The Consequences of Invading the Pitch

Mar 24, 2023

By John T. Wendt, J.D., M.A., Professor Emeritus, Ethics and Business Law, University of St. Thomas

On March 5, 2023, in the Premier League, Liverpool was delivering a 7 – 0 thrashing of archrival Manchester United at Anfield.  As the Liverpool players were huddled together celebrating their seventh goal, a 16-year-old young man in the heat of the moment charged onto the pitch to celebrate with the players.  Unfortunately, the young man lost his footing and collided with Liverpool’s Curtis Jones and Andy Robertson both who went down in discomfort.   Robertson went down clutching his ankle and limping was able to finish the match.  Jones was also able to finish.  As the fan was escorted off by stewards, an incensed Liverpool Manager Jurgen Klopp was described as “visually seething” berating the young man as the Stewards lead the young man away toward the police.[1]   Merseyside Police later confirmed that the young man from Winsford, Cheshire had been arrested on suspicion of encroaching onto a football pitch.[2]  Under the Football Offences Act 1991, “It is an offence for a person at a designated football match to go onto the playing area, or any area adjacent to the playing area to which spectators are not generally admitted, without lawful authority or lawful excuse (which shall be for him to prove).”[3]

Liverpool FC released a statement that the Club “has begun an immediate investigation to identify and ban the individual pitch runner from Sunday’s Premier League fixture against Manchester United at Anfield…There is no excuse for this unacceptable and dangerous behaviour. The safety and security of players, colleagues and supporters is paramount.  The club will now follow its formal sanctions process and has suspended the alleged offender’s account until the process is complete.  If found guilty of the offence of entering the pitch without permission, the offender could face a criminal record and a lifetime ban from Anfield and all Premier League stadiums.  These acts are dangerous, illegal and have severe consequences.”[4] (Emphasis added). 

During the 2021 – 22 seasons there were a number of instances of pitch invasions and fan violence.  Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira was involved in an altercation with an Everton fan during a pitch invasion.  A flare (pyrotechnics) was thrown onto the pitch in the game between Northampton and Mansfield and Mansfield’s Jordan Bowery was shoved by a fan who ran onto the pitch.  Robert Biggs, a Nottingham Forest supporter, admitted to police that he had downed six pints of beer before the game and another at half-time, before running onto the pitch and headbutting Billy Sharp, captain of Sheffield United who was knocked to the ground and required four stitches.  Biggs pleaded guilty to assault and was jailed for 24 weeks.[5]

Responses came from managers and clubs.  At the time Jurgen Klopp said, “I don’t want to judge.  I understand emotions but for the other team it’s dangerous.  I really hope we learn from that.  We should make sure absolutely nothing happens.  We can celebrate things without threatening ourselves and the opponent.”[6]  Dean Smith, then manager of Norwich City said, “I don’t think security-wise we’re doing enough about it…Football fans, we missed them during the Covid period, but come on, give your heads a wobble, you don’t want to be running on and attacking people and managers.  In general society you can’t go and abuse, verbally or physically, anybody on the street but for some reason you’re allowed to do that at football.  It is a major concern at the moment.”[7]

Clubs have been affected, too.  In 2019 the Football Association fined West Ham £100,000 for pitch invasions during their match against Burnley at London Stadium in March 2018.  In 2021 UEFA’s Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body fined Manchester City €5,000 for a pitch invasion after the club’s 2 – 1 win over PSG at the Etihad Stadium in the Champions League.[8]

In 2022 the Football Association (“FA” which is the governing body of association football in England), the Premier League and the English Football League (EFL) came together to address the problem and issued a joint statement announcing a plan of new measures and stronger sanctions starting with the 2022 – 23 season.  The statement noted that, “All identified offenders will be reported by clubs to the police and prosecution could result in a permanent criminal record, which may affect their employment and education, and could result in a prison sentence…Furthermore, anyone who enters the pitch and those identified carrying or using pyrotechnics or smoke bombs will now receive an automatic club ban.  These bans could also be extended to accompanying parents or guardians of children who take part in these activities… This will mean cooperating to achieve a prosecution in these cases will become the default response of the football authorities and criminal justice system, sending a clear and unambiguous message to all who break the law.”[9]

