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Trevor Birch: EFL to consider imposing tougher sanctions for pitch invasions

Nottingham Forest fans invaded the pitch after their side’s play-off semi-final victory over Sheffield United (Zac Goodwin/PA)
Nottingham Forest fans invaded the pitch after their side’s play-off semi-final victory over Sheffield United (Zac Goodwin/PA)

Supporters of EFL clubs have been warned tougher sanctions for pitch invasions are on the way after a spate of disorder towards the end of the season.

The play-off semi-finals in particular were blighted by problems, with a Nottingham Forest fan jailed for 24 weeks after he attacked Sheffield United’s Billy Sharp.

Police investigations are also ongoing in relation to player assaults at the Northampton v Mansfield and Port Vale v Swindon matches, while a 16-year-old boy admitted assaulting a Scunthorpe player during a pitch invasion at Bristol Rovers at the end of the League Two regular season on May 7.

EFL chief executive Trevor Birch said celebratory pitch invasions were providing cover to a minority to cause harm
EFL chief executive Trevor Birch said celebratory pitch invasions were providing cover to a minority to cause harm (Mike Egerton/PA)

EFL chief executive Trevor Birch said that although most people came onto the pitch for celebratory reasons, they were “providing cover for a reckless few seeking to cause harm” and warned pitch invasions simply had to stop.

“There can be no blurring of the lines or ambiguity with this matter. Simply put, the pitch is for participants and the stands for spectators,” Birch said in an open letter to fans published on the league’s website.

“The EFL will be working with the various authorities on a series of measures during the close season to help reinforce that message and address the challenge that is being presented to the game.

“As part of this work the introduction of tougher but proportionate sanctions will now also have to be considered with your respective club in the early part of next month.

A pitch invader barges into Mansfield's Jordan Bowery
A pitch invader barges into Mansfield’s Jordan Bowery (Tim Goode/PA)

“For our part, we will need to discuss what further measures could be introduced for the new season, including the potential use of capacity reductions, financial penalties, or other similar mitigations.

“The quickest and most straightforward solution to the problem is for all fans to think before they act and leave the pitch for the teams to play the game. That way there will be no requirement for authorities to get involved and everything can be settled on the field as it should be.”

The EFL board is due to meet on June 8, with the league’s annual general meeting scheduled two days later.

Birch praised the majority of fans for supporting their clubs in the right way throughout the 2021-22 season.

“In the opening months of the season, you dealt with the uncertainty of Covid protocols, Covid passes and Covid postponements through the winter, yet despite those challenges, you have returned to show up for your clubs in huge numbers once again,” he said.

“Together you have been through the turnstiles almost 20 million times across our competitions and your support has been crucial to clubs as they continue to rebuild their finances following a difficult couple of years.”