Football pitch invasions: The good, the bad and the Etihad

Is it ever a good thing when fans get onto a football pitch? Occasionally, yes, but not often.

Pitch invasions have been around in football for a long time now, although the recent attack on Sheffield United striker Billy Sharp, as well as Patrick Vieira's on-pitch altercation at Goodison Park and the assault on Robin Olsen at the Etihad has brought them back into stark focus.

All of them must be condemned in the strongest terms. These are simply footballers doing their job, yet fans are once again risking tarring all footballers supporters with the same brush as was commonplace in the darkest days of English football.

Before we fall into that trap of allowing a mindless minority define a huge amount of innocent people, lets remind ourselves that while pitch invasions can be ugly, and others can definitely be bad, some have been pretty good too.

Good - 'They think it's all over…'

Given that the most iconic line of commentary in English football history literally starts with an observation of a pitch invasion, it's clear that they can be a very good thing.

Nowadays if fans were streaming onto the pitch as an attack was building, the game would simply be stopped. In 1966, that wasn't the case and thank goodness for that.

England were winning 3-2 in extra time of the World Cup final at Wembley at the time and Geoff Hurst was bearing down on goal in the dying seconds eying a hat-trick.

Many England fans thought they had heard the final whistle, though, and in pure jubilation started running onto the pitch in tremendous numbers to celebrate.

There was no stopping Hurst, though. Tiring West German defenders couldn't, and nor could any fans who found themselves inadvertently part of history.

"Some people are on the pitch, they think it's all over. It is now…"

Ugly - Manchester City season finale farce

We all enjoyed the evolving drama of the Premier League's final day. The 2021/22 season came to a staggering end as Man City appeared to be blowing the title at home to Aston Villa.

In the end, they managed to turn around a two-goal deficit and win the game (and the title), but the ugly scenes that follow will forever dominate memories of the day.

At the final whistle, hundreds of Man City fans streamed onto the pitch with soe of them pushing and assaulting Villa goalkeeper Robin Olsen as he innocently walked off the pitch.

They weren't finished there, though, with dozens more deciding outright vandalism was cool as they destroyed the goal frame.

Man City quickly issued a statement condemning the behaviour of their supporters, promising indefinite stadium bans. Hopefully, though, punishments will go a lot further than that for those involved.

Good - Charlton pigs

Pitches aren't just invaded by people. Animals get in on the act too and they are usually much more fun and light-hearted. That's a whole other feature, though.

In 2016, it wasn't just one or two animals invading the pitch - it was pigs and thousands of them. Fair enough they were plastic ones, but still.

The match was a League One clash between Charlton and Coventry at The Valley. The clubs had little in common other than both sets of fans were deeply unhappy with their respective owners.

No sooner had the game started than it had to be stopped due to thousands of plastic pigs raining down onto the pitch from both supporters, forcing the game to stop while they were cleared away.

"The plastic pigs were hurled onto the pitch from all around the stadium," reported BBC journalist Ian Shoesmith.

"It was completely simultaneous - and had obviously been planned in advance by the two pressure groups opposed to the owners of both clubs."

Bad - Patrick Vieira provoked at Goodison

What happened to Patrick Vieira at Goodison Park was more confusing than it was anything else.

He is a figure who has no history with Everton and is one of those universally likeable characters in football. More to the point, he is Patrick Vieira. What kind of idiot actually physically provokes Patrick Vieira for goodness sake?!

This one, in fairness, was more one of those daft social media things. The young lad was not old enough to have seen Vieira play so probably didn't know what he was getting himself into. He was also filming the lot on his mobile phone. In the footage that made it onto social media didn't contain the words 'don't forget to like, subscribe and share,' but you can be reasonably assured the full version did.

After being provoked, Vieira kicked out a little and dealt with it himself. The little scamp ran away. Common sense prevailed and the police decided to take no action.

Bad - Newcastle throw derby tantrum

While most fans wait until the end of a game before they invade the pitch, Newcastle supporters are built a little differently.

Back in 1990 and while losing a play-off semi-final to rivals Sunderland at St James' Park, Newcastle fans twice swarmed onto the pitch to try and get the game abandoned and replayed.

"Well we'd been told somewhere along the line that it might happen so it wasn't a massive shock," Sunderland's Newcastle-born midfield Gary Owers told Roker Report of that day.

"The first one wasn't too bad, but the second one was like 'lets get off here as quickly as possible'.

