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Time the football & police authorities get tough on Pyro-obsessed fans

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Another week and another incident involving pyrotechnics in Scottish football. In fact that week gone, we saw two incidents – one where Celtic fans set off four flares during their Europa League tie with Fenerbahce on Thursday and at the weekend a 16 year old Hearts fan ‘allegedly’ threw a firework within his own section and injured an 11 year old Hearts fan, who had to be taken away by Police and paramedics for medical treatment.

Celtic will once more face a hefty fine from UEFA over the continued misconduct of a small element who think they know better and ignore the stadium regulations both domestically and in Europe. While the Hearts fan who allegedly threw the firework which hurt a fellow Hearts youngster was arrested and faced court in Aberdeen on Monday past.

I was in discussion with someone I can only label as a ‘pyro apologist’ following the Celtic charge – who claimed that the use of pyrotechnics by football fans was a negligible risk and that it improves the atmosphere at games where they are used.

His claim that ‘using pyrotechnics was a negligible risk’ was based on the number of times they have been used, compared to the number of times fans have been injured.

Sadly he didn’t grasp or didn’t want to know the fact that pyrotechnics are prohibited by both law and stadium regulations. Why? Because they are dangerous.

Pyrotechnic experts are trained for years in the handling of such fireworks and even then they handle them with care as they know the risks. Is a 16 year old kid handling one less or more dangerous? Especially when they have not been trained in the use of them and they invariably use them within the close confines of a football stadium and surrounded by fellow fans also.

The question is how do 16-year-olds manage to purchase these pyrotechnics? Are they getting someone over the age of 18 to purchase them? Are they merely handed them by older members of the groups they are involved in and told to set them off?

It seems that all of the above has occurred over the years, but it is also easy for underage fans to purchase these dangerous pyrotechnics online – with one Polish-based website proving very popular.

In fact this website, which shall remain nameless, can send through pyrotechnics three days after purchase. It is the quickest purchase through that website, with scarves, t-shirts and flags taking up to 14 working days.

Without knowing the laws in Poland surrounding the purchase of pyrotechnics and fireworks by underage customers, it is certainly illegal for underage customers to buy fireworks in the UK. But these fans are potentially importing pyrotechnics from Poland and that falls within HMRC’s scope.

According to Section 11 of the Fireworks Regulations 2004 states:

No person shall import any firework, unless he has given the following information to the Commissioners of Customs and Excise—

(a)his name and address;
(b)the name of the person who is to store the fireworks following their importation; and
(c)the address of the premises at which the fireworks are to be stored following their importation.

The Polish website charge 25 Euros for a courier to deliver the pyrotechnics straight to your door. So how do these get past Customs?

I asked the website owners a number of questions surrounding the sale of their goods, the sending of these items and the sale of goods to minors – I am yet to receive a response.

Dangers of using pyrotechnics

There have been numerous instances of fans being injured and killed through the use or should I say misuse of pyrotechnics from their fellow supporters.

Football in the UK has been hit hard with numerous football disasters over the years – the Ibrox Disaster, Hillsborough and the Bradford City Fire – to name but three. And while it may sound scaremongering, it won’t be long before an incident with pyrotechnics will cause a disaster whether it is on the magnitude or Hillsborough or not. That is just my opinion however.

Of course the ‘negligible risk’ excuse will be rolled out but the apologists and those who use pyros in football grounds regularly.

Tell that to the father of a 14-year-old kid murdered by a rival fan after he launched a flare at the opposition.

The first video I have posted below shows the perpetrator firing the flare [a marine flare]from the stand:

12 Corinthian fans were arrested following this, after the 14-year-old kid died an excruciating and horrible death as the flare struck him in the right eye and caused his brain to haemorrhage. If anyone believes that using flares is a negligible risk and that they are not dangerous then please take a look at this second video. It will shock you.

Look at the horror on the father’s face. Look at the flare in the kid’s head and tell me that using pyrotechnics is a negligible risk next time.

The Polish website in question that I mentioned, sell the same kind of flares that killed this kid for as little as 7.95 EUR. Around £5.77. You do not need to provide identification, just your bank details and postal address. Three days later you are in possession of your very own marine flare.

