The Premier League, EFL and their clubs are getting advice from the Crown Prosecution Service on how to build the strongest cases against people attacking players on the pitch.
The issue of crowd unrest and player protection has taken the spotlight following the conclusion of the Football League regular season and the play-offs have been marred by field invasions.
Nottingham Forest season ticket holder Robert Biggs was sentenced to 24 weeks in prison on Thursday after he intentionally attacked Sheffield United player Billy Sharp at the City Ground earlier this week, headbutting him and throwing him to the ground.
Another pitch invasion erupted in Northampton on Wednesday night when a man took the field and stormed into Mansfield’s Jordan Bowery during the League Two semi-final second leg. No arrests have yet been confirmed in relation to this incident.
The CPS said it is currently working with clubs, players’ associations and organizations such as the Premier League and EFL to explain what type of evidence is needed to bring charges to help clubs and leagues protect their players.
Douglas Mackay, CPS Chief Sport Prosecutor, said: “Over the past few years and months, football crime has increased significantly compared to pre-pandemic levels.
“At CPS, we play a vital role in fighting these crimes and making our national sport inclusive, safe to watch and play. There is no place for violent criminal activity in football and incidents like this have a significant impact on victims.”
Types of evidence that can assist clubs in a prosecution include CCTV footage, cell phone video, body worn video (BWV) of security officers and eyewitness testimony.
Mackay’s reference to an increase in football-related crime compared to before the Covid-19 pandemic is supported by data released earlier this year by the UK Football Policing Unit.
Reports of disruptions are up 36 percent in the first half of this season compared to the same period in 2019-20.
EFL safety and operations adviser Bob Eastwood welcomed Biggs’ conviction of “an unprovoked and cowardly act of violence”.
The league has indicated it will examine what else can be done to address the problem of viewership, saying in a statement on Wednesday: “Over the summer we will consider what further measures are now available to us, including the possible use of capacity reductions or other similar reductions.”
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries was asked if there was anything the government could do to ensure players were safe, but told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee: “What happens on a football pitch is actually a responsibility these governmental organizations and the association itself .
“I think it’s up to individual clubs to ensure that there is an appropriate level of safety for their players on these pitches and that they take the right measures.”
The Forest fan who attacked Sharp has been handed a 10-year football ban and a prison sentence.
Police Secretary Kit Malthouse said on Thursday any person convicted of using or selling Class A drugs at a match could face a ban of up to five years amid concerns drug use is fueling violence in football .
Malthouse said: “It’s been an exciting season of football but we’ve seen ugly violence at a couple of games that has shocked all leagues.
“Increasingly, police are finding Class A drugs at the heart of this disorder and that is why we must act. The football family wants every pitch to be a safe place for fans, especially children, and we want that too.”
Cheshire Police Chief Constable Mark Roberts, head of football policing for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, welcomed the move, saying: “I am delighted that the Government has updated legislation banning football matches to address the growing problems of disorder that we’ve seen driven in part by taking Class A drugs.
“Police and football authorities all support this measure and it is an important step in ensuring that drug use in football is tackled so that the majority of fans, particularly those with families, can enjoy themselves without suffering from anti-social behavior and violence. “