The Premier League, The Football League and The FA have launched a supporter education campaign on the danger of pyrotechnics at football grounds, following research among fans that they would like more knowledge on how to address it.
The research, which was conducted with 1,635 Premier League supporters, found that 87% of fans believe that pyrotechnics such as flares and smoke bombs are dangerous at matches, and that 86% were concerned for their safety. The same number (86%) think flares and smoke bombs are a fire risk and 79% consider them to be a health hazard.
To help better inform fans who are not aware, clubs throughout the Premier League, Football League and Football Conference will be supporting a new campaign on the dangers on pyrotechnics by running adverts in their grounds and on club media like programmes and websites.
The campaign, which features posters parodying football chants, also has an online presence www.facepyrofacts.co.uk. There are real-life examples of how pyrotechnics are not, as pyro users attest, ‘innocent fun’, but can have serious repercussions.
Among the facts revealed in the advertising are that it is illegal to enter a football ground with a pyro and that supporters risk jail and banning orders even for being in possession of one.
Flares are used for marine distress and are designed not to be extinguished easily or quickly. They contain chemicals and burn at temperatures of 1600°C, the melting point of steel. Smoke bombs are mainly used recreationally in paintballing and war games, but these also burn at high temperatures and are designed to be used in wide open spaces. They are dangerous for those with asthma or breathing difficulties and can cause panic in a tightly packed crowd. They are not designed for use in confined spaces and it is illegal to enter a football stadium with one and set it off.
The use of pyrotechnics is a relatively new phenomenon in English football, with the trend imported from Europe where the issue is much more prevalent. It is a rising issue: in the 2010/11 season there were just eight incidents across the Premier League, Football League and Football Conference and the domestic cup competitions. In 2011/12 this rose to 72 and last season it jumped to 172 incidents. During the 2013/14 season (up to the end of October 2013) there have been 96 incidents.
Although the use of pyrotechnics is still rare this is an issue that many fans would like addressed: 78% of those surveyed would support more action against the proliferation of flares and smoke bombs.
Over half of fans have now witnessed pyrotechnics at a match, and 36% have been directly affected: 24% have had their view of the match obscured, 10% have suffered from smoke inhalation and 2% have been affected by heat from a flare.
The research found that parents, who make up an increasing number of Premier League match attendees, were particularly concerned. Two thirds of them claim that the increased use of pyrotechnics is putting them off bringing their children. A further 81% of parents support more action for tackling pyrotechnics.
A disturbing element of increased pyrotechnics has been the involvement of children. It is not uncommon for ‘mules’ to bring the pyrotechnics into a ground on behalf of others, and in one incident at a Premier League match last season a child aged around eight was observed aiding those involved in pyrotechnic use. The child came into the ground with pyrotechnics in his rucksack and was then seen passing them to members of an adult group who let them off inside the ground. The child himself did not ignite any pyrotechnics.
There is general confusion among fans about key pyrotechnic facts. Those who undertook the research were asked six true and false statements about pyrotechnics: only 8% of respondents answered all six correctly, 29% answered five correctly and 31% answered four correctly.
When asked about the restrictions on pyrotechnics at football grounds, the majority of fans (82%) know it is illegal to go to a stadium with flares or smoke bombs. However, over half (53%) incorrectly believe that they are legal in most European football grounds. The six statements about flares and smoke bombs which fans were asked for a true and false answer were:
Statement Answer Correct Incorrect
It is legal to enter a sporting ground in possession of a flare or a smoke bomb False 82% 18%
Flares can burn at up to 1600°C True 78% 22%
Possession of a flare or smoke bomb can result in being banned from football
grounds for up to three years True 77% 23%
Flares and smoke bombs are less dangerous than fireworks False 72% 28%
In most European countries, the use of flares and smoke bombs in football grounds is allowed. False 47% 53%
In general, it is illegal for a person to possess a flare or smoke bomb False 45% 55%
PYROTECHNICS AND FOOTBALL – QUOTES
Andrea Brown, The Football League’s Head of Customer Services, said: “There really is no need for anyone to take pyrotechnics to a football match as they put fellow fans at risk of injury. Supporters who do so are acting illegally and risk being banned from professional football and sent to prison.”
Policing Minister Damian Green said: “Football fans might see images of football grounds in other parts of Europe full of smoke and light caused by pyrotechnic devices and think that they create a good atmosphere — but they do not. Flares are very dangerous and can cause severe injuries. We are very lucky that no one has been seriously injured or killed by a flare here for a long time.
“This campaign clearly sets out the dangers of flares and smoke bombs. I want to see the courts taking this problem seriously and dealing in the strongest way possible with fans who still illegally smuggle pyrotechnics into football grounds.”
Alan Weir, Head of Medical Services at St John Ambulance said: “We know that St John Ambulance volunteers have treated people for burns and smoke inhalation caused by flares at several football grounds. These cases could have led to disfigurement or other serious injuries so we’re advising fans to seek prompt emergency help should they come into contact with a flare to help prevent their injuries from getting worse. Our volunteers are trained and equipped with life-saving skills to help those who need it. We urge fans to stop using flares and think about the safety of those around them.”
