Pitch invasions and supporters with pyrotechnics are on the rise in football as fans have returned from the Covid lockout, but some are taking things too far
It’s a criminal offence to invade the pitch at a football match – and it has been since 1991.
Possession of pyrotechnic devices at a football match has been against the law for 37 years.
Ticket touting has been outlawed since the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994.
And missile-throwing at a football match has been an arrestable offence for 31 years.
So why, you may ask, are we suddenly seeing hundreds of fans making excursions on to the playing surface with impunity?
Why does every match now seem to be played amid the evil sulphuric pall of smoke bombs or flares?
Why are we greeted outside every Tube station near a Premier League game by dodgy Del Boy types hustling for ticket resales?
And why are stewards instructed to confiscate harmless plastic bottle tops at the turnstiles – but there seems no urgent intervention to apprehend pond life who throw coins?
Hooligan behaviour and undesirable hangers-on never went away in English football. They have just been lying low.
But unless we are careful, the feral scum who once made football grounds no-go areas for families or sensible people are going to take over again like next door’s Leylandii blocking your sunlight.
The herberts are once more infiltrating our national game like vermin coming out to play during bubonic plague – and they must be stopped. After Huddersfield Town’s Championship narrow play-off semi-final win against Luton on Monday night, some of the worrying symptoms were in evidence.
Hatters manager Nathan Jones complained that Terriers fans who accosted his players and taunted them with obscene gestures were an “absolute disgrace.”
One 85-year-old visiting fan was hit on the forehead by a coin. Luton midfielder Jordan Clark reacted angrily to being slapped on the back of his head when he ventured over to acknowledge the travelling contingent from Bedfordshire.
On social media, that well-known refuge of the knee-jerk tendency, some commentators were quick to point out Luton’s own lunatic fringe chased York City players off the pitch and forced them to shelter in the back of a stand after another unhappy ending in the play-offs 12 years ago.
True enough, but here’s the rub: What is the point of all this legislation governing football matches if you are not going to enforce it?
The FA via Getty Images)
Surely the Football Offences Act 1991 should be amended to focus on ruffians who encroach on the pitch to intimidate or threaten, not those who are merely caught up in the giddy celebration of Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be.
In the rush to criminalise football fans, there is an intrinsic risk of going back to the dark ages. Treat supporters like animals, and they will often behave accordingly.
The current fad of decorating matches with pyrotechnics may be a passing one – but woe betide football if someone is blinded, or burned, by a smoke bomb as wayward as Chelsea and Liverpool’s finishing in two Wembley finals this season. It’s become such a cliched celebration that you have to laugh when smuggling canisters past the stewards proves a futile exercise.
At Watford’s 0-0 draw with Everton last week, the Toffees’ performance was so timid that, in the absence of any goals to celebrate, their firework corps waited until the final whistle to lob half a dozen blue flares on the pitch because they couldn’t be bothered to take them home. What a sorry charade: Ee-aye-adio, we’ve drawn 0-0 at a club who had lost their previous 11 at home.
Touts and black market chancers remain a source of irritation, like mosquitoes on summer nights, rather than an inherent danger – until they flog a pair of seats in the home end to ticketless antagonists.
And as for the Huddersfield clots who baited their crestfallen rival fans with loose change… what the actual? Grow up, you worthless dregs. You’ll be grateful for that money in your pocket when the cost of living crisis kicks in.
This is not a diatribe aimed exclusively at the Terriers, a proud club with a decent, noisy core support. Good luck to them at Wembley. And personally, I have no problem with pitch invasions if they are spontaneous acts of joy and there is no interference with beaten or crestfallen players, coaching staff or supporters. But as acts of war, they should never be tolerated.
Now we are approaching the final throes of the 2021-22 season, a reminder: Fans were locked out by Covid 12 months ago.
If people are going to behave like sewer rats, perhaps it would have been better to keep it that way.