Pitch invasions & violence: Jurgen Klopp & Eddie Howe ‘concerned’ for safety

Everton fans on the pitch and in goal
Everton fans invaded the pitch at Goodison Park after Premier League security was secured

Jurgen Klopp says they are ‘dangerous’, Eddie Howe says they could cause ‘tragedy’ – pitch invasions and fan violence have dogged English football in recent days as the season reaches its peak.

There have been five pitch invasions since Monday, players have been attacked, Crystal Palace boss Patrick Vieira clashed with a fan, arrests have been made and investigations launched.

Under the Football Offenses Act 1991, it is an offense for a supporter to enter the field of play “without lawful authority or a lawful excuse”.

Why did this happen, what is being said and what will happen next?

What happened?

  • On Thursday, boss of Crystal Palace Patrick Vieira was involved in an altercation with an Everton supporter during a pitch invasion following his side’s Premier League defeat at Goodison Park
  • The Swindon Town players attended the same evening “Physically and verbally abused” following their defeat in the second tier play-off semifinals to Port Vale
  • The other League Two semi-final, played on Wednesday, also ended in a pitch invasion Mansfield boss Nigel Clough saying such incidents are “worrying” after his player Jordan Bowery appeared to have been pushed by a fan late in their win at Northampton
  • earlier on thursday, A fan was imprisoned after he ran onto the pitch and headbutted the Sheffield United captain Billy Sharp at the end of the Blades’ Championship play-off semi-final shootout loss to Nottingham Forest on Tuesday.
  • On Monday, Luton boss Nathan Jones said Huddersfield supporters were an “absolute disgrace” after their pitch invasion.

Swindon striker Harry McKirdy said on Instagram: “I’ll take the stick and the songs. But bottles, coins, lighters thrown [at] me, keep running and punch and kick me/teammates. Too far.”

And his manager Ben Garner said: “I don’t know where we’re going as a country but it’s absolutely disgusting.”

“We want to avert a possible tragedy” – that’s what the managers said

blobs Liverpool The side could win the Premier League title on Sunday but he believes the celebrations can go ahead without pitch invasions.

“It could have been dangerous. I’m not sure how you avoid that,” he said.

“I don’t want to judge. I understand emotions but it’s dangerous for the other team. I really hope we learn from that. We should make sure absolutely nothing happens.”

“We can celebrate without threatening ourselves or the opposition.”

newcastle Coach Howe, who will be on his side against relegation-threatened Burnley on Sunday, said: “I don’t mind the celebratory aspect – welcoming a team’s success is part of football and I have no problem with that.

“It’s the aggression towards the opposition, it’s swarms of people around one or two people.

“It doesn’t suit me at all, that’s something [on which] we have to act very quickly because we want to avert a possible tragedy.”

Norwich Manager Dean Smith said more needs to be done to protect player safety.

“I don’t think we’re doing enough about it in terms of safety,” he said.

“Football fans we’ve missed them during the Covid period but come on shake your head you don’t want to keep running and attacking people and managers.

“In general society, you can’t verbally or physically insult anyone on the street, but for some reason you’re allowed to in football. That’s a big problem at the moment.”

Why is that happend?

Port Vale fans on the pitch after beating Swindon Town in the League Two play-off
Port Vale fans on the pitch after beating Swindon Town in the League Two play-off

The pitch invasions took place at the end of the first full season with fans present at stadiums since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Geoff Pearson, a law professor at the University of Manchester who researches crowd behavior, said the impact of the lockdowns had led to a “deterioration in the behavior of some fans”, adding it had hurt relationships with fans and police who are involved “relying on knowing who the fans are, including potential troublemakers, and all of those opportunities dried up during the pandemic.”

He told BBC Radio 5 Live: “Once we had the first major pitch invasion there’s a certain element of imitation because there’s a certain element of fans wanting to be seen as authentic.

“That’s one of the real challenges – what is authentic fan behavior?

“Unfortunately, at the moment, that’s what authentic fans are doing, running onto the pitch and setting off smoke bombs.”

In February, the national head of football policing, Chief Constable Mark Roberts said cocaine use contributes to an increase in clutter in games.

On Thursday, the government announced that anyone had been caught in possession or sale of Class A football-related drugs face a five-year ban and their passport will be taken from them.

Police data released to BBC Sport in January showed arrests were pending at football matches in the top five English leagues highest level in years.

What have others said?

After the Sharp incident, the Professional Footballers’ Association called for review into matchday safety and fan disorder, which was later echoed by Preston North End manager Ryan Lowe.

He said the violence seen in football this week was “disgusting” and “bizarre”.

“Luckily it’s being stopped for next season for the simple reason that Billy Sharp had to take the nut from some idiot, got stitches in his face because it could potentially have killed the boy. It can never happen again,” he said.

“Who says Billy Sharp didn’t hit his head and never wake up?”

Accrington Stanley chairman Andy Holt wrote on social media that it was a “disaster,” adding: “You win, you draw, you lose. If you can’t handle it, STAY AWAY.

“They ruin the day for many, increase the security costs of the club and thus the ticket prices for everyone. I do not pay any additional costs because of these stumps.

“As costs go up, tickets go up. Ban everyone, lock everyone up, we don’t need them in football.”

However, Everton boss Frank Lampard doesn’t see pitch invasions as a problem – as long as fans behave.

“If done right, let them stay on the pitch, let them have their moment,” he said. “As long as you behave, no problem.”

Chief Constable Roberts said the rise in pitch invasions was “alarming” and urged fans to “celebrate in the right way”.

“The pitch is the players’ workplace and they should feel safe like everyone else,” he said.

What’s happening now?

As the fan who headbutted Sharp found out, the repercussions of such behavior can be severe. He was jailed for 24 weeks, fined and given a 10-year football ban.

In March, an Everton fan who threw a plastic bottle at Aston Villa players celebrating a goal in their Premier League game in January received one Probation.

Pearson believes there will be “a lot of legal action to be taken against a lot of people” in the closing season as fans, particularly those involved in on-pitch violence during the invasions, are identified.

People who have been banned from playing football will be banned from attending matches for at least three years and may be asked to surrender their passport to ensure they do not travel to matches abroad. Violators of the regulations face six months in prison.

The Premier League, EFL and clubs are getting advice from the Crown Prosecution Service on how to build the strongest cases against fans attacking players.

On Wednesday, the EFL said it should “consider what further action is available to us now” to address crowd behaviour.

The FA has the power to order ground closures – either full or partial – for problems with fans, while clubs have previously been fined.

The two most significant recent fines have been a £100,000 fine against West Ham when fans walked onto the pitch during a game against Burnley at the London Stadium in 2018 and a £200,000 fine against Aston Villa in 2015 when their Fans repeatedly took to the pitch during an FA Cup match with West Brom at The Hawthorns.

Birmingham were fined £42,500 when a fan walked onto the pitch and punched then-Aston Villa player Jack Grealish during a derby match at St Andrews in March 2019.

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