The Toolstation Northern Counties East League is urging supporters and clubs to become more aware of the dangers of the use of pyrotechnics that is becoming more common at matches in the competition.
And, we are backing a supporter education campaign that has been launched by the Premier League, Football League and The FA after research they conducted showed that fans would like more knowledge on how to address it.
The research, which was conducted with 1,635 Premier League supporters, found that 87% of fans believe that pyrotechnics such as flares and smoke bombs are dangerous at matches, and that 86% were concerned for their safety. The same number (86%) think flares and smoke bombs are a fire risk and 79% consider them to be a health hazard.
To help better inform fans who are not aware, the new campaign, which features posters parodying football chants, will also have an online presence www.facepyrofacts.co.uk. There are real-life examples of how pyrotechnics are not, as pyro users attest, ‘innocent fun’, but can have serious repercussions.
Among the facts revealed in the advertising are that it is illegal to enter a football ground with a pyro and that supporters risk jail and banning orders even for being in possession of one.
Flares are used for marine distress and are designed not to be extinguished easily or quickly. They contain chemicals and burn at temperatures of 1600°C, the melting point of steel. Smoke bombs are mainly used recreationally in paintballing and war games, but these also burn at high temperatures and are designed to be used in wide open spaces. They are dangerous for those with asthma or breathing difficulties and can cause panic in a tightly packed crowd. They are not designed for use in confined spaces and it is illegal to enter a football stadium with one and set it off.
The use of pyrotechnics is a relatively new phenomenon in English football, with the trend imported from Europe where the issue is much more prevalent. It is a rising issue: in the 2010/11 season there were just eight incidents across the Premier League, Football League and Football Conference and the domestic cup competitions. In 2011/12 this rose to 72 and last season it jumped to 172 incidents. During the 2013/14 season (up to the end of October 2013) there have been 96 incidents.
Altough the use of pyrotechnics is still rare this is an issue that many fans would like addressed: 78% of those surveyed would support more action against the proliferation of flares and smoke bombs.
Over half of fans have now witnessed pyrotechnics at a match, and 36% have been directly affected: 24% have had their view of the match obscured, 10% have suffered from smoke inhalation and 2% have been affected by heat from a flare.
The research found that parents, who make up an increasing number of Premier League match attendees, were particularly concerned. Two thirds of them claim that the increased use of pyrotechnics is putting them off bringing their children. A further 81% of parents support more action for tackling pyrotechnics.
A disturbing element of increased pyrotechnics has been the involvement of children. It is not uncommon for ‘mules’ to bring the pyrotechnics into a ground on behalf of others, and in one incident at a Premier League match last season a child aged around eight was observed aiding those involved in pyrotechnic use. The child came into the ground with pyrotechnics in his rucksack and was then seen passing them to members of an adult group who let them off inside the ground. The child himself did not ignite any pyrotechnics.
There is general confusion among fans about key pyrotechnic facts. Those who undertook the research were asked six true and false statements about pyrotechnics:only 8% of respondents answered all six correctly, 29% answered five correctly and 31% answered four correctly.
When asked about the restrictions on pyrotechnics at football grounds, the majority of fans (82%) know it is illegal to go to a stadium with flares or smoke bombs. However, over half (53%) incorrectly believe that they are legal in most European football grounds. The six statements about flares and smoke bombs which fans were asked for a true and false answer were:
Chris Whalley, Stadia Safety and Security Manager at The FA, said: “The use of pyrotechnics in the closed environment of a football stadium presents a clear health and safety risk to spectators and can spoil other supporters’ enjoyment of the game. It is also a criminal offence and supporters taking pyrotechnics into a football stadium could face a long ban from attending matches. Fans can help everyone by keeping our stadia safe and smoke-free.”
Alan Weir, Head of Medical Services at St John Ambulance, added: “We know that St John Ambulance volunteers have treated people for burns and smoke inhalation caused by flares at several football grounds. These cases could have led to disfigurement or other serious injuries so we’re advising fans to seek prompt emergency help should they come into contact with a flare to help prevent their injuries from getting worse. Our volunteers are trained and equipped with life-saving skills to help those who need it. We urge fans to stop using flares and think about the safety of those around them.”