On the purchase page there is no direction on how to hand the flares, how to store them or any other warnings. You would hope said warnings would be on the flare itself. Although if you are purchasing it from a foreign website like this Polish one – it may just be written in Polish.

The flare in question is used by sailors on boats/life rafts stranded at sea, which contains a projectile rocket that can reach a height of 300 metres when fired. Add the fact it burns for up to 60 seconds and you have a weapon.

The person who confessed to launching the flare that killed the youngster above was 17 years old!

In a TV interview, before he turned himself into police, the unnamed 17-year-old said: “When I first pulled the cord to set it off nothing happened. I didn’t know how to handle it. When I pulled it again it just went off. I wasn’t aiming it; I didn’t know it was going to take off like that.

“When I found out what happened I just thought, ‘My life is over. What am I going to do? I just killed a 14-year-old kid. I feel like I’m the worst person in the world. I don’t know what I’ll do with my life. I deeply regret what happened.”

Thankfully these sort of flares have not been used inside football stadiums here – yet – but they are easily obtained along with the hand held flares and smoke bombs that the so-called ultras groups in Scotland are infatuated with.

That was an extreme example, but answer me this question – have you been at a game where fans who set off pyrotechnics in Scottish football have not thrown them pitch side or to the front of the stand they are in?

Whether it is a smoke bomb, flare or marine flare – they are dangerous – despite what the apologists and the users say and/or think.

Going back to the Polish website they sell ‘normal flares’ [as they call them]for 4.15 EUR – works out at £3.01. The smoke bombs that are used regularly are priced at a mere 3 EUR – £2.18. Easily affordable by teenagers nowadays – but again just like purchasing marine flares there are no requirements to provide identification nor warnings on how to handle or store them.

What do the football authorities say?

The English Premier League issued a statement back in 2013, on the use of flares and smoke bombs at football grounds, the statement read: “Flares are used for marine distress and are designed not to be extinguished easily or quickly. They contain chemicals and burn at temperatures of 1600C, 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.

“Over half of fans have now witnessed pyrotechnics at a match, and 36 per cent have been directly affected: 24 per cent have had their view of the match obscured, 10 per cent have suffered from smoke inhalation and two per cent have been affected by heat from a flare.”

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The Scottish FA and the SPFL partnered up together to launch an awareness campaign to tackle the growing use of pyrotechnics inside our grounds.

Called #FlairNotFlares it was launched to assist clubs in promoting the positive aspects of the matchday experience and to counter the threat to the health and safety of supporters caused by use of flares and other pyrotechnics in football grounds across the country.

The campaign was backed by Police Scotland and the Football Safety Officers Association (Scotland).

Speaking in 2014, when it was launched, Peter McLaughlin, Scottish FA Security and Integrity Officer said: “Unfortunately, Scottish football has not been immune to the growing trend across Europe of pyrotechnics being used by fans inside football stadia.

“Indeed, we have already seen examples in Scottish football of club facilities being damaged by the use of flares, not to mention the safety of supporters, match officials and players being compromised by these devices – some of which are now home-made and smuggled-in in various parts – being thrown indiscriminately across stands and on the field of play.

“We have been privy to even more horrifying examples across Europe, where people have been seriously hurt and lives put in jeopardy, and it is our intention to work together to ensure fans can continue to watch Scottish football in comfort and safety.”

Since then however, the governing bodies have fallen silent and have failed to take action against fans and clubs alike in eradicating this ‘dangerous obsession’. In short the #FlairNotFlares campaign was nothing more than lip service.

Nothing has been heard of it since and the fans continue to set off pyrotechnics in full view of the police and football authorities.

Strict Liability

UEFA has a Strict Liability policy when it comes to clubs and fans misconduct – whether on or off the pitch. From sectarianism, to hooliganism, player behaviour and the use of pyrotechnics.

Sadly the same cannot be said for Scottish football. We have seen the rise of offensive behaviour, sectarian singing, racist chants and that is outwith the use of pyrotechnics.

