Play-Offs And Premier League Blighted By Pitch Invasions, So What Next?

From Port Vale to Everton, some football fans have shown they cannot be trusted
10:36, 20 May 2022

It was a night of celebration in Burslem, as Port Vale edged past Swindon Town on penalties to reach the League Two play-off final. But once again, the party-like atmosphere at the end of the game spilled over and the defeated Swindon players were both physically and verbally abused on the pitch. 

"There was physical abuse out there, there was verbal abuse," Swindon manager Ben Garner told BBC Radio Wiltshire: "I'm very proud of the players for the strength they've just shown. There's a lad with a cut on his nose, there's been all sorts of abuse.

"I just don't understand it, I just don't know where this is coming from. I've seen it in some of the other games recently. Disgusting. It's disgusting."

With Patrick Vieira getting verbally abused by Everton fans on the pitch in the Premier League last night, Oli McBurnie attacking a fan and Billy Sharp getting headbutted all in the past week - it's clear football has an epidemic when it comes to pitch invasions. 

Celebrating with your own players on the pitch can be an utterly joyous occasion, as most Everton fans showed last night, but there are always a small minority that ruin it for everybody. Why, in your club’s hour of glory, would you want to goad the opposition? 

Now, football faces a tricky decision when it comes to punishment for these events. Individuals are already being imprisoned and investigations are taking place, but it feels as if a blanket ban, or a game behind closed doors, would soon lead to change. 

The footballing authorities do not want to extinguish the emotion from the game, and pitch invasions do create unforgettable scenes, but if fans are assaulting players and managers something needs to change. It wasn’t that long ago that we saw netting or fences around the stands, something nobody wants to go back to, but perhaps a Wembley type solution could be implemented.

Despite all the promotions, FA Cup finals and Champions League triumphs at the national stadium, you rarely see a full pitch invasion from the fans - and that’s a good thing.

Players are able to celebrate freely and that’s because of some clever design. Horizontal railings with wire on stretch out in front of the first row towards the pitch, deterring fans from making a break for it. This feature doesn’t impact the supporters’ view, but it is effective and this move means it is a safer environment for the players on the pitch. 

Having said that, it's difficult, or perhaps even impossible, to replicate this sort of barrier across the 92, where sometimes space is at a premium. Any such barrier at Goodison Park for example, would encroach onto the pitch and endanger the players, rather than protect them. 

Players’ safety is absolutely paramount and the most important thing, but there isn’t a simple solution to this problem. The pandemic hasn’t helped, with people finally allowed back out into an arena where they feel confident enough to express their emotion, something they haven’t been able to do for two years - but some idiots seem intent on ruining the experience for all. 

If games behind closed doors are issued as a punishment, or points begin to get deducted, these scenarios would swiftly be brought to an end. If the majority of a club’s fans are completely against any pitch invaders, they would quickly be booed, hounded out and tarnished.

Uncontrollable joy is difficult to contain, and when Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored last night, some fans spilled onto the pitch in joyous delight. That’s absolutely fine, but the scenes at full-time with Vieira were ugly, and it's becoming a stain on our national game.

In the League Two play-off, Port Vale will face Mansfield Town at the home of football and should they get promoted, this time their fans will celebrate in the stands, where they belong.

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