Taylor calls for integrated approach on player safety

PFA Chief Executive, Gordon Taylor OBE

PFA Chief Executive, Gordon Taylor OBE has called for an integrated strategy to address escalating crowd issues including encroachment on the pitch by fans, racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination.

In England and Scotland this weekend, there were three separate incidents involving fans encroaching the field of play and confronting or attacking players. 

In the Scottish Premiership on Friday, a Hibernian fan was arrested after he left the stand and became involved in a pitch-side confrontation with Rangers captain James Tavernier.

In England on Sunday, two fans were arrested for separate pitch invasions, Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish was punched by a Birmingham City fan during the West Midlands derby, while in the later Premier League fixture Manchester United's Chris Smalling was pushed by a Arsenal fan at the Emirates Stadium.

Taylor believes the incidents are part of a worrying trend of an increase in anti-social behaviour among a minority of supporters this season.

Speaking specifically on the attack on Jack Grealish, Taylor said: "It was disgraceful, cowardly and criminal but we have seen an increase in such behaviour at clubs this season.

Jack Grealish, Aston Villa
Jack Grealish was attacked by a fan in the West Midlands derby but continued and scored the winning goal for Aston Villa.

"There has been racist abuse, there has been anti-Semitism and now there is a real fear for the safety of players.”

"These are criminal acts," Taylor added. "If it happened on the high street there would be severe action taken. There is no reason why that should not be done just because it is a football ground.

In February, the PFA was represented alongside the game’s other stakeholders including the Premier League, EFL and LMA at the House of Commons summit to discuss crowd related issues. The footballing bodies had meetings with the Sports Minister, Mims Davies, the UK’s Football Policing Unit, Home Office Policing Policy and supporters groups to discuss the rise in abusive behaviour by spectators.

Taylor expanded: “We discussed the need to find the right balance between educating supporters who are attending games on matchday, but also to look at sanctions to deter serious or persistent problems.

"There is a combination of sanctions that can be used against clubs, such as fines, ground closures, games behind closed doors and points deductions. Every case will be looked at on its merits.

“We also focused specifically on the issue of stewarding and policing, which is crucial and falls under the responsibility of clubs.”

Chris Smalling, Manchester United
Chris Smalling was pushed by Arsenal fan who invaded the pitch at The Emirates.

Taylor is concerned that violent and aggressive behaviour is coming back into football stadiums and if it continues unchecked it’s only a matter of time before a ‘tragedy’ occurs: “This weekend has seen further momentum gather with three separate pitch encroachments - the immediate danger to players is very much apparent. 

“These issues need a multi-faceted strategy, involving all the relevant football bodies and external parties, as was the approach to address the crowd troubles and hooliganism in the eighties. 

“We have been down this road before and we do not want to go there again and see the game threatened.

“Football needs to provide its spectators and players with a safe environment to watch and participate in the world’s most prominent and popular sport.

“We have been warned now on too many occasions. This has got to be dealt with by the football bodies, the police, the stewards and the clubs. There is a total responsibility.

"We have got to address it now. If not, it is going to be too late and there is going to be a tragedy."