The dangers of taking flares and smoke bombs into football matches

The Premier League, The Football League and the FA recently launched a supporter education campaign on the dangers of pyrotechnics at football grounds, following worrying research among fans. Over half the 1,635 Premier League fans surveyed had seen pyrotechnics at a match, with 36% directly affected. While many had had their view of the match obscured by smoke, 10% had suffered smoke inhalation and 2% had been affected by heat from a flare.

A relatively new phenomenon in English football, the abuse of pyrotechnics is much more prevalent in Europe, but the number of pyrotechnics-related incidents recorded at domestic stadia has leapt alarmingly, from eight in 2010-11 to 172 in 2012-13.

Offenders are usually young adults, who may be unaware of the facts. Among supporters surveyed, 87% felt flares and smoke bombs are dangerous at matches, and 86% were concerned for their own safety or health. But although the majority (82%) knew it’s illegal to go to a UK stadium with flares or smoke bombs, more than half wrongly believed it’s legal in most of Europe.

Policing Minister Damian Green said: “Football fans might see images of football grounds in other parts of Europe full of smoke and light caused by pyrotechnic devices and think that they create a good atmosphere — but they do not. Flares are very dangerous and can cause severe injuries. We are very lucky that no one has been seriously injured or killed by a flare here for a long time.”

A worrying 28% thought flares and smoke bombs were less dangerous than fireworks. Flares burn at the melting point of steel and contain toxic chemicals. Designed for marine distress, they are deliberately difficult to extinguish. Smoke bombs also burn at high temperatures and are not designed for use in confined spaces. They can cause panic in a tightly packed crowd and trigger asthma attacks.

Kids miss out because of danger
Pic: Hope Wisechild

Alan Weir, Head of Medical Services at St John Ambulance, said: “We know that St John Ambulance volunteers have treated people for burns and smoke inhalation caused by flares at several football grounds. These cases could have led to disfigurement or other serious injuries.”

The majority of fans support more action against this growing problem, with parents, an increasing proportion of Premier League spectators, particularly concerned. Two thirds of parents said the increased use of pyrotechnics is putting them off bringing their children to matches and 81% wanted more done to tackle the issue.

Clubs throughout the leagues and the FC are now supporting the campaign by running adverts in their grounds and through club media like programmes and websites. The campaign posters parody football chants, while a web campaign urges lovers of the beautiful game to ‘Face Pyro Facts’, with real-life examples of how using pyrotechnics at matches can have serious repercussions.

The 2012/13 season saw a record 71 arrests for possession of pyrotechnics at a sporting event – more than double the previous season’s figure. Among those jailed was an Oxford United fan who got two months and a six-year ban for taking a smoke bomb into Home Park.

Amanda Jacks, Caseworker at the Football Supporters’ Federation, said: “Putting aside arguments over rights and wrongs, the simple fact is it’s against the law and could be a danger to other fans. Use pyro in stadiums and there’s a good chance you’ll be caught, get a criminal record, and long-term football banning order. You might even go to jail.”

Has this new trend affected how you feel about going to matches?




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