The last time I was over for the match, smoke bombs were let off during the game, as has become increasingly popular during the brief history of our club. Whereas in the past the effect of flares and smokebombs had looked ace (view based on anecdotal evidence from messageboard comments and friends, as well as my own views), and had even received positive acclaim from some unlikely sources (ESPN’s commentary of the Brighton FA Cup replay described our support as colourful whilst showing footage of the flares. Shoot Magazine featured a photo of the flares at the Rochdale game and commented on the tremendous atmosphere directly underneath that photo), the effect on the 22nd January was however slightly underwhelming. A relatively dull sky, meant the smoke didn’t have much of an effect and it was only when the steward placed a still smoking bomb at the edge of the MRE did it really approach anything near impressive. A slight red mist, whilst FC cantered to a victory in the league, wasn’t quite the heady heights of the Main Stand and the MRE glowing red as our team walked out on to the pitch to play Brighton, the whole ground buzzing. The use of smoke bombs also prompted an official response from the club…
“…there were still problems raised for match control when smoke bombs were let off in the MRE. Although many supporters believe that these add atmosphere to our games they present risks to the health of others. A steward’s hand was burnt on Saturday while they recovered the device and a fellow FC supporter was hospitalised due to the smoke affecting their sight and some of our younger supporters had to leave the ground due to the smoke affecting their breathing. And unfortunately we have been told that these activities will mean these supporters will not return to FC until they are certain there is no risk to their health. Last season smoke bombs scorched the steps of the MRE and the bill was then passed on to the club and some supporters’ clothing was also scorched from flares.
Clearly these are incidents that we do not want at our games and we want all supporters to be able to watch FC in comfort. Smoke bombs and flares are not permitted in football grounds and supporters are asked not to attempt bringing them into Gigg lane. Anyone found in possession of either will be refused entry. This is not a decision that we take lightly but we believe our supporters can generate sufficient atmosphere without using such items.
In order however that we reach a satisfactory conclusion to this matter the club would like to convene a meeting of supporters at our home game on 19th February, at which the club can better explain our position, but importantly supporters can put their side of the undoubted motive of creating a better atmosphere. It is hoped that if successful these meetings can become a regular event. If you are interested in attending such a meeting please email email@example.com Depending on the level of interest we will announce further details ahead of the game on the 19th Feb.”
Until this point the general approach to pyrotechnics being used could be summed amongst FC fans (again unscientifically “researched” by the author) as the following:
- Small concerns around children being nearby
- Concerns around smoke bombs and asthma sufferers
- Large amount of support and enthusiasm for the use of pyrotechnics and how they looked
- Messages from the club (I hate using the term “the club” as clearly we are all “the club” but its shorthand for the board and relevant employees/volunteers in this case) stating that although at least some board members liked the flares etc, they are banned and the club would be fined for their use.
The club went on to begin discussions with the younger set of supporters, known as FCUM Yoof, which included talking to them about their relatively frequent, and arguably more responsible in comparison to other cases, use of pyrotechnics. From a personal point of view, I appreciate the effort the FCUM Yoof put in. They are one of a only a couple of groups who put a lot of work into creating a consistently visually impressive, colourful and original atmosphere at the match. In other words I realise everyone sings and most people hold their scarves up or give them a twirl, but the Yoof, along with a few others go that little bit further and the effort shows. I would suspect that the club realise this and so were therefore keen to talk to them. This approach by the club is extremely commendable, as is their most recent statement, that rather than just threatening bans, they have also offered the opportunity for a meeting to take place.
Since then a, rapidly increasing in pages, thread has appeared on the unofficial forum mixing some good arguments both pro and contra, with the usual mix of typed shouting and hysteria. Like the official message from the board on the subject, the main concerns in the thread are:
1) Health and safety - ive never been burnt by either flares or smokebombs despite being very, very close to them at times, however Ive seen small burns to clothing during pyrotechnic displays at other clubs and realise that there are definitive risks (breathing problems, drunk people using them, people throwing them on the ground, or worse on the pitch to avoid detection from stewards etc)
2) Cost – Gigg Lane is a league registered ground, league grounds prohibit the use of such items and I believe that for that reason we get fined every time we use them at home games. In addition to that you can add the cost of damage to steps on the MRE (scorched steps seems to be pushing it a little, but I guess the potential for damage is there), as well as the cost associated with the police officer who came into the ground and stood about a bit, picking his nose on the 22nd.
