Pitch invasions have long been a feature of football, although the recent attack on Sheffield United striker Billy Sharp at the City Ground has brought them back into focus.
The attack on Sharp cannot be condoned, but would we be wrong if we tared all unlucky invaders with the same brush?
Occasionally they’re ugly and others can definitely be bad, but some were pretty good too…
Good – “You think it’s all over…”
Given that the most iconic comments in English football history literally start with observing a pitch invasion, it’s clear they can be a very good thing.
Today, if fans flocked to the pitch while an attack was building, the game would simply be abandoned. In 1966, thank God, that was not the case.
England won the World Cup final at Wembley 3-2 in extra time and Geoff Hurst rushed on goal in the final seconds to score a hat-trick.
However, many English fans thought they heard the final whistle and, cheering, rushed onto the pitch to celebrate.
However, Hurst was unstoppable. Tired West German defenders couldn’t, nor could fans who inadvertently became part of the story.
“Some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over. It’s now…”
Good – Charlton pigs
Parking spaces are not only invaded by people. Animals play along too and are usually a lot more fun and light-hearted. However, that is a completely different function.
In 2016 it wasn’t just one or two animals that invaded the pitch – it was pigs and thousands of them. In fairness they were plastic, but still.
The match was a League 1 duel between Charlton and Coventry in The Valley. The clubs had little in common except that both fans were deeply unhappy with their respective owners.
No sooner had the game started than it had to be abandoned as thousands of plastic pigs rained onto the field from both fans, forcing the game to be abandoned while they were being cleared away.
“The plastic pigs were thrown onto the field from all over the stadium,” reported BBC journalist Ian Shoesmith.
“It was entirely simultaneous – and had obviously been planned in advance by the two interest groups opposing the owners of both clubs.”
Bad – Newcastle throw derby tantrum
While most fans wait until the end of a game before charging onto the pitch, Newcastle supporters are built a little differently.
Back in 1990, when Newcastle lost a play-off semi-final to rivals Sunderland at St James’ Park, Newcastle fans twice flocked to the pitch to try and abandon the game and play it again.
“Well, we were told somewhere along the line it could happen, so it wasn’t a huge shock,” Sunderland midfielder Gary Owers, who was born in Newcastle, told Roker Report on the day.
“The first one wasn’t that bad, but the second one was like, ‘Let’s get off here as soon as possible.’
“I mean, looking back, it’s hilarious – someone gets a kick in the ass, John McPhail gets a slap in the face.
“It’s almost weird to look at now, but it wasn’t that funny back then.”
Newcastle fans obviously failed to give up the game, making it about as good a plan as it was when one of them hit a horse.
Ugly – Nottingham Forest fan slams Billy Sharp
Pitch invasions are a bit back in vogue in 2022, and the championship playoff semifinals both ended with it.
Huddersfield fans did it first, much to the disdain of Luton boss Nathan Jones, who branded them “a disgrace” for berating him, his staff and the visiting supporters.
However, a Nottingham Forest fan took the word ‘shame’ to a whole new level on the City Ground by running straight at Sheffield United striker Billy Sharp and headbutting him before running away.
“It’s an attack,” Blades boss Paul Heckingbottom said of the incident. “We saw one of our players being attacked.
“He’s shattered, bleeding, angry. It will be dealt with.
“We see things being thrown on the pitch and things being thrown at it endangering the health and safety of the players and nothing has ever been done about it.
“Something is being done. We saw what happened, we know what happened. There is no doubt that there is a prison sentence.”
The following day, the police announced that an arrest had indeed taken place.
In the interests of balance, videos have also surfaced of Sheffield United striker Ollie McBurnie appearing to step on a Nottingham Forest supporter, just showing how out of control things can get.
Good – Bolton fan creeps in on Stoke
This one only recently came to light when the man behind it shared the story for his tenth anniversary, but it’s a blast.
In 2012, Bolton needed to win at Stoke on the last day of the game to avoid relegation from the Premier League and tickets were scarce. A Bolton fan named David couldn’t get one so he traveled to the Britannia Stadium hoping to get a replacement off the ground.
When he was unable to do so, David was able to sneak through a gate into an area used as an outdoor smoking area. Of course, once inside, he had the next problem of finding a vacant seat.
