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Eddie Howe warns of ‘potential tragedy’ as police investigate Goodison incident

Eddie Howe has warned of a “potential tragedy” (Mike Egerton/PA)
Eddie Howe has warned of a “potential tragedy” (Mike Egerton/PA)

Newcastle manager Eddie Howe has warned pitch invasions could lead to a “potential tragedy” as Merseyside Police opened an investigation into an altercation at Goodison Park on Thursday night.

Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira was involved in an altercation with an Everton supporter who had invaded the pitch following the Toffees’ 3-2 win which secured their Premier League status.

The PA news agency understands the Football Association is looking into the incident.

Robert Biggs was jailed for 24 weeks after admitting an attack on Sheffield United's Billy Sharp
Robert Biggs was jailed for 24 weeks after admitting an attack on Sheffield United’s Billy Sharp (Handout from Nottinghamshire Police/PA Media)

There had been similar clashes at EFL play-off matches earlier in the week. A Nottingham Forest fan was jailed for 24 weeks after coming onto the pitch and headbutting Sheffield United’s Billy Sharp during Tuesday night’s Championship play-off semi-final second leg at the City Ground.

Another pitch invader at Northampton barged into Mansfield’s Jordan Bowery on Wednesday, while on Thursday night Swindon boss Ben Garner said some of his players had been subjected to physical and verbal abuse at the end of their match away to Port Vale.

Howe, whose Newcastle side travel to face a Burnley side also fighting for survival on Sunday, has warned the authorities must act to avert getting into even more “dangerous territory”.

“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.

“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 we have to act very quickly (on) because we want to avert potential tragedy.

A pitch invader clashes with Mansfield's Jordan Bowery at Northampton earlier this week
A pitch invader clashes with Mansfield’s Jordan Bowery at Northampton earlier this week (Tim Goode/PA)

“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.”

Merseyside Police confirmed an investigation was under way into an altercation on the pitch at Goodison Park, adding: “We are working with Everton FC to gather all available CCTV footage and are speaking to witnesses.

“No formal complaint has been received and enquiries into the incident are ongoing.”

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 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, or was, being made to lighten up rules and restrictions, reduce aggressive stewarding and police.

“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.

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)

“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.

“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.”

The UK’s football policing lead said the recent rise in pitch invasions was “alarming” and described the attacks on players and coaching staff as “totally unacceptable”.

Chief Constable Mark Roberts of Cheshire Police said: “It has been alarming to see a rise in the number of fans entering the pitch during matches over the past couple of weeks.

“This has at times resulted in assaults and altercations with players, managers and club staff – which is totally unacceptable. ​The pitch is the players’ place of work and like everyone else, they should be able to feel safe.

“I know emotions are running high when clubs are getting promoted or avoiding relegation, but having large numbers of fans rushing on to the pitch at the end of the game is a safety risk for everyone, and I would urge all fans to remain in their seats and celebrate in the correct way.

“It is the responsibility of clubs to ensure that fans can view matches in safety and we will continue to work with clubs to see what can be done to help prevent these incidents in future.”