Dave Seddon's Preston North End Press View: Pitch invasions are developing a sinister edge and have to stop

Pitch invasions are not a new phenomena in football but a sinister edge to them has ramped-up this week.

By Dave Seddon
Friday, 20th May 2022, 12:30 pm

Fans have spilled from the stands on to the playing area at the final whistles of games at Huddersfield, Nottingham Forest, Everton and Port Vale.

The vast majority went on in the spirit of celebration but unfortunately a few had a darker intention.

Obviously the worst of the lot was the guy at the City Ground who ran who ran at full pelt into Billy Sharp and headbutted the Sheffield United striker who had been standing there minding his own business.

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Nottingham Forest fans invade the City Ground pitch after their penalty shoot-out win over Sheffield United. Pic: Getty Images

The 24-week prison sentence – out in 12 weeks on licence – handed down by the district judge at Nottingham Magistrates Court leaned somewhat on the lenient side I thought.

That said the 10-year banning order from football, the maximum allowed, will mean the Forest fan won’t see his side at Wembley later this month and won’t be going to a ground near you until 2032.

At the other stadiums mentioned there was goading of opposition players and managers as they tried to leave the pitch.

Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira reacted at Goodison Park and immediately hit the headlines. But who would have reacted differently to having people in your face, trying to force a reaction?

Everton fans celebrate on the pitch after their Premier League victory over Crystal Palace at Goodison Park

Everton fans were on the pitch to celebrate staying in the Premier League with a game to spare, no doubt relieved after their destiny had looked rocky to say the least as recently as half-time against Palace.

On a joyous occasion, what made that little group turn their attention to Vieira who was doing no more than walking towards the corner of the pitch where the away dressing room is located?

I’d hazard a guess at too much to drink and the obsession with having the phone out to video it all, five seconds of fame on Twitter in a desperate urge for likes and retweets.

This weekend there is the potential for more of this when the Premier League season comes to a conclusion. Is this a topic which will carry into next week or will some sense break out?

A supporter is apprehended by stewards after invading the pitch during Preston North End's 1-1 draw with Coventry City at the Coventry Building Society Arena in February

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Football was without its fans for too long during the pandemic, 17 long months for many clubs.

The joy and freedom of being able to walk into a stadium only came back last summer after having to watch the tail end of the 2019/20 season and all of the 2020/21 campaign on television or live stream.

Behaviour levels of a minority changed between March 2020 and August 2021 judging by some of the antics we've seen.

For some, the pitch is no longer seen as being for the exclusive use of the players and officials, it’s somewhere to run – or stagger – on to make themselves stand-out.

Often the punishment when caught is just being ejected from the ground, back next week without a bat of an eyelid.

When Preston North End played at Coventry City in February, three home fans came on the pitch at different times.

One of them couldn’t even be caught by the team of ‘running’ stewards, those trained specifically to chase pitch invaders, making it back to the stand after a loop of the pitch and disappearing into a group of friends who thought the whole thing was ‘banter’ – one big laugh.

We don’t want to reach a point where it is commonplace for rows of seats at the front of stands are covered over to form a barrier against people getting on to the pitch.

This week’s events have had a copycat element to them. They did it at Huddersfield so we’ll do the same.

If it’s just a celebratory thing, why the need to make life difficult for the other team’s players to leave the pitch?

Going back to the Forest game, Sharp hadn’t played because of a hamstring strain and was stood by the side of the pitch near where the opposition dugout is.

He’s an ex-Forest player and a popular one too, so what was running through that fan’s mind to go and headbutt Sharp, or ‘collide’ with him as his defence solicitor reasoned?

The six pints beforehand running through him was no doubt the fuel. Sharp needed stitches, he was hurt, this was no minor bump. It could have been much worse, something the Forest fan should reflect on as he does his porridge.

I’ve steered away so far from the normal subject of this column, namely North End, so let’s get back on course for a bit.

I’ll keep on the topic of fans but in a far more positive way, namely the take-up of season cards for the 2022/23 campaign and some of the work being done to promote them.

Sales are above 6,000 at the time of writing, on course to sail past last season’s total of just beyond 7,200, with the target being to go through the 10,000 barrier for the first time in years.

Several supporters have been getting their steps in by delivering leaflets to households and businesses in Preston and beyond, promoting the early bird offer. That’s some dedication, worn out shoe leather and fingertips snagged by letterboxes snapping shut on them.

There will be a feeling of a job well done by those fans when they have lots of company inside Deepdale when next season kicks-off.

Encouragingly, a very decent portion of sales to date have been to supporters who didn’t have a season card last season or indeed for a few years before. Keep up the good work!