Thursday , July 7 2022

Pitch invasions ‘cannot continue’, warns EFL chief as talks on sanctions loom | Football League

Pitch invasions “cannot continue”, the chief executive of the English Football League has told supporters, after an end of season marred by disorder.

Trevor Birch has written to fans after an EFL campaign that finished with Nottingham Forest reaching the Premier League at Wembley in front of 80,000 fans. The celebrations followed play-off matches disrupted by fan invasions, and Birch says that “tougher but proportionate measures” will be arriving in the summer to deter fans from going on to the field.

“The pitch incursions we have all seen cannot continue,” Birch wrote in an open letter seen by the Guardian. “Let’s be crystal clear: it is a criminal offence to enter the field of play. Any supporter doing so risks being arrested and receiving a club ban, a Football Banning Order, and a criminal record.”

He adds: “While some suggest that pitch invasions are harmless in the main, the reality is that they are facilitating unacceptable behaviour by providing cover for the reckless few seeking to cause harm. There can be no blurring of the lines or ambiguity with this matter. Simply put, the pitch is for participants and the stands for spectators.”

This month Robert Biggs, a 30-year-old Nottingham Forest season-ticket holder, was jailed for 24 weeks for running on to the pitch and head-butting Sheffield United’s Billy Sharp after their Championship playoff semi-final. There were also incursions at Northampton and Port Vale during the semi-finals of the League Two play-offs. Some end-of-season Premier League fixtures witnessed the same.

Discussions over new sanctions against pitch invaders have taken place between the EFL, Premier League and Football Association, and Birch confirmed that further talks with EFL clubs would happen before the likely implementation of new laws next season.

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“The introduction of tougher but proportionate sanctions will now also have to be considered with your respective club in the early part of next month,” Birch wrote. “For our part, we will need to discuss what further measures could be introduced for the new season, including the potential use of capacity reductions, financial penalties, or other similar mitigations.”

Birch said that the “most straightforward solution”, however, would be for fans to get the message and keep off the field. “All fans [should] think before they act and leave the pitch for the teams to play the game,” he wrote. “That way there will be no requirement for authorities to get involved and everything can be settled on the field as it should be.”

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