Pitch invasions a ‘disaster’ for football, warns Accrington chairman Andy Holt

·5 min read

Accrington chairman Andy Holt has warned this week’s pitch invasions are a “disaster” for football which could lead to increased ticket prices to help cover additional security costs or even the return of physical barriers.

The issue of crowd disorder and player protection is under the spotlight after the end of the regular English Football League season and the play-offs were marred by pitch invasions.

A Nottingham Forest season-ticket holder, Robert Biggs, was jailed for 24 weeks after he deliberately charged at Sheffield United player Billy Sharp at the City Ground on Tuesday, headbutting him and knocking him to the ground.

At Northampton on Wednesday night, a man came onto the field and barged into Mansfield’s Jordan Bowery during the League Two play-off semi-final second leg.

Thursday night also saw ugly scenes with incidents at Goodison Park, where Crystal Palace boss Patrick Vieira was involved in an apparent altercation with an Everton supporter, and Vale Park after fans spilled onto the pitches at both grounds.

The PA news agency understands the Football Association is aware of the incident involving Vieira and will be looking into it.

The Premier League, the EFL and clubs are receiving advice from the Crown Prosecution Service on how to build the strongest cases possible against any individuals that attack players on the pitch.

The CPS said it is currently working with clubs, player bodies and organisations like the Premier League and the EFL to explain what sort of evidence is required to charge in order to help clubs and the leagues protect their players.

The EFL has indicated it will consider what more can be done to tackle the issue of crowd behaviour, saying in a statement on Wednesday: “Over the summer we will consider what further measures are now at our disposal, including the potential use of capacity reductions or other similar mitigations.”

Stanley chairman Holt took to social media on Friday morning to issue a plea for those fans unable to control themselves to stay away from matches or face up to the lasting consequences on the game.

“Why have we suddenly got a minority of fans being absolute d**** lately? This is a disaster,” Holt said in a lengthy Twitter post.

“Behind the scenes major progress is-was being made to lighten up rules and restrictions, reduce aggressive stewarding and police.

Robert Biggs, pictured. was jailed for headbutting Sheffield United's Billy Sharp
Robert Biggs, pictured, was jailed for headbutting Sheffield United’s Billy Sharp (Handout from Nottinghamshire Police/PA)

“Talk to @EFL about this regularly who were sympathetic to the way I want to change how we run games.

“My arguments are hanging by the slenderest threads in slender thread land now. ‘If you treat folk right they reciprocate’.

“We’ve tested mixed fan area, been virtually sold out with all the bigger L1 clubs and have not had any problems.

“My argument is, you can’t take hard earned money off folk and treat them like s***, it isn’t right.

“It’s football F*S, get a grip you complete clowns causing the problems. You win, you draw, you lose. If you can’t cope with that STAY AWAY.

“You’re ruining the day for many, increasing club security cost and as a result ticket prices for all. I’m not paying extra costs because of these stumps.

“If costs go up, tickets go up. Ban them all, jail them all, we don’t need them in football.”

In a response to a reply to his post, Holt addressed the issue faced by clubs to balance between supporter safety and security on the pitch.

Northampton players attempt to restrain a pitch invader during the League Two play-off semi-final against Mansfield on Wednesday
Northampton players attempt to restrain a pitch invader during the League Two play-off semi-final against Mansfield on Wednesday (Tim Goode/PA)

“The safety plan is that in the event of a problem fans access the pitch if needs be,” he said.

“What do we do? We know full well fixed physical barriers can end in awful disaster. It’s unreasonable to expect decent stewards to hold back 100s.”

Newcastle head to Burnley on Sunday for a match which could end in the home side securing their Premier League status.

As a result, United boss Eddie Howe is acutely aware of the dangers which could present themselves.

“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,” he said.

Eddie Howe's side face Burnley, who can seal their Premier League survival on Friday
Eddie Howe’s side face Burnley, who can seal their Premier League survival on Friday (Mike Egerton/PA)

“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.

“The scenes at Nottingham Forest, I thought, were shocking to see and at Everton as well. I think we’re going into dangerous territory where something could happen in a game that has terrible consequences, and I don’t think anyone would want to see that.”

Port Vale beat Swindon on penalties to reach the Sky Bet League Two play-off final at Wembley.

Their success, though, was overshadowed by another unsavoury incident when some Vale fans immediately ran over to the away side – with video footage appearing to show punches thrown at Swindon players.

Swindon boss Ben Garner claimed his players were physically and verbally abused.

“It’s disappointing what they’ve had to put up with coming off that pitch,” he said.

“I’ve seen (it) in some of the other play-off games. I don’t know where we’re going to as a country, but it’s absolutely disgusting.”

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