Are football clubs unfairly sanctioned for pitch invasions?

Football supporters entering the field of play is by no means a rarity in the modern game, however surely football clubs should not be sanctioned for its occurrence.

Pitch invasions occur, in relative terms, on a regular basis at football matches in England. From fans celebrating their teams’ success, or in contrast simply participating to make their opinions heard, pitch invasions are almost passively accepted as an inevitable event in many people’s eyes.

A recent example of such an invasion was the thousands of Burnley supporters that celebrated in this way at the end of last season. They were celebrating their return to the Barclays Premier League as they were crowned Champions of the Football League Championship at Charlton Athletics’ ground following Burnley’s 3-0 thrashing of the Addicks. This defeat also ensured Charlton’s relegation to League One.

Charlton Athletic supporters also invaded the pitch and stood united with the Burnley fans on the turf. Their emotions were a stark contrast to those of the jubilant Burnley fans as many Charlton fans voiced their anger at the club’s Belgian owner Roland Duchâtelet. The club, in my eyes, should not face a fine.

I am in no way condoning pitch invasions; after all, we cannot forget that the safety of players, staff, officials and supporters are put at risk because of them.

However it is clear in this and other similar cases, particularly in the top divisions where pitch invasions occur, clubs do everything possible to ensure that football supporters are made aware of the sanctions and consequences that entering the field of play hold. Not only do the overwhelming majority of clubs alert supporters but they also take all necessary precautions to try and stop fans making their way onto the pitch. Notably, in the Charlton versus Burnley fixture, nets were erected behind the goal and extra police were even drafted in to aid stewards in their efforts.

When football clubs take these necessary steps to stop invasions they surely should not face fines or sanctions from the Football Association. Perhaps the threat of fines being implemented are in fact merely being used as a deterrent to stop fans rather than them actually being implemented.

Nevertheless, It seems to be fairly inconsistent in cases where fines have actually been implemented. Aston Villa were fined £200,000 on May 14th 2015 for failing to control their fans in an FA Cup game against local rivals West Bromwich Albion where the invasion of the pitch by fans seemed less than friendly. The FA released this statement on the incident: “’The club was charged for failing to ensure that no spectators or unauthorised persons were permitted to encroach onto the pitch area whilst attending the game at Villa Park.” So, was the club fined because it was a derby match and it posed a higher safety risk? Or alternatively was it to set an example to other clubs at the time?

The fact remains that this inconsistency of some clubs being fined whilst others are not cannot be seen as just or fair. Any pitch invasion is surely evidence of a club failing to control supporters, no matter what the reasons are behind it.

Therefore I contend that in my eyes there are two possible options regarding the issue of fining clubs. I believe that either all football clubs must receive fines if a pitch invasion occurs, and the fine should match a club’s retrospective financial capabilities so it is not too damaging in the long term for the club. Or, in my opinion, the option that makes most sense, is to not fine the football clubs at all. This, of course, would not be applicable if the football club in question did not do everything possible to prevent an invasion.

In short, I believe that it is not justifiable to fine clubs when they take all possible precautions to halt a pitch invasion and there has to be consistency when addressing such issues.



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