters' Association, added:

"We are contacted by supporters on a fairly regular basis who have been caught jumping on the pitch, or with pyro in the stands, and without exception they regret doing it.

"Whether they had positive intentions or not is irrelevant in the eyes of the law - pyro and pitch incursions are illegal, you will be prosecuted and you will be banned by your club."

So the message for the coming season is clear, in truth it has been for some time, anyone entering a football ground knows if they run on the pitch during the game or use Pyros they risk prosecution and a ban, sometimes I think some pitch invaders actually want a ban so they don't have to go anymore, they have had enough of watching their team and football in general, after all they know there is no other outcome.

The Football Supporters Association has worked hard for supporters and their rights for many years, if you feel that you have been wrongly accused of something at or near a football ground whilst watching Saints or for that matter any team, they will help you if you have a genuine grievance.

Find out more about them and their work and whilst there why not join for free using the link below, anyone who has travelled to an away game for £30 a ticket is doing so because of the FSA .

Photo: Action Images

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