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Three Posters from the Campaign

The English Premier League, the Football League and the FA have launched an educational campaign on the dangers of pyro in football grounds. The Football Supporters Federation (FSF) as the biggest national supporters federation in England and Wales supports the campaign. Kevin Miles, Chief Executive of the FSF and a long-term FSE Committee member explains why they do that and what this has to do with pyro in football in Europe.

1. The educational campaign Face Pyro Facts against the use of pyro in English football has just started. Why is the FSF, as the biggest English fans’ organisation, supporting this campaign?

Like just about everything the FSF does, just like FSE at European level, our stance on the issue of pyro is determined largely by the views of football fans, primarily our members. The Premier League’s research found that a big majority of fans in England and Wales don’t want pyro in our football grounds, and that’s entirely consistent with the feedback we’ve had as FSF from our members.

The FSF is supporting an educational campaign on the issues around pyro – it’s not, as has been wrongly reported elsewhere, a “clampdown” or the introduction of new legislation. There are three main elements to what we’re educating about. Firstly, there are the safety issues: there have already been a number of incidents of fans being injured – including burns, lung damage and shrapnel wounds – and we need to make sure everyone is aware of the risks involved. Secondly, we’re informing people about the legal consequences of pyro use: it’s not just that it’s illegal here, but many people don’t realise the sort of punishments the law provides for. We make people aware that they face a lengthy ban and even a jail sentence, and pose the question to them: is it really worth it? And thirdly, we remind those thinking of using pyro that most fans in the ground don’t want to see flares or smoke; they’re there to watch the football and to support their team. We’ve witnessed plenty of incidents of what we could call “robust self-policing” among fans, where those representative of majority opinion “persuade” others not to bring pyro into grounds; we could probably do without that sort of division among fans.

2.       The FSF is one of the founding members of Football Supporters Europe. FSE as a European supporter network promotes the legalised, controlled use of pyro in many countries, according to best practice models like in Austria or Norway. The FSF’s policy on the issue back home doesn’t correspond with this, or does it?

We don’t see any contradiction between what we’re doing and the approach of FSE as a European umbrella. First of all, FSE doesn’t endorse the “wild” or unorganised and uncontrolled use of pyro anywhere – and that’s the only kind of pyro use there is in England and Wales. The second key issue here is that there is a huge variation in football fan culture across Europe: the FSF is addressing solely the situation we face here at home, where pyro use has never been part of our fan culture, and a big majority of fans don’t want it to become a feature of our stadiums.

Where there is a tradition of pyro use as part of fan culture, then it’s a very different story, and in those places a legalised and controlled use of pyro should definitely be considered. There’s a lot to be said in favour of the Austrian and Norwegian approaches – in the context of their fan culture. And the FSE position also underlines the need for differentiation between countries and fan culture in this regard. Things are different in the UK, but one thing we can agree on: you can’t tackle any of the issues around pyro by repression alone, there needs to be genuine dialogue, with fans’ views taken seriously and realistic solutions, appropriate to the context, being found.

3.       Thinking beyond England, pyro has been literally a very hot and polarising issue in football in many countries in Europe. What would you recommend fans in other countries with regards to pyro in football?

Well, I wouldn’t ever think that we, the FSF, should try to tell fans in other countries what to do. We have been involved in the launch and building of FSE precisely because we see the need for a strong, collective voice for fans at European level, but that doesn’t mean that we want fans, and fan culture, everywhere to be the same. What should be standard across the continent is that fans and fan culture are valued and respected, and fans’ groups should be involved in discussion and decision-making.

I’m a very old man now, but I’m still steeped in English fan culture. Our approach has always been very focused on what happens on the pitch, and anything that seems liable to cut across that – like stopping us seeing what’s going on in the game! - will get short shrift in England. Elsewhere it’s very different, and that’s fine.

One thing I think should have universal application though, is that the safety of supporters should be paramount. There’s a great awareness of issues around safety in the UK as a product of our history where we have suffered a series of fatal disasters, including Ibrox, the Bradford fire and of course Hillsborough. It should be a basic expectation that a fan should be able to go and enjoy a game secure in the knowledge that he or she will return home safely afterwards, uninjured. Nothing – not unfit stadium structures, not heavy-handed stewarding, not brutal policing, not violence from other fans nor also uncontrolled and reckless use of pyro – should be allowed to jeopardise that.

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