EFL considers punishments to deter pitch invaders

English Football League (EFL) chief executive Trevor Birch has warned that any future pitch invasions could lead to clubs being hit with capacity reductions or fines.

In an open letter to fans following the conclusion of the 2021-22 EFL season, Birch discussed the pitch invasions on the final days of the campaign and in the play-off semi-finals.

The most high-profile pitch invasion came at the City Ground (pictured) following Nottingham Forest’s Championship play-off semi-final win against Sheffield United. Footage showed one Forest fan run towards Sheffield United striker Billy Sharp before headbutting him. The fan was later jailed for 24 weeks.

In League Two, Swindon Town manager Ben Garner said some of his players were “physically and verbally abused” after Port Vale fans ran onto the pitch to celebrate their team’s semi-final win.

While Birch acknowledged that the incidents were instigated by a “minority” of fans, he said that the pitch incursions cannot continue.

“Simply put, the pitch is for participants and the stands for spectators,” Birch said. “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.”

EFL competitions attracted a cumulative attendance of almost 20 million during the 2021-22 season. Almost 200,000 fans attended the three play-off finals at Wembley Stadium this month, with Forest, Sunderland and Port Vale securing promotion.

Image: Awuachumele/CC BY-SA 4.0/Edited for size