Football pitch invasions: what does the law say, what are the punishments and could there be stadium closures?

Pitch invasions could see football fans issued with a hefty fine - but could there be tougher sanctions on the way for clubs too?

It’s the stuff of dreams: your team has scored that winning goal, securing a place in a major tournament and, overcome by emotion, you and others run onto the pitch to celebrate.

But could getting carried away in the moment actually be an own goal, leading to punishments such as a hefty fine for invading the pitch?

A spate of pitch invasions and some resultant violent incidents this week have led to calls to toughen sanctions, with the English Football League saying it was considering deterrents such as partial stadium closures.

Staffordshire Police said they were called to investigate a reported assault on a Swindon player during a pitch invasion following the League Two play-off semi-final second leg against Port Vale at Vale Park on Thursday, while Northamptonshire Police are investigating after a pitch invader barged into Mansfield’s Jordan Bowery during a match on Wednesday night.

Patrick Vieria was also involved in an incident with an Everton fan after Crystal Palace’s 3-2 loss on Thursday night.

Calls have been made for tougher punishment for pitch invasions.

What does the law say about pitch invasions?

Under the Football Offences Act 1991 pitch invasions are a criminal offence in England and Wales. The act prohibits spectators from going onto the playing area of the stadium.

The legislation states that it is an offence for a person at a match “without lawful authority or excuse” to “go onto the playing area, or any area adjacent to the playing area to which spectators are not generally admitted”.

Under the act, throwing missiles towards the playing area or the area where spectators are, as well as indecent and racist chanting are also offences.

In Northern Ireland a pitch invasion could see fans fined up to £1,000.

Scotland is not covered by the Football Offences Act and in 2016 there were calls for a debate into criminalising pitch invasions after fans clashed on the pitch following Hibernian’s historic win over Rangers in the Scottish Cup Final.

Nottingham Forest fans celebrating on the pitch after they reach the play off final.

What are the punishments for pitch invasions now?

Under the Football Offences Act the sentence for invading the pitch is a fine not exceeding level 3. According to the Sentencing Council level 3 fines are £1,000.

However, clubs might find themselves in hot water with sporting bodies over their fans invading the pitch.

Last year Manchester City were fined a sum of €5,000 by UEFA’s Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body, due to a pitch invasion that followed the club’s 2-1 win in the Champions League against PSG at the Etihad Stadium on 24 November.

West Ham were fined £100,000 by the Football Association in 2019 for pitch invasions during their match against Burnley at London Stadium in March 2018.

Could there be partial stadium closures?

The Football Association issued a statement on Friday (20 May) saying the spate of pitch invasions “simply cannot continue” and confirmed it was investigating all of them.

The game’s national governing body also said it was reviewing its regulations to help stamp out anti-social behaviour at matches.

The EFL said earlier this week it was preparing to look at further measures to tackle crowd behaviour over the summer.

The statement read: “It is not acceptable for supporters to enter the field of play at any time given the EFL’s objective is to ensure our matches remain a safe and welcoming one for all. Therefore, over the summer we will consider what further measures are now at our disposal, including the potential use of capacity reductions or other similar mitigations.”

The Professional Footballers’ Association has issued a fresh statement calling on the football and police authorities to take a tough stance on anyone invading the pitch.

“While the majority of fans may be celebrating, it is clear that for a minority, this behaviour becomes toxic, aggressive and dangerous,” a union spokesperson said.

“This scenario has resulted in an unsafe environment for players and club staff. People are at risk of being seriously hurt or worse.

“The football authorities need to be tough and send a clear message. These are predictable events, it is a criminal offence, and it is unacceptable.”