Red Action, FSF and the police speak on the menace of flares


By Tony AttwoodIn case you have not come across them before Red Action is the group that works with Arsenal to improve the atmosphere at Arsenal games and naturally they have an interest in the problem of flares.As you’ll know, Arsenal are now under investigation from Uefa for the flare incidents at the match against Galatasaray which stopped the match.  Arsenal’s situation is made more difficult given that there have been a number of previous use of flares notably by Everton and Liverpool fans last season, which stewards found impossible to stop.

Of course this is not just an Arsenal problem, for a linesman was hit by a smoke bomb at Aston Villa recently, and the authorities and police are really upping their stance on  this now.

Matters were made worse at Arsenal by the fact that when stewards entered the away sections of the ground some away supporters have done all they can to stop them getting to the offending away supporter. Even worse than that when we debated this in the past a number of people claiming to be fans of Everton or Liverpool defended the practice of bringing flares into games.

Red Action’s approach is to warn Arsenal fans off copying the action of Galatasaray, Everton and Liverpool – and indeed some other overseas clubs whose supporters have brought flares into the grounds, and they make the very valid point that “taking flares, smoke bombs or any kind of pyro into a football ground in the UK is illegal.”

I say valid, because what they rightly point out is that while some things, like taking alcohol within sight of the pitch, as Mike Ashley the chairman of Newcastle did, is against football regulations, taking any form of pyrotechnic into the ground is a criminal act.

Thus if you get caught you will have your membership rescinded of course, but that will only be the start of the problem.  You should also be handed over by the club to the police who will apply for a banning order and prosecute, and thus ask the court to deliver to you a criminal record.   

That is the personal consequence to anyone who lets off a flare or any similar device.  But there is far more, because flares are dangerous at all sorts of levels.  Flares can affect the breathing of anyone who is in line of the smoke – and as we all know smoke travels in all directions – it just depends on the wind.

And that is before we even consider the fact that flares burn at temperatures of up to 1,600C (2,900F)

Now if you are strong and healthy you might wonder what the problem is with a touch of smoke but ask anyone with asthma or breathing difficulties and they’ll soon tell you what the problem is.

One other point that Red Action make, which I didn’t know is that “a couple of years ago, we approached Arsenal to discuss the possibility of having flares under controlled conditions – i.e. for night games, on the pitchside track, run by professionals. They liked the idea, but the law makes it simply impossible – it is very clear that any kind of flare use within football stadiums is illegal.”

The Football Supporters Federation have also become involved in the issue and they reveal on their site the case of a 15-year-old Villa fan suffered lung damage after being close to a smoke bomb, and they say that they are aware of other cases where medical assistance has been sought.

Incidentally with regards to the throwing of flares it is also worth mentioning that missile throwing is an offence in its own right and the definition of missile is very wide and most certainly includes flares.

The FSF make the very real point that if the pyrotechnic problem is not sorted very quickly the inevitable result will be “sniffer dogs, more thorough searches, more filming, and stricter security operations because it’s very easy to justify that when people repeatedly break the law. All of this costs money and who, ultimately, pays for policing costs in grounds? Supporters. You might even see away allocations cut.”

Meanwhile the Guardian has picked up on the issue saying that “Chief constables across the country have been urged to clamp down on those who set off smoke bombs and flares in football grounds amid warnings that serious injury or a fatality is inevitable if action is not taken.”

They point out that two Tottenham supporters were arrested at Villa after a flare was through there, and there is a report from the South Yorkshire police that the use of pyrotechnic devices was up 139% in 2012-13 on the previous season and arrests were up 150%. So far this season it looks as if the use of flares has doubled.

The deputy chief constable of South Yorkshire said in an interview reported in the Guardian, “We have instances where maritime flares have been fired. If they hit anyone they would cause horrible injuries. The flares and smoke pyrotechnics burn at an incredible heat.  There is a chance of someone being burned, a fire starting, the possibility of panic ensuing and people trying to get away and falling.”

Now that police force has asked the Sentencing Guidelines Council to recognise the seriousness and has suggested to all chief constables that offenders should be charged and subject to football banning orders rather than cautions.

So we now have police using dogs to search for gunpowder at Old Trafford and you can expect to see that spread.

The Guardian also recognises the point that Untold has been making since last season, that the current craze for the devices “is believed to have started among travelling Liverpool, Everton and Manchester United fans. It tends to be most prevalent among fans travelling away, where there is less chance of being identified and banned. There is concern that the “no pyro, no party” culture that has sprung up among some fans, who view the use of pyrotechnics as a way to bring edge and atmosphere back to modern stadiums.”

