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FA to use toughest possible sanctions for crowd disorder – chair Debbie Hewitt

Pitch Invasion file photo
(Image credit: Peter Byrne)

Clubs could face partial or even full stadium closures as the Football Association’s chair Debbie Hewitt says the governing body is prepared to use the toughest possible sanctions to tackle crowd disorder.

A number of Premier League and EFL matches last season, particularly towards the end of the campaign, were marred by pitch invasions where players were assaulted.

The FA says there is alignment between the game’s authorities and the clubs that tough penalties are required to stamp out the problem.

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European football’s governing body UEFA regularly imposes partial or full stadium closures on clubs whose fans are guilty of disorder, but fines have been the most common sanction in England to date.

No disciplinary charges have yet been brought against clubs involved in the end-of-season disturbances, but previously Birmingham were fined £42,500 by the FA when a spectator ran onto the pitch and assaulted Jack Grealish, then of Aston Villa, in a match in March 2019.

On the crowd trouble last season, Hewitt said: “It’s a worrying and ugly trend. The pitch is sacred and players, match officials and coaches have to be able to play in a safe environment.

“If you look at some of the footage that happens at the end of last season, it was disturbing and anything but safe for those players and indeed for some of those fans that invaded the pitch.

“It’s a huge concern and we are working in the FA to put in place the toughest possible sanctions that we can.

FA chair Debbie Hewitt described the spate of disorder at the end of the season as an ugly and worrying trend

FA chair Debbie Hewitt described the spate of disorder at the end of the season as an ugly and worrying trend (Handout from the FA/PA)

“I think the thing that pleased me when we started to have the debate, when we first saw this trend appearing (the assumption was) ‘oh the clubs won’t want (sanctions), the clubs will reject it’, and actually, anything but.

“I was at a session with all of the Premier League clubs a week or so ago and every club in that room was (saying) ‘we have to put in place tougher sanctions’. There was absolutely no resistance, (there was) complete and utter alignment on what we need to do.

“We plan – probably the week before the new season starts – to make a statement on that.”

Asked directly about the possibility of stadium closures, Hewitt replied: “I’d like the strongest possible sanctions that we can have, so I think that says enough about what we’ll be bringing in.”

While the FA can sanction clubs for crowd disorder, it is down to the police and clubs to impose penalties on individual fans.

Forest fan Robert Biggs was jailed after he admitted assaulting Sheffield United player Billy Sharp

Nottingham Forest fan Robert Biggs was jailed after he admitted assaulting Sheffield United player Billy Sharp (Handout from Nottinghamshire Police/PA)

A Nottingham Forest supporter was jailed for assaulting Sheffield United forward Billy Sharp after fans invaded the pitch at the end of the Championship play-off semi-final second leg at the City Ground last month. The supporter, Robert Biggs, was also given a 10-year football banning order.

Players were also confronted by spectators during matches at Manchester City, Northampton and Port Vale in the final month of the season, while Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira was involved in an altercation with a supporter after Everton fans invaded the pitch during the Toffees’ final home match of the season at Goodison Park where they secured Premier League survival.

Maheta Molango, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, said the football authorities could not afford to “gamble” with player safety.

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