s “Legislation has existed since 1985 concerning the use of pyrotechnics at football grounds. Under the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985 it is an offence for a person to enter or attempt to enter a football ground while in possession of a flare, smoke bomb or firework. The sentence for these offences can be as much as three months in prison, and in many cases, fans who have no previous convictions are given prison sentences for attempting to enter a football ground with a smoke bomb in their pocket as the courts take these offences very seriously. Recently, fans who have been caught at football matches with smoke bombs have been given sentences between 1 and 2 months and banned from returning to football grounds for up to 6 years.”
Seems a pretty straightforward ruling, and the consequences also seem to be pretty clear as well. So why are we still seeing ‘pyro’ being used at matches involving Lincoln City? Why when we take a handful of fans along to a friendly match at Lincoln Utd does someone feel motivated to let one off? Why is the message not sinking in?
The scenes at Ashby Avenue weren’t unique to that game, we also saw a smoke bomb let off during our game against Gainsborough Trinity recently. They’re very quickly blamed on the fan group the ‘617 Squadron’, self styled Ultra’s making a mark on the fans scene in the country. However social media comments saw them distance themselves from the pyro, but certainly not condemn those who are using them.
The argument polarises opinion with a majority of fans against seeing any sort of pyrotechnic used in a football match environment. The older fan will recall the tragic events of Bradford in 1985, but I must confess I find that a little dramatic when talking about smoke bombs in a modern ground. If we were seeing flares or fireworks then there’s a whole different argument to be had, but the smoke bomb doesn’t really provide any danger of ignition.
However it is the danger associated with breathing difficulties and the nuisance caused by obstructed views both from the stands and on the pitch. On Saturday Paul Farman could be heard swearing in the direction of whoever let the pyro off. Although the players want an atmosphere I’m fairly sure they object to obstructed views and air thick with smoke. On the terraces there are many elderly fans and increasing numbers of very young supporters whom will not greet the smoke with such joy as those wanting to be like the European Ultra. Indeed an asthmatic 80 year old could soon find himself in extreme difficulty, and if smoking a simple cigarette is considered dangerous to fans then I’m absolutely sure that a smoke bomb provides a health risk.
Now I’m not from the PC brigade that thinks everyone needs to be wrapped up in cotton wool before a game. Football is a working class game and even if the Premiership is trying to gentrify the game we love they will never manage it at clubs like Lincoln City. I expect to go along and hear swearing, singing and even a degree of good-intention led aggression. The bad things in football are being eradicated, like fighting in the stands and racism, and I firmly feel we need to see the same with ‘pyro’.
Now I’m trying very hard not to link the 617 and the pyro with seen at games recently. I understand the intention the boys have when coming to a game and whilst I don’t agree with some of what they do I also feel they do a great job in other areas. Today members of the 617 have distanced themselves from the events but have admitted that they feel it does add to an atmosphere. If at any point it appears I’m laying this at their feet then please forgive me as it is not my intention.
I can only assume that anyone setting off a smoke bomb in the ground is attempting to in some way emulate that actions they see on the continent in particular at matches in places like Poland, Italy and Turkey. Pyro is common place there, and at Euro 2016 we saw Croatia fans letting off flares and smoke bombs during their game with the Czech Republic. However did it really add to the atmosphere? Does widespread condemnation from fans and officials help the team in any way at all? The idea behind the ultra scene (as I understand it) is to support the club by creating an audio and visual display at the ground. If that visual display actually ends up costing the club, which it could, wouldn’t proper fans find another way of supporting the club? I appreciate these incidents were not 617 led, but wouldn’t a fans group of club supporters condemn those who were acting in a way that could bring both the club and that group into disrepute or conflict with other fans? Surely impressive visual displays include things like flags, which the 617 do very well, why isn’t that sufficient? Again I know it wasn’t them this time but it came from near their flag, and the person setting it off clearly wanted to be linked in some way with the ultra ‘scene’ as it were.
I can only imagine that someone letting off pyro at a meaningless friendly between two non league sides is far more interested in how it makes him (or her) look that what it does for the team. It screams of someone trying to impress on an individual level. There’s only so much atmosphere you could generate at a game like we had on Saturday, I’m not sure even Guns and Roses playing the music and Ed Sheeran leading the chanting could raise it to much more than ‘mildly exciting’. I’m not saying that letting pyro off anytime is right, but I can understand it more in a play off semi final or a massive local derby. Understand it, but never condone it of course. I’m not one who believes the law to be infallible either, I’ve entered a ground drunk before, and I believe a crime that has no actual victims isn’t a ‘real crime’. Driving at 75mph on a motorway when no one else is around endangers only one person, you. A bloke smoking weed in his living room is hurting nobody but himself, and therefore in my eyes it isn’t a proper crime. However letting off pyro in a public place surrounded by people who object affects others, and the law of the land states you shouldn’t. So don’t.
Half an hour ago I asked on social media what the motivation was for pyro at a football game. At the time of writing I don’t really have a satisfactory answer to write about. I wanted to try and put the other side of the argument across: maybe I should have waited for more responses, but I’m a busy man and needed to get writing. One person said it creates a hostile environment, and yet another said it would never been done at a home game. Surely it’s your home ground that should be the hostile place to visit? Surely a hostile environment is something you want to create at an actual competitive fixture, not a pre season work out? Aside from that I’m not sure I will get answers that vary too far from the themes of ‘atmosphere’, ‘displays’ and ‘ultras’. I sort of understand the atmosphere argument, but is it sufficient to break the law and risk alienating and angering a large section of other fans? Is it worth a potential prison sentence or banning order? Is it worth getting the club you’re supposed to be supporting a fine?
How would the ‘fan’ that let off the smoke bomb yesterday feel if the £20k or so we raise through the crowd funder had to be put straight back into the bank account of the FA because we were hit with a fine? I’d wager he probably wouldn’t care, because a true supporter of the football club would not do something than runs the risk of causing the club major problems. As I explained I don’t feel the person who let this off is a fan in the truest sense of the word, because I feel the display is much more for their own purposes than anything appertaining to be creating an atmosphere. Yesterdays ‘display’ of pyro whilst we’re losing 2-0 to Lincoln Utd was nothing more than a selfish attempt to grab attention. Had it been us scoring late against Grimsby in the derby I could understand why, and perhaps wouldn’t have felt moved enough to write. That said anyone who lets off a smoke bomb or flare in a football ground will deserve the punishment they end up getting, atmosphere or no atmosphere. I wouldn’t imagine watching Sky Sports Saturday while serving a banning order will have much of an atmosphere attached to it.