There is also a suggestion from the police that the move among supporters to be self-policing, which has been notable in much of English society in recent years in reducing drink driving (the ban on which was originally described in the press as part of the inevitable march of the nanny state) and racism (which although still prevalent among some away support is stopped by supporters of many clubs) could be used to stop flares – as long as everyone knows the danger.

In this regard the jeering and booing of the away support at the Emirates when flares  have gone off is, I believe, very much to be encouraged and is a step in the right direction.

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18 Replies to “Red Action, FSF and the police speak on the menace of flares”

  1. Thanks for the insight Tony.

    That a fatality is highly likely with use of such dangerous items in a football field is a fact…the consequences to the fans who threw the burning/flaming items would surely result in prosecution with charges maybe including pre-meditated attempted murder even?

  2. Your report on flares and smoke bombs is spot on, they are becoming a menace.
    I am a 44 year old everton fan who at last season’s f a cup 1/4 final at the emirates was arrested for throwing a flare onto the running track, and for taking pyrotechnics into the ground.
    I spent 5 hours in a police cell missed most of the game and had my son and elderly father looking round london trying to find what station i was locked up in.
    I am asthmatic and so is my elderly father and when engulfed in the sulphur tasting smoke being only 5 rows from the front i thought the safest thing for me and my family was to throw it onto the running track for the stewards to extinguish it.
    Amazingly the stewards who spotted me on cctv close up throwing it couldn’t spot me having a couple of puffs on my inhaler and it wasn’t until questioned by the police they seen me and realised i done for my own safety.
    Some people think that it adds atmosphere and its a laugh. Its not, not only does it cause damage to your clothes, my shoes and jeans were ruined by blue die, it also causes men and women, young and old health problems.

  3. i was told that Arsenal fans took flares along on Sunday and set them off outside Stamford Bridge, apparently they do this every year. Any truth in this?

  4. Mike T, mentioned this also Drew.
    I hope they get banned! Pronto!


    If any of those banned were going to get tickets for the Anderlecht match Arsenal Belgium would be glad to pick them up 😉

  5. Stephen Moore,

    I was at that match also sitting above the visitors end to the right of the goal where the smoke ended up.

    Your story is both good and sad.
    The good news to hear is that it seems that at least they try to do something about it.

    The sad news is that they seemed to pick up the wrong person…. It is the idiots that light up the flares or smoke bombs that should be arrested of course.

    My wife suffers from serious breathing problems and I would be horrified to take her to a football ground these days. She even can’t stand inhaling the ‘smoke’ smoke from a deodorant spray. If she would have been there I would have done the same thing like you did. I’m not asthmatic myself but can completely understand what you did.

    I hope that you don’t suffer any more bad consequences from the actions of a few idiots who can ruin the experience of other football supporters.

  6. @Drew & Walter

    From what I am told flares were let off outside the stadium and a smoke bomb within the confines of the concourse at the away end .
    This is the first time I have ever know such incidents from Arsenal supporters at SB.
    Its bad enough letting such devices off in the open air but to do so inside was perhaps one of the most stupid things I have ever heard of.
    The delay in kick off was caused because the fire alarms/ smoke detectors were activated meaning step one was to stop letting people into the stadium, which is what happened, and I guess a decision was being made as to if those already inside needed to exit and whilst you would hope that had such an evacuation been required it would go smoothly but in a blink of an eye someone could fall or panic set in with the potential knock on effects too frightening to think of.
    The article quite rightly points to away fans being the main culprits and whilst Chelsea had quite strict procedures in place at least one device still found its way past security.
    As Gord said on Sunday dogs can be trained but only against specific types devices not all varieties.
    Not that many years ago a flare ignited in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. It wasn’t the type of flares that we saw at Arsenal it was a boats emergency flare. You know the ones that shot hundreds of feet into the air. In Cardiff it was fired from one side of the stadium to the other and in so doing it hit a supporter and killed them.
    Oh and by the way the worst supporters at Chelsea in terms of letting flares off were Man Utds. Having said that our supporters weren’t too clever at Southampton or indeed at Swansea a season or two ago were the SW Police ,who had to deal with the Cardiff incident I mention above, detected a couple of our supporters trying to smuggle flares into the Liberty Stadium. I think the courts handed out custodial sentences. And quite rightly so

  7. I think each team has their brainless part of supporters. If all reasonable supporters would point at the guilty ones we could get them out.
    I can imagine when you are young and healthy you don’t think of the consequences it might have. So it is once again a matter of education and educating people.
    Maybe a warning at the start of the season that any team whose supporters that light up flares during a match has the consequence that the match will be stopped immediately and the team whose supporters did it will lose that match and the 3 points. I’m pretty sure that sensible supporters will hand over the culprits to the police at once.