The only one he could find was right next to the Bolton dugout next to injured Bolton full-back Ricardo Gardner. David explained the situation to Gardner and he agreed to help him, and sure enough, when a steward asked for his ticket, the savvy fan explained he was a “club official” and Gardner could confirm this – which he did.
Bolton ended in a tie and was relegated, but the more immediate problem was how David was to get through the Stoke fans behind him, most of whom had noticed he had crept in. The solution was simple: when Bolton’s staff entered the pitch, he then joined them.
David can be seen in post-match photos walking around feeling sorry for the Bolton players. When they left the field and went to the dressing room, he followed them through the tunnel and snuck out through a side door.
Bad – Ivan Savvidis’ Armed Rage
Most of the time, the owners are accused of not taking care of their clubs enough and not having contact with normal fans.
In 2018, one man seemed to take it upon himself to prove that assumption doesn’t apply to everyone.
Ivan Savvidis, a Greek-Russian businessman and a close friend of Vladimir Putin, was stunned to see his PAOK side denied a last-minute goal against bitter rivals AEK Athens.
His solution? Personally storm the field with a holstered hip gun, causing the players to flee down the tunnel, the referee to call off play and the police to attack him to arrest him.
PAOK automatically lost the match due to Savvidis’ behavior and they were also docked three points. It was such a worrying incident that the entire Greek Super League was suspended for two weeks and FIFA threatened to ban Greece from international football.
Savvidis was sentenced to 25 months probation for the incident.
Good – Karl Power’s Manchester United team photo stunt
“He (Gary Neville) points at me and says, ‘Who is that?’ and I say to him, ‘Shut up, Gary, you weed, I’m doing this for Cantona…’”
Some people invade a soccer field on a whim, some just crave attention, and for some it’s an emotional reaction to what’s in front of them. For Karl Power, however, it is his art.
Power planned his pitching invasion for two years before executing it ahead of a Champions League quarter-final game between Manchester United and Bayern Munich.
It would eventually see him sneaking into the Man Utd team photo before the game unnoticed – apparently by everyone but Gary Neville. Power itself is the best man to explain it.
“We planned it like a military campaign and brought three United shirts – red, white and blue,” Power said when he was subsequently tracked down by the press.
“Then we found out where the team lived and had one of the directors tell us what color they would be wearing.
“We then went back and rehearsed everything in our hotel room. We got a cab down to the ground pretending we were with a TV crew and the porters let us in.
“We managed to get to the sidelines and waited for the players to come out of the tunnel.
“Then 20 minutes before kick-off we saw an opening where there were no stewards and a couple of us ran all the way around the track and ended up behind the goal.
“We sat with the photographers and watched the warm-up. As the teams left, I walked to the players’ entrance knowing nothing would stop me.”
Ugly – Brian Clough beats his own fans
It may seem like we’re picking at Nottingham Forest here, but it’s not just fans who attack club staff on the pitch at City Ground – sometimes it’s legendary club staff who attack the fans.
This came after a League Cup quarter-final win for Nottingham Forest over QPR in 1989. Forest had won 5-2 on aggregate and fans were oddly happy to have reached a semi-final. Some ran onto the field, including teenager Paul Richardson.
“I was trying to get close to Lee Chapman,” Richardson recalled. “He scored four goals and I wanted to say, ‘Well done’.
“I had my arm around him and then all of a sudden, bang! I didn’t know who it was at first. All I knew was that someone had punched me in the ear.
“‘Get off my pitch, young man.’ “I knew that voice. I turned around and damn it, I saw who it was.”
Clough didn’t stop there either. Mark Wheeler, 16, was next.
“Everyone was celebrating and then I saw him on the pitch. ‘There’s Cloughie, wahey…great! Go and shake his hand.’
“So I made my way to him and all of a sudden he gave someone a chance. Oh shit! If you watch it on TV you can see I can tell he’s not happy. I turned left to avoid him but it was too late.
“I ran right in. It probably looked worse than it was – it wasn’t really a punch and his fist wasn’t clenched. But he totally got me. Cloughie, damn it.”
Clough himself, as always, was unrepentant. “I was concerned about the possible confrontation of rival fans on the pitch,” he said.
“Whether people believe me or not, I acted with the right motive. I just wanted to help the police clear the place as soon as possible.”
Because it’s Brian Clough, it’s easy to romanticize. However, the truth is that it was a very ugly incident.
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