Football is a game of passion and expression. Sometimes this passion tends to override logic when fans and players alike go overboard with their actions.
In your experience of watching football matches, you may have noticed several wild moments both on and off the pitch. Pitch invasion is perhaps the most common of these moments in football.
You may wonder why these pitch invasions happen. Here’s what you need to know:
Are pitch invasions illegal?
The Laws of the Game frown on pitch invasion in any context. Pitch invasions are considered illegal and perverse the nature of the game. Football authorities strive at making each game a pleasant experience for fans and players alike which is negated by pitch invasions.
The act has been a criminal offence since 1991 but is mostly enforced with lenience unless in bizarre circumstances. During these pitch invasions, people can get injured, assaulted, mugged or worse.
Section 4 of 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).”
Since the early instances of pitch invasions, clubs were directed to terrace the stands as a form of crowd control. However, the tragic Hillsborough disaster changed the outlook on crowd control and most premier league stadiums were converted to all-seater stadiums.
Moreover, the regulations against pitch invasions have continually evolved with each notorious incident. After the unfortunate incidents of the 21/22 season, the FA reinforced definite punishment by criminal prosecution and a lifetime club ban for culprits of pitch invasion.
Why do fans invade the pitch?
Anytime a pitch invader enters the field, it is normal to wonder about the person’s motivation. Each pitch invader has a particular goal in mind, some of which are:
#1 To meet favourite players
Meeting your football idol is the ultimate dream of every football dream. Fans usually take their best chances through different avenues like visiting training sessions or connecting at an event.
However, some fans opt for the daring move of invading the pitch to have a moment with their idols.
This is the most common cause of pitch invasion.
#2 To harm players
Although some fans invade the pitch to connect with their favourite footballers, others commit the act out of spite for the players. This may be due to bad blood from a rival fan or pent-up anger from a frustrated supporter.
Nice vs Marseille was disrupted by a brawl after Dimitri Payet was hit by thrown objects. The player threw some back and fans stormed the pitch in anger. Fights broke out between the fans, Nice players and Marseille players.
#3 To protest/display sentiments
Some pitch invasions might be motivated by fans trying to make a statement for widespread attention. This bizarre publicity stunt has been employed to voice support for several causes ranging from political to personal.
A supporter of the ‘Just Stop Oil’ movement tied himself to the goal post during a game at Everton’s Goodison Park. The demonstration was a protest against global climate change.
#4 To celebrate results
After an emphatic result, fans let emotions get the better of them and invaded the pitch to celebrate. Such results may be as pivotal as winning a trophy, advancing in a competition, qualifying for a competition, escaping relegation, or achieving promotion.
Although these scenarios are based on joyful events, they may cause harm to all parties involved.
Joachim Andersen was a victim of violence at the Goodison Park pitch invasion after Everton escaped relegation. Furthermore, there was an altercation between Crystal Palace Manager, Patrick Vieria, and some fans.
#5 For fun
On other occasions, fans may simply enter the pitch unwarranted for the fun of it. When this happens, the pitch invader might simply run around or kick the ball.
During the 2018 World Cup Final, four affiliates of an anti-Kremlin punk band, ‘Pussy Riot’ invaded the pitch. These individuals ran around hugging the players and giving high-fives before they were escorted off the pitch.
Moreover, there is an aspect of ‘fun invading’ known as streaking. In this act, pitch invaders show off their bare bodies as they run through the pitch.
A streaker appeared on the pitch during the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy.
#6 To disrupt the game
Pitch invasions may also be caused by a fan trying to disrupt a football match. In this scenario, the fan may likely stop a move in motion like a counterattack or a goal chance.
Olympique Marseille played against PSG in the Le Classique where a fan disrupted a Lionel Messi-led counterattack with his pitch invasion.
What happens to pitch invaders in football?
Pitch invaders face the consequences sanctioned by the law. However, the punishment usually varies depending on the context of the act.
Sometimes, people may be hurt which warrants criminal prosecution. Meanwhile, a simpler affair may lead to match bans.
#1 Club ban
According to the new FA rules, players who invade the pitch will be subject to a lifetime club ban. This means they will not be allowed into the stadium forever and will never see their club play again.
In many cases, clubs have sanctioned long-term bans on individuals for a pitch invasion. Once the individual has been identified, he/she will never be allowed on club grounds again. A violation of the ban could lead to serious legal prosecution.
#2 Criminal prosecution
Although criminal prosecution was formerly meted out to violent and harmful pitch invasions. The FA has now included criminal prosecution as a direct punishment for any pitch invader no matter the context.
La Liga authorities have set a precedent of pursuing criminal prosecution against pitch invaders to deter future occurrences. Several clubs also step up when needed to address the issue of pitch invasion and pursue legal action against culprits.
Do football clubs get fined for pitch invasions?
Clubs are unlikely to be at fault for pitch invasions but they may be held responsible for such events. Authorities may place a fine on the clubs for a pitch invasion. However, closed-door games are a more common form of punishment.
This means a specified number of matches will be played without fans in attendance. Hence, the club will miss out on the usual ticket revenue and the fans will forgo supporting their team in the stadium.
After Nigeria missed out on World Cup qualification to Ghana, a mob of angry fans entered the pitch and inflicted vandalism. The NFF was punished by CAF with a match behind closed doors and a fine of $150,000.
Furthermore, clubs can also be punished with point deductions.
In the aftermath of Saint-Etienne’s relegation slump, a multitude of angry fans invaded the pitch and wreaked havoc. Players and staff were subjected to harm by physical violence and flares in this tragic event. French authorities punished the club with a six-point deduction and six closed-door games.
Football is a game of passion and these intense emotions tend to override reasoning. Pitch invasions are unhealthy for the health of the game and are deemed illegal by law.
They may be caused by a diverse range of factors but do more harm than good. Authorities have reinforced their position against pitch invasion and will continue punishing this behaviour.
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