Preston North End Ground Safety Officer Mark Farnworth has spoken on the rising number of flares saying the courts need to dish out harsher punishments.
Farnworth believes despite stewards and police arresting fans who manage to smuggle flares and pyrotechnics into matches the courts need to take more action saying: “It needs some stiff sentences for people to stop using flares.”
Jail terms have been handed out for offenders, but with the maximum of those being just two months, as well as being given a six year banning order it would seem Farnworth would be in favour of much stricter punishments in order to see the use of pyrotechnics diminish.
It is not only the courts and the matchday officials, as well as police, needed though to combat this problem that is entering British football.
Farnworth thinks fans also have a role to play, not just those who bring flares, but also average fans in helping to prevent regular flare usage: “I’m hoping that in addition to the police and the stewards the fans will self police it.”
Whilst also speaking on the issue of self-policing he said: “Everyone knows they are illegal so why should a decent fan stand next to somebody who is doing something illegal.”
Mark Farnworth’s views on flare usage and how the rise in pyrotechnics has effected PNE.
By calling on fans to self-police such an issue could be difficult, but surely it would help officials be rid of this growing issue.
Not only does Farnworth want fans to self police in order to help out fellow Ground Safety Officers but in order to avoid any potential hazardous incidents within the game, whether that be involving Preston North End or not.
Andy Holt, who is the South Yorkshire deputy chief constable and also lead on football policing for the Association of Chief Police Officers, has also called on fans to self-police in order to help with the crack down.
Damian Green spoke saying “someone could get killed” when talking about the rising number of flares used in English football in the past few years and Farnworth hopes self policing by fans, in addition to tough sentencing by courts will mean it will not have to get to that level for fans to realise the dangers.
In the past English football has experienced dark days with stadium tragedies happening at Hillsborough in 1989 when 96 Liverpool fans, but in relation to flare usage there was also a fire at Bradford City’s Valley Parade in 1985 in which 56 fans perished and another 265 were injured, the likes of which could be seen again if the warnings over pyrotechnic usage are not taken onboard by supporters.
There are fans though that believe due to the large use of flares in European football that they could embraced by English culture, if the usage was co-ordinated with officials for a safe environment but Farnworth is quick to distinguish those hopes: “They are dangerous, you can’t make them safe.”
He added: “Football matches abroad are not regulated like they are in this country. Some of the stadiums abroad aren’t as safe as they should be”.
The use of pyrotechnics may not affect clubs such as Preston North End as much as those at the top of the English football pyramid, but even since joining North End in March Farnworth has experienced some flare usage in his time at PNE.
In order to smuggle the flares into grounds supporters have come up with innovative way in which to get them into grounds and currently one of these ways is by using young children to act as flares mules.
One of the clubs most affected by the rise in use of pyrotechnics is Liverpool and speaking from firsthand experience Farnworth is sure Liverpool are doing their best to prevent flares getting into their matches: “We played Liverpool at the beginning of the season. Liverpool sent their own safety stewards, to try and identify their own fans with flares.”
The problem it seems for officials though is the sheer number of crowds against their limited resources as Farnworth confessed there is only so much officials can do: “There is one way of detecting pyrotechnics and that’s using pyrotechnic dogs: they are few and far between”.
It is not all fans that are the problem, it is a certain group that are highlighted by North End’s Ground Safety Officer “youth risk groups” who are essentially how they refer to hooligans and Farnworth believes the rise in use is linked in with hooliganism.
Younger fans are those mentioned in relation to flare usage, as it does seem that the Ultra culture seen in foreign matches is beginning to catch on with fans from these shores due to watching matches on television and also due to seeing the pyrotechnic displays shown by European fans when they come over for matches in the Champions League and the Europa League.
Though Farnworth warns some fans don’t understand the dangers of pyrotechnics he does admit some do understand the risks attached with them but due to their non-compliance still use them though they are illegal.
The warning has been dealt by not only Mark Farnworth but the government’s Policing Minister Damian Green, and of course the officials will continue to battle against pyrotechnics but it seems that the real responsibility when it comes to pyrotechnics is with the fans themselves.
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