About the new measures Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters said, “These new measures are a strong response to a significant increase in fan behaviour issues, but we know it is the minority who have behaved unacceptably and unlawfully.  Premier League football should be a fantastic experience for everyone and we don’t want matches to be marred by these sorts of events in the future.”  FA Chief Executive Mark Bullingham said, “Football stadiums must be a safe, inclusive and enjoyable environment for all, and it is the responsibility of everyone in the game, including governing bodies, clubs, players, coaches, and fans, to ensure that we all play our part in protecting our game and each other.”[10]  EFL Chief Executive Trevor Birch said, “There is nothing like going to watch your team live and that is why the English professional game has taken strong collective action, to ensure the match day experience remains a safe and welcoming environment for all including fans, players, club staff and match officials.”[11] Kevin Miles, Chief Executive of the Football Supporters’ Association Chief Executive said, “We are contacted by supporters on a fairly regular basis who have been caught jumping on the pitch, or with pyro in the stands, and without exception they regret doing it.  Whether they had positive intentions or not is irrelevant in the eyes of the law – pyro and pitch incursions are illegal, you will be prosecuted and you will be banned by your club.”[12]

Historically English Football had a series of  high-profile incidents of hooliganism and violence that led Parliament to enact a number of major pieces of legislation including the Football Spectators Act 1989[13] and the Football Disorder Act 2000[14] to prevent such behavior.  Under these Acts the courts can make a Football Banning Order (FBO) to help prevent violence or disorder at or in connection with regulated football matches.  Under an FBO individuals can be prohibited from attending football matches.  The court must make a FBO where an offender has been convicted of a relevant offence.[15]  In the 2021 – 2022 over 350 FBOs were issued, mostly for using pyrotechnics.

Former British Secretary of State William Hague stated that FBOs are an effective cornerstone of the Government’s preventative strategy in preventing disorder.[16]  And these pre-emptive police interventions have been highlighted by the courts, noting that “the public generally accept that temporary restrictions may be placed on their freedom of movement in certain contexts, such as… attendance at a football match.”[17]  And again these measures have not been challenged in Britain’s higher courts.  It appears that fans simply accept these measures as part of their football experience. 

Remember, these new regulations are the default position – an automatic club ban, a lifetime ban from all Premier League stadiums, and a ban that could also be extended to accompanying parents or guardians of children who take part in these activities.  Some may say that these are too strict for a default position.  Or again is this just part of the British Football experience?    Finally, how would this play out in the United States?  A lifetime ban from every stadium in the NFL?  Do we bring back “Eagles Court” and the jail that was inside Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia and presided over by Judge Seamus McCaffery?  Would that be just part of the American Football Experience?

[1] Roddy Cons, Liverpool fan arrested and faces lifetime ban for ‘tackle’ on Andy Robertson, Diario AS (2023), (last visited Mar 6, 2023).

[2] Patrick Edrich & Chris Slater, Teen arrested after pitch invader collision in 7-0 Manchester United loss, Manchester Evening News (2023), (last visited Mar 6, 2023).

[3] Legislation.Gov.UK, Football (Offences) Act 1991, (1991), (last visited Mar 6, 2023).

[4] Liverpool Football Club, Liverpool FC statement: Pitch runner at Anfield, (2023), // (last visited Mar 6, 2023).

[5] BBC News, Billy Sharp: Fan jailed for headbutting player at end of match, BBC News, May 19, 2022, (last visited Mar 7, 2023).

[6] Katie Falkingham, Pitch invasions and violence – what is happening?, BBC Sport, May 20, 2022, (last visited Mar 6, 2023).

[7] Id.

[8] Karen Roberts, What the law says about pitch invasions – and how fans and clubs can be punished, NationalWorld (2022), (last visited Mar 6, 2023).

[9] Premier League, English game unites to toughen measures on fan behaviour, (2022), (last visited Mar 6, 2023).

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Legislation.Gov.UK, Football Spectators Act 1989, (1989), (last visited Mar 8, 2023).

[14] Legislation.Gov.UK, Football (Disorder) Act 2000, (2000), (last visited Mar 8, 2023).

[15] Legislation.Gov.UK, Football-related arrests and banning orders, England and Wales: 2021 to 2022 season, GOV.UK (2022), (last visited Mar 8, 2023).

[16] Ashley Lowerson, A Critical Evaluation of the Regulation of Football Spectatorship: Defining & Refining the Optimal Method of Spectator Management, (2021),

[17] Id.

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