Amanda Jacks, Caseworker at The Football Supporters’ Federation said: "Whether it’s down to concerns around injury, or issues with smoke blocking their view, this survey indicates that a clear majority of fans oppose the use of pyro inside stadiums. This tallies with anecdotal feedback from members.
“Despite this its use does seem to have been on the rise lately, particularly among those fans who see it as a way to improve the atmosphere. However, we would strongly advise against supporters taking flares or smoke bombs into stadiums.
“Putting aside arguments over rights and wrongs the simple fact is it’s against the law and could be an inadvertent danger to other fans. Use pyro in stadiums and there’s a good chance you’ll be caught, get a criminal record, and long-term football banning order. You might even go to jail.
PYROTECHNICS AND FOOTBALL – BACKGROUND FACTS
Pyrotechnics and football – what we know
Pyrotechnics are illegal at football grounds
Being in possession of a pyrotechnic device at a football match, or attempting to bring a pyrotechnic device into a football stadium, is a criminal offence under the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985. Any person committing such an offence faces arrest and can expect the Court to make a Football Banning Order.
The 2012/13 season saw a record number arrested for pyrotechnics
There were 71 arrests for ‘Possession of a Firework / Flare at a Sporting Event’. This was an increase of 154% on arrests recorded for the 2011/12 season (28). These arrests have occurred at more matches in the Premier League (26) and Championship (21) than in League 1 and League 2 which saw less than five arrests each.
People are getting jailed and banned
• In November 2013 a Manchester United fan that set off a smoke bomb during their clash with West Bromwich Albion – Sir Alex Ferguson’s last game in charge – was given a two month jail term (suspended for 12 months) and banned from any football grounds for three years.
• In February 2013 two Chelsea fans were jailed for 28 days and given six year football banning orders for taking smoke bombs into the Liberty Stadium for a match versus Swansea City. Their appeal for the sentence was thrown out.
• In January 2013 an 18 year old Exeter City fan was jailed for two months and given a six year banning order for attempting to take a smoke bomb into Torquay United v Exeter City.
• In August 2012 an Oxford United fan was jailed for two months and given a six year banning order for taking a smoke bomb into Home Park for a match versus Plymouth Argyle.
Incidents nearly always involved the away supporters
Of the 172 reported pyrotechnic incidents in the 2012/13 season, 164 were committed by away supporters.
They are used by younger fans
The average age of supporters arrested for pyrotechnic use is 20. Little disorder was reported as a direct result of their use.
What do football clubs do to counter the threat of pyrotechnics?
They gather intelligence
Prior to matches research is undertaken to find relevant intelligence about the visiting Club and the behaviour of their supporters with the Police, with the visiting club’s safety officer and by studying the reports collated on the Football Safety Officers Association website. When it is indicated that a threat exists in relation to smoke bombs, flares or fireworks mitigation is deployed.
How do they mitigate at grounds?
• Pyrotechnic detection dogs are used as a visible deterrent and detect pyrotechnic devices both at points of entry and on the concourses. Their use is advertised to fans. Amnesty bins for those carrying pyros are often used by clubs.
• Stewards and Security Officers are briefed on the intelligence relating to the visiting fans and how to react in the event of the illegal ignition of pyrotechnics.
• Thorough searching of people entering the stadium is undertaken by security officers under the supervision of police.
What safety procedures to clubs have in place?
• As pyrotechnics can vary in terms of manufacturer, size, duration, behaviour, effects and heat output, clubs treat each item as a ‘worst case scenario’.
• After immediately informing the Stadium Control Room, stewards will monitor the situation from a safe distance.
• If practicable they will ensure that spectators are kept away from the source and allow room for the Fire Safety Stewards to gain access to the area.
• Only trained Fire Safety Stewards will approach and deal with the pyrotechnic situation, with associated Security Steward support as required.
• They will gather evidence of those responsible for the pyrotechnic activations and request CCTV as appropriate.
Recent examples of injuries caused by pyrotechnics at English football grounds
• West Bromwich Albion v Newcastle United, 20 April 2013 – fans were treated for shrapnel wounds following the setting off of thunder flashes. Debris passed through jeans and caused cuts to legs.
• Wigan Athletic v Aston Villa, May 2013 – a 15-year-old boy suffered lung damage from a smoke bomb thrown during the game. The boy needed hospital treatment, while two women aged 22 and 24, also required attention for the effects of the device.
• Liverpool v Everton, May 2013 – an eight year Everton fan was hit by a smoke bomb thrown by fans in the away end. He was treated for a burn on his neck on his first visit to a Merseyside derby.
• Aston Villa v Tottenham Hotspur on 20 October 2013 – an assistant referee was struck by a lit smoke canister thrown from the stand.
• Leeds United v Shrewsbury Town, 11 August 2012 – two supporters were injured, one requiring hospital treatment, when an industrial firework was ignited and thrown in the away supporters’ toilet.
• Coventry City v Walsall, 8 December 2012 – a flare was discharged by the Walsall supporters. A steward placed his foot on the device to prevent further smoke escaping, however the sole of his shoe melted causing injury.
• Leicester City v Sheffield Wednesday, 9 March 2013 – a female supporter received treatment for burns to her leg from one of the smoke bombs thrown between supporters.
• Bolton Wanderers v Huddersfield Town, 2 April 2013 – Bolton supporters ignited a flare and an 18 year old youth was treated for burns picking it up.