The reason why the SPFL and the Scottish FA have not taken action against clubs whose fans break the law and the stadium regulations constantly is – only five per cent of the 93 member clubs of the Scottish FA backed the motion at the 2013 Annual General Meeting, to adopt new measures to punish clubs under the same ‘strict liability’ that UEFA have implemented.

One of those clubs who refused to back the new measure was Celtic FC – a club who has fallen foul of UEFA’s strict liability and disciplinary procedures EIGHT times since December 2011. All related to the misconduct of a small element of their fans – involving offensive banners, offensive singing, crowd disturbance and the use of pyrotechnics.

lawwell

After the vote, Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell, claimed: “It’s a very difficult subject, it’s a very complex subject and would have to be considered very, very carefully.

“My own view is no, I would not bring it in at all. I think it is very strict and can be seen to go against justice rather than to support justice. We as a club would be against it.

“If you come to Celtic Park for an event there is no offensive behaviour, the crowd behaves impeccably and therefore you have to put the problem into context.

“For Celtic we feel that any problem is immaterial. It’s an immaterial problem, it’s a small problem and the smaller it is the more trouble there is to eradicate it.”

Far from an immaterial problem when it comes to Europe though Peter.

Some of the UEFA punishments handed out to Celtic:

2011: Fined £13,000 for illicit chanting in Europa League during a match with Rennes in 2011.

March 2012: UEFA fined Celtic £21,000 after supporters displayed an offensive banner and set off flares during an away game with Udinese.

2013: An illicit banner unfurled at a Champions League match against AC Milan in 2013 resulted in a £42,000 fine with Lawwell condemning the ‘small minority’ of supporters who were ‘damaging the reputation’ of Celtic. Yet failed to take action against them.

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Also fined £4,221 after fireworks were set off by supporters during their Champions League qualifier with Cliftonville.

March 2015: Celtic were fined £3,600 for flares set off by fans at the San Siro in a Europa League tie against Inter Milan.

Celtic were fined £7300 fine for crowd disturbances in Zagreb.

And last week Celtic were charged over their fans misconduct after fans set off ‘fireworks’ breaching Article 16 (2) of the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations.

Article 16 (2) of the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations, states:

All associations and clubs are liable for the following inappropriate behaviour on the part of their supporters and may be subject to disciplinary measures and directives even if they can prove the absence of any negligence in relation to the organisation of the match:

a) the invasion or attempted invasion of the field of play;
b) the throwing of objects;
c) the lighting of fireworks or any other objects;
d) the use of laser pointers or similar electronic devices;
e) the use of gestures, words, objects or any other means to transmit any
message that is not fit for a sports event, particularly messages that are of a
political, ideological, religious, offensive or provocative nature;
f) acts of damage;
g) the disruption of national or competition anthems;
h) any other lack of order or discipline observed inside or around the stadium.

Surely Celtic would be better to sort out their ‘small minority’ that is ‘damaging the reputation’ of the club? After all it is hitting the club in the pocket time and again with their calls via statement falling on deaf ears.

What the law states

The football liaison prosecutor for the North of Scotland, said: “The use of smoke bombs or any pyrotechnics at football games is potentially very dangerous and will not be tolerated.

“Police and prosecutors will prevent their use wherever possible and prosecute anyone caught using or in possession of smoke bombs and flares.”

Anyone who is arrested and prosecuted over the use of pyrotechnics in football stadiums will see it recorded in CRB checks. Even if you are given a fixed penalty notice or given a reprimand.

How many of these pyro obsessive teens know they are risking their future? Simply to add a wee bit of glitter to their fan dabby dozy display.

As many know now CRB checks are used by employers to see if their potential employees have a criminal record, it could also prevent you from entering countries that have strict guidelines in relation to those travelling into their country.

You then have the issue of football banning orders that could be issued by courts, not to mention the bans issued by the clubs themselves – whether you have been convicted in a criminal court or not.

Hearts recently issued ten fans lifetime bans over their thuggery when they attached a Ross County supporters bus. The club that they profess to support no longer welcome them. While their mates will go to Tynecastle on match day, these ten fans will have nowhere to go other than the pub or stay at home.

In 2014, two Aberdeen fans were convicted of carrying flares before the New Year’s Day game between Aberdeen and Dundee United at Tannadice.

