Pitch Invasions: Pure elation or a dangerous situation?

The English football season is rapidly heading for its close right now and whilst we’ve seen drama and emotion unfold on the pitch there has been a lot of talk about what is happening in the stands as well with those tensions spilling over. We’re not seeing fans jubilant in the stands. Instead, we’re seeing floods of fans on the grass. Here we look at what’s happened and whether or not it’s a good thing for football.

What’s been happening?

Let’s get one thing straight, pitch invasions are not a new thing. They’ve happened for decades now at various points in time. What does appear to have changed though is the levels of animosity. The vast majority of fans that hop the advertising hoardings are buzzing to be on the pitch of their beloved team in a moment of sheer joy and/or relief; a few idiots, however, are looking for trouble.

The Top Flight

Take a look at the Premier League this last week. It’s the most-watched league in the world and the football has proved why. We’ve had Everton confirm safety with a three-goal comeback; Man City recovered in a similar manner on the final day to clinch the title and Leeds struck late to keep their heads above water. All three of those games saw instances of fans and players coming together but is it a good thing?

Raphinha celebrates with the Leeds fans. Photo by Icon Sport.
Raphinha celebrates with the Leeds fans. Photo by Icon Sport.

Leeds, who were away, are perhaps the example of everything good about these moments. They didn’t take over the Brentford pitch but Raphinha, Leeds’ star man this season, jumped into the crowd to celebrate where he was held aloft for some rather striking images. It was all in good spirit.

Everton, who secured their safety prior to the last game of the season, saw some of their fans storm the pitch before the final whistle was even blown. They were ushered back before absolute bedlam at the full-time whistle. Again, there were scenes of celebration aplenty but ugly scenes stole the headlines as one moron approached Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira and hurled abuse into the former Arsenal man’s face. The result? A swift kick from the Palace gaffer.

Finally, you had the situation at the Etihad. Their grip on the title loosened on a final day full of twists and turns before a six-minute salvo flipped things on their heads. City were Champions. Their fans stormed the pitch. Despite players and staff buzzing, we were left talking about an assault on Aston Villa keeper Robin Olsen and a broken Man City crossbar where idiotic fans clambered onto the goal in stampede-like fashion.

Everton fans celebrate on the pitch after confirming survival. Photo by Icon Sport.
Everton fans celebrate on the pitch after confirming survival. Photo by Icon Sport.

It's not just at the top

The Premier League is where most of the cameras and coverage come from but it’s far from the only place these pitch invasions are happening. Drop down all the way to League Two and speak to Swindon Town players and staff. They lost out in the playoff semi-finals to Port Vale on penalties; that’s hard to take. Before they could trudge off to their dressing room though, they were met with volleys of verbal and physical abuse.

The most high profile of all these recent invasions though probably came in the Championship playoffs where Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United were doing battle. Forest won the tie, again on penalties, but within a minute the football took a back seat. Sheffield United’s captain was caught unaware as a cowardly Forest fan charged him head-to-head with such force that it took Sharp, who is no shrinking violet, off his feet and needing stitches. That fan was quickly charged and sentenced to six months in prison.

Do we want pitch invasions?

Before solving the problem of pitch invasions, we need to ask whether we, as a footballing community, are comfortable with them. From an outsider looking in, you can understand the rollercoaster of emotion and the adrenaline pumping through your veins as your team achieves something of note. The desire to run on and celebrate with your heroes may well be high; learn to control it. Sure, there is talk of the minority ruining it for the others but, really, is there any need to storm a pitch? Even in high spirits, thousands of fans mobbing a handful of players is crossing all sorts of boundaries and creating unnecessary dangers for players, staff and the fans. With bad intentions, it’s disgusting and has no place in society – let alone in football.

How do we stop pitch invasions?

The police presence at Slovacko vs Sparta Prague. Photo by Icon Sport.
The police presence at Slovacko vs Sparta Prague. Photo by Icon Sport.

If our view of not wanting pitch invasions is a largely unanimous one around the footballing world,  how do you stop them from happening? The first step is punishment. Look at the Sharp incident though; the perpetrator was quickly banged up for his crime but within mere hours more uneasy scenes were unfolding on pitches elsewhere. Other suggestions focus on docking points and forcing teams to play behind closed doors. Are either of those realistic or fair suggestions? It’s practically impossible for clubs to be held accountable for the action of an individual idiot and, on the larger scale, it’s widely acknowledged that stewards are powerless to stop mass invasions. That then leads to a talk of having nets introduced to make it impossible to invade.

In spite of the challenges though, we’re fairly comfortable making the claim that the Championship playoff final at Wembley nor the Champions League final in Paris will see a pitch invasion. In other countries, mass police presence at big games kicks in to prevent such things from happening. That proves things can be done. Maybe England doesn’t have the appetite to change proactively. Roy Keane and Troy Deeney have both questioned whether we’re waiting for a player to be stabbed before acting on the situation and, whilst some find that idea farfetched, it does feel like a disaster waiting to happen.

Our verdict is 100% that pitch invasions need to stop. You can be elated in the stands, applaud and serenade your players from the stands before pitch invasions create a piece of utterly foul football history.