Safety is obviously a huge factor, but even the reckless amongst us must realise that as a club, the lucrative cup run at an end, we simply cannot afford to use pyrotechnics. That I guess should put a close on the matter, but then we are not just another club, we are here to change football. Taking into account health and safety, but accepting that until the latest statement from the club, the reaction to the flares and smokebombs from FC fans was extremely positive, if there was a safer way, would we be interested?
Pyromania is fairly uncommon in England, but what about on the continent? How have they dealt with the problem? Many countries don’t appear to be in the slightest bit bothered about any negative effects. Despite bans, as well as a wealth of other restrictions on fan culture, flares still burn away in Italy. Likewise in the Balkans, likewise in Turkey. In Greece there doesn’t appear to be any issue at all! A relatively often seen video of Panathanaikos versus Villereal, shows the whole ground glowing away…
A one-off perhaps? My own visit would suggest otherwise. I was there for the friendly between the Athens club and Genoa, which also featured many flares. A lad near me set one off and despite stewards being on hand, no one stepped in to stop him. None of this helps our own situation of course though. Germany on the other hand, may however offer some news of interest. Flares, smoke bombs and other pyrotechnics have been used regularly at club matches. Some of it has been downright stupid e.g. the regular throwing of bangers (pointless and encourages unnecessary attention from the police), use of distress signals (was funnier in the Inbetweeners) and magnesium powder (reported injuries and burns after this DIY-type firework went wrong at Bochum v Nürnberg last season). However the flares still look great and so now fans are looking to work with the German equivalent of the FA to agree safe use.
The campaign “Pyrotechnik legalisieren – Emotionen Respektieren” http://www.pyrotechnik-legalisieren.de (translates, although Im sure you could work it out, as legalise pyrotechnics, respect emotion) is nationwide, was initated through the work of over 50 groups from different teams and has the support of a further 50 or so other groups. Most notably the campaign has been endorsed by at least one club officially. The campaign states the importance of pyrotechnics in football culture, particularly with regards to atmosphere. However it also accepts the need for responsibility. They state the following:
- The obvious risks involved with pyrotechnic items can be significantly reduced if used in certain circumstances and within certain guidelines
- That the use of bangers and other forms of explosives should remain banned
- That pyrotechnic items belong in someones hand and definitely not (being thrown) in the air, and ideally not on the ground.
- Likewise use indoors, or throwing flares on the pitch or into the away section is unacceptable.
They go on to claim that legalisation would help reduce risks, as the fear of detection is currently leading to fans letting the flares or smokebombs off in densely packed areas of the terrace, dropping the flare or smokebomb onto the floor before it goes out or throwing them onto the pitch, all in order to avoid being recognised and receiving a stadium ban.
The campaign seeks to establish a code of conduct for the legal use of such items, backed up through self-policing amongst fans and their respective clubs.
Of course, the thing isnt beyond criticism. Groups listed as supporters or even initiators, have not all been beyond the using some of the items suggested for banning in the very recent past. Some of the groups havent even learnt to respect other races, genders or sexual persuations, so fuck knows how they expect to be able to cope with a bit of self-policing. Even some of the photos featured on the site, however impressive, seem to contravene the guidelines suggested by the campaign. Nevertheless an attempt to look into a possible solution to the problem, which could satisfy all parties, rather than an outright ban is a development that is worth following.
This one campaign is not there out on its own either. The topic is also regularly discussed by Football Supporters Europe and will no doubt again be on the agenda at the next Congress in Copenhagen this summer.
Having never let off a flare or smokebomb myself, but being a definite fan of them, I would urge all interested supporters (whether for or against) to take up the clubs offer of a meeting. A ban on pyrotechnics is without doubt, sadly necessary at our club at the moment, but that does not mean that all hope of using them again, particularly at TAL, should cease. We are aiming to change football for the better. Many people would claim standing at matches, like flares and smoke bombs, is also dangerous. I would suspect all of our supporters would disagree, we feel standing is important to the general match experience and seek to prove doubters wrong. When we get to TAL, could we not ask the same questions about safe use of flares and smokebombs as well?
FCUM flare images taken from Twitter feeds found through a popular search engine. Clearly not the original source, so apologies if Ive used without permission.
Campaign logo taken from official Pyrotechnik Legalisieren site (web address located above in article)