The issue regarding pitch invasions in football has grown significantly during recent years with an increase in its widespread and occurrence. Gary Wilkinson has been working in the steward and safety department at the Hillsborough stadium for thirty years. He believes that pitch invasion puts the safety of various individuals at risk in the stadium, urging football clubs to improve their safety regulations.
“We live in a world of knives and guns carried by more and more people, so we are always on the alert and vigilant in our search at the turnstiles and the trackside,” insisted Wilkinson.
Liverpool’s second-choice goalkeeper Adrian suffered a swollen ankle after a fan invaded the pitch and knocked him out in the midst of their 2019 UEFA Super cup victory celebration in Istanbul. Some fans might jump on the pitch to share an unforgettable moment with their idol while others enter to cause lethal damage.
The 1989 Hillsborough disaster remains to be the worst in British sporting history. It was a fatal crush of people in the FA cup final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forrest with a total of 96 deaths and over 750 people injured.
“The importance of the player’s safety is paramount; that is why we have the trackside stewards preventing pitch encroachment, and our response teams are in all four corners of the stadium.”
Streaking big sporting events is a new trend developed by a Youtuber named Vitaly Zdorovetskiy to increase his followers and promote his channel. He streaked major sports events such as the 2014 Football World Cup final in Brazil, 2016 NBA final and the 2017 World Series.
Kinsey Wolanski is the most recent streaker who acquired instant fame after running across the Wanda Metropolitano pitch during the 2019 Champions League final. She did so on the orders of her boyfriend Zdorovetskiy to promote their website.
“If by any odd chance a person does manage to breach the trackside steward, we call it ‘the headless chicken’, meaning stewards chasing around the pitch after them. They must come off at some point where they would be arrested as it is a criminal act to invade the pitch,” told Wilkinson.
The English football leagues are famous for creating incredible stadium atmospheres but with that comes the ruthlessness of away fans travelling from different cities to support their team. However, Wilkinson suggests that no major incidents have taken place at Hillsborough after the disaster in 1989.
“We feel completely safe playing at our home stadium, but in football, you never know when someone may jump on the pitch,” Sheffield Wednesday footballer Joey Pelupessy on his views about pitch invasion.
While huge steel cages separate the stadium stands in various Bundesliga clubs, the English stadiums are more prone to riots and conflict among the supporters. There was such an incident at Bramall Lane last season were a Bristol City supporter entered the pitch to celebrate a goal with the players.
“We are unique at Hillsborough with the away end as most of the travelling fans sit in the upper west stand, which is 30 yards from the playing surface. On occasion, if the lower west is open, we deploy extra stewards on trackside. Home fans are at a greater risk of pitch encroachment.”
After the Jack Grealish incident in the 2019 Birmingham derby, the Football Association (FA) reminded football clubs to improve their security regulations that ensure the safety of spectators, players, officials and every other person in the stadium.
One of the only ways of discouraging pitch invasions is levying hefty fines and punishments on people who invade the pitch during a match.
“The club may issue a banning order from one year to three or a lifetime ban depending on the servility of the incident,” added Wilkinson.
Stewards are briefed by their superiors before every match to be vigilant and aware of any activities that may cause public harm or disturb the peace. Each matchday briefing is unique, which warns them about possible situations or incidents that may take place.
“My duties as a Deputy Safety Officer are to shadow the Safety Officer and take control when he leaves the control room, giving the matchday briefing sometimes and generally making sure that all stewards are in the right positions,” Wilkinson told SportyCorner.
It is tough to keep track of all the fans and their movements in the stands, but with the organised segregation lines technique, stewards at Hillsborough follow a one-way system which helps to locate other members of the team quickly.
The concept regarding the safety of the players is a big objective for the safety department of a football club. Sheffield Wednesday will be playing in the English Football League (EFL) Championship this season and Sheffield United in the Premier League, demanding an increased level of security within their respective stadiums. Will the new season see the end of this practice or the rise of new regulations that impose severe consequences?