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Ugly scenes as Preston steward trampled by horse. The FA must act now

Aug 6, 2013, 9:40 AM EDT

Preston North End v Blackpool - Capital One Cup First Round Getty Images

Last night in the first round of the Capital One Cup local rivals Preston and Blackpool battled it out, literally, at Deepdale.

The atmosphere was bubbling throughout the contest and when Preston’s Tom Clarke scored a late winner, pandemonium broke loose.

League One side Preston celebrated the cup win against Championship team Blackpool like they’d won the competition. There’s nothing wrong with that, that’s what it’s all about. Passion, glory, rivalry.

But at the final whistle, things got ugly very quickly.

Hundreds of Preston fans streamed onto the pitch to taunt Blackpool’s 4,000 traveling supporters congregated at one end of the stadium. Then the police tried to intervene as more of the 17,000 plus fans tried to get onto the field of play.

That’s when one unlucky safety steward found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. A fan he was trying to move off the pitch pushed him and he fell. The steward was then trampled on by a huge police horse and was hospitalized with shoulder and chest injuries.

While all this was going on, players of both Blackpool and Preston were trying desperately to get back to the the tunnel and the locker rooms.

Blackpool’s manager, former Liverpool, Manchester United, Inter Milan and England midfielder Paul Ince, was not happy at all.

It’s an absolute joke. Who knows what could happen? It’s going to take someone to get stabbed or something else to happen before we’re going to listen. I wonder if there are enough stewards there. You see enough situations in football where fans are hitting a player. We sit down at these management meetings and talk about these respect campaigns, but what about getting enough stewards to control people? Who are the stewards anyway? Are they Preston fans? If they are they shouldn’t be stewards. They just let people run on the pitch. It’s not just Preston – it’s football in general. We need to knuckle down because you can’t have fans running on the pitch. I don’t care whether they win, lose or draw.

Ince has got a point, the man is clearly talking sense. In the American sporting arena we often see fans of college basketball rush the court if their team has completed a huge upset win.

But in English soccer this has become a huge problem over the past few years. In a Yorkshire derby last season, a Leeds United fan ran on the pitch and punched Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Chris Kirkland in the face. And plenty more instances like this happen in the lower leagues, week in, week out.

source: Getty ImagesLast weekend fans of beleaguered club Coventry City walked on the pitch and headed to the bench, protesting about the clubs perilous financial situation. The list goes on and on.

Will the soccer authorities do something about it before it’s too late? At many grounds fans sit extremely close to all the action, and with no safety fences or real obstacles to get onto the pitch, anyone can do it. This is no an indictment on English society, but there’s a definite knife culture within the country. What if one individual takes it upon themselves, like Ince said, to stab or harm a player? There’s no protection for that.

I’m not quite sure what the answer to this is. More policing is probably the best method against these kinds of outbreaks. You don’t want to take anything away from the experience, passion and excitement at soccer grounds. But the players must be safe.

Fans running onto the pitch, in a jovial mood or not, has to stop. Now.

  1. handsofsweed - Aug 6, 2013 at 10:08 AM

    Without actually knowing for sure if they sell it in the stadia or not, one would have to assume that alcohol is a driving factor. Your crowd has an incident? Cool. No alcohol for the rest of the season. But let the local government mandate that so the breweries can’t sue the team for the breach of contract. The lost revenue from alcohol sales will get the attention of the offending club’s management, no?

    Of course, I don’t really know if they sell it at FA games, so if they don’t, then just disregard this post!

    • Joe Prince-Wright - Aug 6, 2013 at 10:56 AM

      In most stadiums in the UK they do serve alcohol.

      You are not allowed to take it to your seat, but you can drink as much as you like in the concourses below the seats, where the food stalls etc. are.

      I actually think this played a huge factor in last night’s scenes. This was a local derby so it was picked for TV coverage. That meant an 8pm UK time kick off, giving fans all day to drink in the pub.

      Obviously poor decisions will be made after consuming plenty of alcohol.

      But the fact that these rival games crop up in midweek cup competitions is due to the random nature of the draw. Each team is assigned a number on a ball, and those balls are picked at random out of a pot.

      If Preston vs. Blackpool was a league game, the tie would be switched to 12:15pm kick off, so fans couldn’t drink as much in pubs before the games.

      Just an unfortunate set of circumstances that led up to last night’s game. Are night games between rival clubs the real issue here?

  2. wfjackson3 - Aug 6, 2013 at 10:48 AM

    The thing I don’t understand is why this keeps being a problem in the UK, whereas fans in the US mostly ignore the players when running onto the field.

    • Joe Prince-Wright - Aug 6, 2013 at 11:02 AM

      That is sort of the case in the UK too. A few fans try to hug and kiss the players and grab their shirts. But mostly fans ignore the players and run towards where the opposition fans are sitting.

      Most will just celebrate but unfortunately there will be someone who take things too far.

      Only a matter of time.

  3. yoyojimbog - Aug 6, 2013 at 11:04 AM

    A University of Washington football player was punched last season in a similar situation. Away game, fans rush the field after a win then boom, some dumb fan sucker punched a player he didn’t like.

  4. ndnut - Aug 6, 2013 at 11:07 AM

    Night games in general are a problem in the NFL. Though storming the field isn’t seen, night games have more unruly fans who get in fights or just annoy everyone around them, ruining the experience.

  5. bww207 - Aug 6, 2013 at 1:17 PM

    Yes, fencing clearly increases security at stadiums. Bravo to that.

    Britain is the only civilised country with a major soccer league that still has horses charging through crowds outside and inside the grounds. The steward was trampled because police apparently believe the only way to exercise efficient “crowd control” (not “crowd safety” or “security”, mind you) is to send in the cavalry.

    People have charged the field since the dawn of football. Witness this, for example (that’s the away fans, mind you), and tell me what seems safer: Letting them go and making sure you catch the few stragglers who head for the other team’s fans, or fencing them in and chasing them with horses?

    No fatalities or broken bones there, btw.

  6. soccerbrain - Aug 6, 2013 at 9:33 PM

    Agree with bww207. Fences are not going to come back in England. Watch the Mail video link closely – fans are taunting the away stand, but there is a managed gap between the stands and PNE fans that is being held by the stewards. As for the horse charge, while effective – watch the fans stream away as soon as the horses enter, calling the horses in was probably a bit of an overreaction, but likely made to shut things down at that moment.

    PNE – Blackpool is a huge local rivalry. North American sport doesn’t get rivalry like this. This fixture was a problem from the moment it was drawn, and catering to the TV crowd with the 8pm kickoff did not help the situation – again this was mentioned already, but all day drinking is not going to create a safe fan environment. I would expect that this match would have been classed among the high-risk matches by the police and I would expect a ratio of about 1 steward to 100 fans (can be as low as 1:250 for low risk matches) (Following the Green Guide or Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds), but I’m sure there are going to be a lot of questions about the stewarding. That said, there is a long history in the UK of having to deal with policing at these matches, so it isn’t as if the police or stewards were somehow caught off guard.

    I feel sorry for the steward, and I hope they get (or got) the fan that pushed him, but don’t make this out to be some massive problem of British hooliganism – this is nothing compared to 1980s hooliganism. It isn’t all Green Street Hooligans over there.

    I ran onto the pitch with thousands of Sheffield Wednesday supporters last May, and not one injury. People ignored the other team (Middlesborough) and just wanted to mob their Owls to celebrate not being relegated.

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