The field invasions “cannot continue,” the English Football League chief executive told fans after a clutter-marred end of the season.
Trevor Birch has written to supporters following an EFL campaign that ended with Nottingham Forest reaching the Premier League at Wembley in front of 80,000 fans. The celebrations followed play-off games disrupted by fan invasions, and Birch says “tougher but proportionate measures” will be taken over the summer to discourage fans from taking to the field.
“The pitch raids that we have all seen cannot continue,” Birch wrote in an open letter available to the Guardian. “To put it bluntly, it is a criminal offense to enter the field of play. Any fan who does so risks being arrested and facing a club ban, a football ban order and a criminal record.”
He adds: “While some suggest that pitch invasions are essentially harmless, the reality is that they facilitate unacceptable behavior by providing cover for the reckless few intent on causing harm. There must be no blurring of lines or ambiguity in this matter. Put simply, the pitch is for the participants and the stands are for the spectators.”
This month Robert Biggs, a 30-year-old season ticket holder from Nottingham Forest, was sentenced to 24 weeks in prison for running onto the pitch and headbutting Sheffield United’s Billy Sharp after the semi-finals of the Championship play-offs. There were also incursions at Northampton and Port Vale during the semi-finals of the second tier play-offs. A few Premier League games at the end of the season experienced the same thing.
Discussions were taking place between the EFL, the Premier League and the Football Association over new sanctions against pitch trespassers and Birch confirmed further talks would be held with EFL clubs before new legislation is expected to be introduced next season.
“The introduction of tougher but proportionate sanctions must now also be considered with your respective clubs early next month,” Birch wrote. “For our part, we need to discuss what further measures could be put in place for the new season, including the potential use of capacity reductions, fines or other similar mitigations.”
Birch said the “simplest fix” though is for fans to get the message and stay off the field. “All the fans [should] Think before you act and get off the field so teams can play the game,” he wrote. “That way the authorities don’t have to get involved and everything can be settled on the field as it should be.”