EFL issue open letter to fans after recent pitch invasions

EFL CEO Trevor Birch has released an open letter regarding crowd behaviour, after recent pitch invasions.

By Chris Boden
Monday, 30th May 2022, 12:00 pm

A number of games were marred by supporters pouring onto the pitch, with Sheffield United forward Billy Sharp left needing stitches after a vicious attack by a Nottingham Forest fan after the Championship play-off semi-final second leg, while in the Premier League, there were incidents at Everton and Manchester City late in the season.

The letter reads:

“Dear EFL Supporter,

BRISTOL, ENGLAND - JULY 13: The new Puma EFL match ball during the Pre-Season Friendly match between Bristol City and Celtic at The Robins High Performance Centre on July 13, 2021 in Bristol, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

“Firstly, on behalf of all EFL Clubs I would like to take this opportunity to thank the overwhelming majority of EFL fans in England and Wales for your support through 2021/22.

“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.

“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.

“This past weekend has seen a fantastic conclusion to the domestic football season that once again has provided no end of highs, lows and memorable moments for Clubs, players, and supporters all over the country.

“The drama witnessed at Wembley Stadium over the past 10 days is something only the Sky Bet EFL Play-Offs can deliver, and we congratulate Nottingham Forest, Sunderland and Port Vale as they celebrate their successes and prepare to compete in the division above next season.

“Almost 200,000 supporters turned up over the three days at the national stadium to support their team and the vast majority of fans demonstrated what excellent ambassadors they are for their Clubs and local communities - as they do, week in, week out, throughout the EFL season.

“However, prior to these Wembley fixtures, on the final days of the season and in the Play-Off Semi-Finals we all saw that a minority of fans remain intent on demonstrating ugly and unacceptable behaviours at our games. While this is of course a mirror of our society, disorder and criminal behaviour at football only serves to tarnish our game’s reputation and impact the majority of fans who pay their money to go and watch the game in a lawful manner.

“The pitch incursions we have all seen cannot continue. Let’s be crystal clear: It is a criminal offence to enter the field of play. Any supporter doing so risks being arrested and receiving a club ban, a Football Banning Order, and a criminal record. The penalties for entering the pitch can also have significant consequences on people’s lives away from football, be that from an educational or employment perspective. Not only could you lose the privilege of watching your team, but you could jeopardise an academic future or lose your job and suffer financial difficulties.

“Of course, the intentions of most supporters choosing to enter the pitch area in recent weeks have often been celebratory, but our priority must be to protect players, managers, and match officials.

"Everybody should be able to work without the fear of being attacked or confronted in the same way that anyone attending a football match would expect at their own place of employment.

“While some suggest that pitch invasions are harmless in the main, the reality is that they are facilitating unacceptable behaviour by providing cover for the reckless few seeking to cause harm.

“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.

"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. 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.

“Despite the challenges we have all had to face, I am immensely proud to be CEO of the EFL. Over the course of the season I have visited many Clubs and watched many games and seen at first-hand some excellent football and amazing drama on the pitch alongside so much inspiring work off it.

“While there is more work to do, I look forward to the period ahead as we seek to create conditions that will allow the League to thrive for generations to come.

“Enjoy the summer.”