A return to the perimeter fence is not the answer to tackling pitch invasions and would represent “a failure on our part”, the UK Football Police chief has said.
Recent games in the Premier League and EFL have been marred by pitch invasions and in some cases there have been clashes between fans and players and other club staff after entering the pitch.
Newcastle manager Eddie Howe has warned that a failure to tackle the problem could end in tragedy, and the Professional Footballers’ Association has issued a new statement urging football and police authorities to take a tough stance on everyone , which invades the playing field.
Cheshire Police Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the head of football policing for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, says clubs need to look at investing in physical measures that can deter on-pitch invasions, as well as tough penalties for those found on the pitch field behave violently.
But he said the return of fencing – a regular feature on football grounds until the Hillsborough disaster of 1989 – could by no means be the answer.
“Nobody wants fences around the ground. It will, frankly, be an absolute failure of all of us if we ever go back to a situation where there were fences around the ground,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“It’s not safe, we don’t want it and we’d like to think we can do it without that.
“I think unfortunately clubs may need to consider some kind of investment, how do you keep people off the pitch without putting up fences?
“You see some mechanics around Wembley that make it difficult for people to get onto the pitch quickly, which seems quite effective. They can be folded in case of an emergency, in case you need to evacuate people on the pitch. So I think it’s up to all of us to consider a range of measures.”
Howe said authorities needed to act urgently to avoid a “potential tragedy”. His Crystal Palace counterpart Patrick Vieira was embroiled in an altercation after Everton fans invaded the pitch and goaded him at Goodison Park on Thursday night after a 3-2 win that guaranteed their Premier League survival .
The Magpies travel to Burnley on Sunday, who are also fighting relegation, and Howe said: “I think we’re entering dangerous territory where something could happen in a game with terrible consequences and I don’t think anyone will see it want that.”
Chief Constable Roberts said it was impossible to penalize thousands of people for intruding on the pitch and that common sense had to be applied, but added: “We need to start doing something to address the behavior because once the When there are people on the field, it’s really impossible to protect the players.”
He welcomed the 24-week prison sentence and 10-year ban imposed on a Nottingham Forest fan who took to the pitch and headbutted Sheffield United’s Billy Sharp earlier this week.
Nottinghamshire Police also arrested a 25-year-old man on suspicion of assault as part of an investigation into video circulating on social media.
Merseyside Police are investigating an altercation on the pitch at Goodison Park and have also made three arrests for possession of pyrotechnics. They said an officer was treated for smoke inhalation after a pyrotechnic device was detonated near his face.
Staffordshire Police say they have been called to investigate a reported attack on a Swindon player during a pitch invasion following Thursday’s League Two play-off semi-final second leg against Port Vale at Vale Park, during the Northamptonshire Police are investigating a field intruder at Mansfield’s Jordan Bowery during a game on Wednesday night.
The Football Association issued a statement on Friday saying the spate of pitch invasions “simply cannot go on” and confirmed it was investigating them all.
The game’s national governing body also said it was reviewing its regulations to help eradicate anti-social behavior at games.
The Premier League said guidance on pitch invasions had been re-issued to clubs ahead of Sunday’s final round of matches.
“The Premier League is concerned by the behavior of fans on site but recognizes that a small minority of fans engage in reckless actions and the majority of fans attend and watch matches safely and respectfully,” said a spokesman for the League.
“The Premier League has encouraged clubs to remind fans that it is illegal for them to enter the pitch at any time and can result in a criminal record and stadium bans.”
The EFL said earlier this week it was preparing to look at further measures to tackle summer crowd behavior “including the potential use of capacity reductions or other similar mitigations”.
Accrington chairman Andy Holt said tighter security measures would inevitably mean that ticket costs would increase for all fans and urged the “clowns” causing the problems to “get a grip” while hinting that the problems would lead to calls for the games to return to being played behind closed doors.
The PFA intends to have a strict policy on encroaching on the pitch to ensure the safety of its members.
“While the majority of fans may celebrate, it is clear that for a minority this behavior is becoming toxic, aggressive and dangerous,” a union spokesman said.
“This scenario has created an unsafe environment for players and club staff. People are at risk of serious injury or worse.
“The football authorities have to be tough and send a clear message. These are foreseeable events, it is a criminal offense and it is unacceptable.”