Football/Soccer

Forest fined over pitch invasion after 2022 play-off semi against Sheff Utd

Nottingham Forest have been fined over the pitch invasion at the end of their Championship play-off semi-final against Sheffield United at the City Ground (Zac Goodwin/PA)
Jamie Gardner, PA Chief Sports Reporter

Nottingham Forest have been fined over the pitch invasion at the end of their Championship play-off semi-final against Sheffield United almost a year ago.

A Forest fan was jailed after headbutting Blades striker Billy Sharp during the incident at the end of the second leg at the City Ground on May 17 last year, while Sheffield United’s Oli McBurnie was cleared last December of stamping on another pitch-invading Forest fan.

The Football Association had charged Forest with failing to ensure their supporters conducted themselves in an orderly fashion and refrained from using threatening or violent behaviour while encroaching onto the pitch following the final whistle.

The charge was partially admitted by Forest, and a £50,000 fine was imposed by an independent regulatory commission. The FA said half of the fine had been suspended by the panel until the end of next season, provided there were no further breaches of FA rule E20.

The announcement of Forest’s sanction comes on the day the first of this year’s Championship play-off semi-final second legs is played, with Luton facing Sunderland at Kenilworth Road on Tuesday evening.

The Professional Footballers’ Association has sought legal advice for its members about what constitutes reasonable force in defending themselves against pitch invaders.

However, the advice has been that this will differ on a case-by-case basis, and the PFA is concerned it may be unfair to expect a player caught up in a pitch invasion to make a judgment over what constitutes “reasonable force” in such circumstances.

A letter from the PFA to members sent earlier this season, and seen by the PA news agency, says despite an increased focus on catching and banning pitch invaders this term from the football authorities, “too many of these incidents are still happening, with players left to look after themselves and stewards and security often too slow to respond”.

Players were told in the letter that the police and the leagues had written to clubs with detailed guidance on how they need to prepare for games where the chance of pitch invasions may be higher.

The letter also reminded players they had the right to be told by their club about security plans around a game, and advised them to contact the PFA if they felt their concerns were not being dealt with properly.

Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s UK football policing lead, told PA earlier this year that players could not be given “carte blanche” to assault pitch invaders.

“Much as we need to protect players from (pitch invasions) – and the answer to this is for people not to go on the pitch in the first place – equally if there are complaints that players have misbehaved, then they’re subject to the law just as much as everyone else is,” he said in January.

Oli McBurnie, right, attends Nottingham Magistrates' Court in August 2022
Oli McBurnie, right, was cleared of assaulting a Nottingham Forest fan during a pitch invasion (Jacob King/PA)

“We would all agree that players should not be put in the position of being confronted by spectators on the pitch, absolutely, but equally, it can’t be that players – and I’m not referencing this case, I’m making a general point – it can’t be that someone runs on the pitch and there is carte blanche for players to assault them.

“Fans shouldn’t go on the pitch, players shouldn’t go in the stands – that makes it all really simple. When that gets blurred, then it makes it a bit more difficult to unpick.”

The EFL issued guidance to its clubs proactively in April on tackling pitch invasions, covering security arrangements and communication with fans in the build-up to end-of-season and playoff matches.

Luton issued a lengthy statement on club channels on Monday ahead of their semi-final second leg against Sunderland, warning about the consequences individuals could face for invading the pitch but also the impact any misbehaviour could have on the club.

“As a club, we are already under scrutiny from the Football Association for multiple smoke devices, missiles thrown and pitch incursions during the Watford match, as well as a single smoke device and a missile thrown in the away game at Reading,” the statement read.

“Therefore, any repeat offence could lead to strong sanctions that do penalise the club, despite actions being deemed to be of a celebratory nature.

“For a club like ours, with one of the smallest playing budgets in the Championship, a substantial fine could be the difference between signing a player this summer or not.

“Our plea to you is to keep the pitch for players and the stand for spectators and avoid any unnecessary distractions from what might well prove to be the most special time in Luton Town Football Club’s history.”