19-year-old Nicholas Simmers was carrying three flares in his pants to escape detection from the Police. He was arrested, charged and issued a 160 hour community payback order – despite claiming they were planted on him by people he didn’t know, he eventually admitted carrying the flares.

He was banned from matches for two years – despite this Sheriff Tom Hughes who ruled on the case, criticised the ‘paltry’ prison sentence available for the offensive – which would only amount to 20 days. This was because the maximum sentence available for the offence Simmers was charged with was 60 days, which would be reduced to a maximum of 40 days because of guilty plea and that he would then be released after a maximum of 20 days because of automatic early release.

During sentencing Hughes said: “Because of how this has been charged the sentence would be paltry and you would be out within days. That’s not the way to deal with these matters. These are extremely serious matters. These matters deserve a custodial sentence and you should be going to jail.”

The other Dons fan, Findlay Duncan, was given a 120-hour community payback order and a two-year football ban after he was caught with a smoke grenade inside the stadium after several pyrotechnics had been set off previously.

A football banning order is not simply being banned from football stadiums, it could include the surrounding area for a specific number of miles, banned from city centres on match days and not to mention reporting to police stations at specific times on match days.

In short it ruins your life. And yet still many back the use of pyrotechnics by fans to create a nice fancy dan atmosphere with pretty little lights and smoke effects. Whether these guys like it or not, until the law is changed, it is an offence to be in possession of pyrotechnics, it is an offence to set off pyrotechnics in public areas be it a football stadium, town centre or a main road.

What must be done?

I am a father of a four year old son and it will be another year before I take him to his first football game. Now he has had a few health issues when he was just a tot – catching viral meningitis etc – one that is constant is him having infantile asthma. Given the use of smoke bombs, flares and other pyrotechnics at grounds – the smoke from these ‘atmosphere creating tools’ could cause my son to have an asthma attack, it could cause him to find breathing very difficult and could potentially vomit [lead to choking]. I may be an over protective father, but how many others out there have the same concerns for their child’s health?

I want to take my son to the game, to support the same club that I support, the same as my father did with me and his father did with him and so on. But will I risk my son’s health so that a bunch of spotty teenagers can get a hard on over setting off a firework to look cool in photos and videos? Not a chance in hell. I would rather choose to turn my back on the game than put my son at risk.

The Scottish FA, the SPFL, the police and the football clubs as a whole have a responsibility for the health and safety of ALL supporters whether they are young, old, disabled or healthy. Their continued impotence or unwillingness to rid our game of these elements would not only putting my son’s future health at risk, but is putting the health and safety of those fans currently going to games at risk.

How many disabled fans and those in their pension years go to games? How many kids go to games? Yet these pyro obssessed fans think it is okay to set these off in close proximity and in closed confines to other fans?

At the end of the day the only reason why these guys are setting pyrotechnics off is to boast about it to their mates, to the forums of other ULTRAs groups abroad and to have a nice wee photo or video to look back at.

What ever happened to singing, chanting, unfurling club inspired banners or flag displays etc to inspire your team and fellow supporters?

The fascination with the Ultras theme for some of the Football Factory and Green Street generation will eventually cost someone their life. And just like the 17-year-old who killed that young kid in South America, they will play dumb and plead forgiveness.

It is time our game, our governing bodies, our clubs and the fans as a whole grew a set of balls and say enough is enough and get rid of this unwanted element from our game no matter what group they belong too, how many they are in number and whether the atmosphere is damaged or not.

What is more important the health and safety of your fellow supporter or a wee display on match days?

Footnote: Well done to those Hearts fans who reported that 16-year-old to the Police and Stewards and Pittodrie after the wee kid got hurt. That is self-policing not sitting on yer hands and keeping your mouth shut.

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About Author

scotzine

Andy Muirhead is the Editor of Scotzine and the Scottish Football fanzine FITBA. He is the Scottish Football columnist for The Morning Star and has written for a number of other publications including ESPN, Huffington Post UK, BT Life's a Pitch and has had his work featured in the Daily Record, The Scotsman and the Daily Mail.

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