The invasions on the pitch “cannot continue”, the chief executive of the English Football League told fans after the chaotic end of the season.
Trevor Burch has written to the fans following a Premier League campaign that ended with Nottingham Forest reaching the Premier League at Wembley in front of 80,000 fans. The festivities followed play-offs that were disrupted by a fan invasion, and Birch says “stricter but proportionate measures” will be taken over the summer to discourage fans from taking to the stadium.
“The stadium raids we have all witnessed cannot continue,” Birch wrote in an open letter available to the Guardian. “Frankly, entering the field of play is a criminal offence. 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, in reality they facilitate unacceptable behavior by providing cover for a few ruthless people bent on causing harm. There should be no confusion in the lines or ambiguity in this. Simply put, the stadium is for the competitors and the stands are for the spectators.”
This month, 30-year-old season ticket owner Robert Bigs from Nottingham Forest was sentenced to 24 weeks in prison for running onto the pitch and hitting his head on Sheffield United’s Billy Sharpe after the semi-finals of the tournament qualifiers. There were also incursions into Northampton and Port Vale during the semi-finals of the Division Two playoffs. Some Premier League matches at the end of the season saw the same thing.
Discussions were underway between the Premier League, the Premier League and the Football Association about new penalties for on-field trespassers and Birch confirmed that further discussions would be held with Premier League clubs ahead of the possible implementation of new legislation next season.
“Tougher but proportionate sanctions should now be considered for your club early next month,” Birch wrote. “For our part, we need to discuss additional measures that could be put in place for the new season, including the possible use of capacity reductions, fines or other similar mitigations.”
Birch said the “simple solution” was for fans to get the message and walk away from the stadium. All the fans [should] Think before you act and get off the field so that the teams can play the game.” This way the authorities do not have to interfere and everything can be settled on the field as it should.