A pitch invasion should joyous moment of spontaneity powered by a season-defining result.
But, as is so often the way these days sadly, supporters are seemingly more interested in getting onto the pitch to take selfies and cause trouble.
Since Monday alone, the culmination of the 2021/22 English football season has seen five different pitch invasions take place – and at least three of them have ended with violent scenes.
Sheffield United striker Billy Sharp was assaulted at the end of his team’s play-off contest with Nottingham Forest, and the perpetrator has already been jailed for 24 weeks. At the end of the same game, Blades striker Oli McBurnie was also involved in an altercation with Forest fans, and he is being investigated by the FA and EFL.
Mansfield Town frontman Jordan Bowery was shoved by a supporter in his side’s League Two play-off win over Northampton Town, while in the division’s other play-off tie Port Vale fans were said to have thrown punches at Swindon Town players after invading the pitch.
And as Everton celebrated their Premier League survival, Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira was reportedly attacked and also appeared to lash out himself at Toffees supporters.
The issue is that there’s plenty of people who will do anything for their fifteen minutes of fame, and Eddie Howe believes the pack mentality could lead to ‘tragedy’ if further action isn’t taken.
“I don’t mind the celebrational aspect – embracing the success that a team has had is part of football, I’ve got no issue with that,” the Newcastle United boss said.
“It’s the aggression towards the opposition, it’s swarms of people around one or two people. That doesn’t sit well with me at all, that’s something [on which] we have to act very quickly because we want to avert potential tragedy.”
Can You Be Jailed for Joining a Pitch Invasion?
The main issue for policing the aftermath of pitch invasions is how do you set about punishing 10,000 or more people?
For the most part, pitch invaders are just after some innocent hi-jinx – you can question whether they should be on the pitch in the first place, but that’s something of a moot point in the grand scheme of things.
The thing is that invading the pitch is actually against the law. The relevant statute, the Football (Offences) Act 1991, states: “It is an offence for a person at a designated football match to go onto the playing area, or any area adjacent to the playing area to which spectators are not generally admitted, without lawful authority or lawful excuse (which shall be for him to prove).”
So what is the punishment for this particular crime? The truth is that a criminal conviction is highly unlikely unless an incident – like those witnessed this week – occurs, and so some kind of Banning Order, preventing the individual from attending games for a period of time, is the typical outcome.
That comes with associated punishments, such as having to report to police stations on specific days and times, and in some cases even having to surrender a passport.