  8. Tony it is good that you have aired this subject and raised the general awareness to the danger of flares, smoke bombs and pyrotechnics.

    Idiots who bring such things to football matches place themselves and everyone else in danger.

    Ideally a football match should be a sufficiently safe venue to be suitable for a family day out – but with flare laden idiots inside the stadium it cannot be.

    Such idiots need to be weeded out & permanently banned – but security at the Emirates needs to be improved and our emergency procedures may well need reviewed.

  9. @Walter, I agree that a very firm message should be sent to these people who want to have fun at the expense of someone else’s well being. But I beg to disagree with your suggestion that teams should lose matches and points deducted. Suppose fan of Arsenal who will stop at noyhing to see us lose goes ahead to offend this way by staying among Arsenal fans? All the hard work and the incredible amount of preparation that goes into matches will go down the drain just beecause someone chose to be stupid? In the main article, it was said that some people prevented the arrest of the culprits of flare-lighting. Can such not be arrested for obstruction of justice or impeding an officer of the law in the course of their duties, or something like that? Am not a lawyer- I think it shows- but something drastic needs to happen to deter these killjoy fans. A sustained program to educate and enlighten the generality of fans on the dangers and the illegality is also a good step. This is a dangerous trend that must not be allowed to snowball into something more sinister. We may all live to regret our treating it with kid gloves at this initial stage.

  10. In the event of a flare being ignited and/or thrown from within the away fans section would it be viable to stop the game and clear the complete travelling fan contingent from the stadium, at which time the game could be restarted. This may deter all but the absolute lunatic fringe from partaking in such behavior.

  11. Stan,

    I agree a dangerous situation.

    I could go even further. Imagine the non-existing AAA using flares to make us drop points in order to put more pressure on Wenger and the club to throw him out… If you read the hate in some quarters of the Arsenal Underworld not completely impossible…

    But if you would sit next to me and light or try to light a flare I first would try to tell you to not do it and if they ask me who did it I will point my finger at “you”.

    As the article points out it is illegal and I don’t want to be complicit to breaking the law.

    As usual it is down to good citizenship and to get rid of the few idiots that spoil the fun for the rest.

  12. Guess its lucky that arsenal never give out the full allocation of tickets for away fans then otherwise imagine the trouble they’d have. Please feel free to complain about your own allocation in FA cup final tho.

    Realise that has nothing to do with flares but hey ho thought id say it anyway.

  13. Well written and i hope those who were not aware of the danger of flares, are now aware. Flares like fireworks, are stupid and dangerous. As a child i could never understand why fireworks were allowed. I hated/still hate them, all the explosions and noise, they remind me too much of war and destruction. We have enough of that in reality, no need for fireworks and flares.

    I really hope that something is done, i really do not want, and football also cannot take another disaster or catastrophe at some football ground.

  14. I completely agree that this is a very important subject and welcome Tony returning to it regularly.

    However I was very disappointed that Tony made no mention of the Arsenal fans actions with flares which delayed the kick off at Stamford Bridge. Thankfully Mike T made another of his insightful contributions which are always welcome even if he is a ‘Blue’ fan.

    I believe supporters groups like AISA of which Tony is a committee member should be raising this matter as urgent business with the club and should make sure they get reports back at the Fans Fora which the club calls regularly.

    Each club must stamp hard on this threat particularly if it is it’s own supporters and Tony should not have missed our miscreants out.

  15. There is no simple solution once the device has found its way into the stadium.
    Most grounds in England are well covered by CCTV and after the event its far easier to single out the lunatics.
    As BJT clubs have to take more responsibility and the courts have to hand down harsh penalties.

  16. I am in total agreement that flares and other incendiary devices have no place in football. Punishment should be rigorous and appropriate to both the club & perpetrator.

    The more serious offence in football is incitement to riot by poor officiating. The FA & media are guilty of creating and encouraging this under current of gamesmanship that will explode. It is only a matter of time.

  17. It is late on October 12 (to me, Oct 13 to you), and I am just back to the Internet after a week of playing in the clay.

    When a person looks at the research into rocket fuels and explosives, one of the factors of concern are the products produced, and their effect on people.

    To give a rather extreme example, we have the compound fluorine perchlorate. It explodes on contact with organic compounds. It explodes on contact with water. If you look at it sideways, it blows up. When it (explosively) decomposes, two of the end products are hydrofluoric acid and perchloric acid. HF is a weak acid, but HF burns are well known for becoming gangrenous. Perchloric acid is a very strong, very oxidizing acid.

    From my reading (quite a while ago), I don’t think TNT is a whole lot better.

    These flares share more chemistry with gunpowder than rocket propellants and modern high explosives. But nobody should be breathing in there smoke/products.

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