"I mean looking back it's hilarious - someone gets a kick up the arse, John McPhail gets a clip round the ear.

"It's almost comical looking at it now but at the time it wasn't so funny."

Newcastle fans obviously failed to get the game abandoned, making it about as good a plan as that time one of them punched a horse.

Ugly - Nottingham Forest fan punches Billy Sharp

Pitch invasions have come back into fashion a little in 2022, and the Championship play-off semi-finals both ended with them.

Huddersfield fans did it first, much to the disdain of Luton boss Nathan Jones who branded them "a disgrace" for hurling abuse at him, his staff and the visiting supporters.

However, a Nottingham Forest fan took the word 'disgrace' to a whole new level at the City Ground, running directly for Sheffield United striker Billy Sharp and headbutting him before running off.

"It's assault," Blades boss Paul Heckingbottom said of the incident. "We've seen one of our players attacked.

"He's shook up, bleeding, angry. It'll be dealt with.

"We're seeing things thrown on the pitch and things that are thrown on putting players' health and safety in danger and nothing's ever done about it.

"There will be something done about that. We've seen what's happened, we know what's happened. There's a prison sentence there without a doubt."

The following day, the police announced an arrest had indeed been made.

In the interests of balance, there were also videos emerging of Sheffield United striker Ollie McBurnie appearing to stamp on a Nottingham Forest supporter, which only goes to show how out of control things can get.

Good - Bolton fan sneaks in at Stoke

This one only came to light very recently with the man behind it telling the story on its ten-year anniversary, but it's a cracker.

In 2012, Bolton needed to win at Stoke on the final day of the season to avoid relegation from the Premier League, and tickets were sparse. A Bolton fan called David could not get hold of one, so he travelled to the Britannia Stadium in the hope of getting a spare outside the ground.

When he was unable to do so, David was able to sneak in through a gate to an area that was used as an outside smoking zone. Of course, once he was inside, the next problem he had was finding an empty seat.

The only one he could find was right next to the Bolton dugout alongside injured Bolton full-back Ricardo Gardner. David explained the situation to Gardner and he agreed to help him and, sure enough, when a steward asked to see his ticket, the cunning fan explained he was a 'club official' and Garnder would be able to confirm - which he did.

Bolton ended up drawing and were relegated, but the more immediate problem was how David was going to get through the Stoke fans behind him, most of whom had noticed he had sneaked in. The solution was simple: when the Bolton staff went onto the pitch afterwards, he joined them.

David can be seen in photos from after the game walking around commiserating the Bolton players. When they left the pitch and went into the dressing room, he followed them down the tunnel and sneaked out a side-door.

Bad - Ivan Savvidis' gun-toting fury

Most of the time, owners are accused of not caring enough about their clubs and being out of touch with the ordinary fan.

In 2018, one man appeared to take it upon himself to prove that assumption did not apply to everyone.

Ivan Savvidis, a Greek-Russian businessman who is a close friend to Vladimir Putin, was apoplectic at seeing his PAOK side have a last-minute goal disallowed against bitter rivals AEK Athens. 

His solution? Personally storm the pitch with a gun holstered to his hip, prompting the players to flee down the tunnel, the referee to abandon the game and police to swarm on to restrain him.

PAOK automatically forfeited the match due to Savvidis' behaviour and they were docked three points too. It was such a worrying incident that the whole Greek Super League was suspended for two weeks and FIFA threatened to ban Greece from international football.

Savvidis received a 25-month suspended prison sentence for the incident.

Good - Karl Power's Manchester United team photo stunt

"He (Gary Neville) points at me and says, 'Who's that?' and I say to him, 'Shut it, Gary, you grass, I'm doing it for Cantona…'"

Some people invade a football pitch on a whim, some just crave attention, and for some it's an emotional response to what they are seeing played out in front of them. For Karl Power, though, it is his art.

Power planned his pitch invasion for two years before putting it into action before a Champions League quarter-final match between Manchester United and Bayern Munich.

It would eventually lead him to sneaking unnoticed - by all except Gary Neville it seems - into the pre-game Man Utd team photo. Power himself is the best man to explain it.

"We planned it like a military campaign and brought three United kits with us - red, white and blue," Power said when tracked down by the press afterwards.

"Then we found out where the team were staying and got one of the directors to tell us what colour they'd be wearing.

"We then went back and rehearsed it all in our hotel room. We got a taxi to the ground, pretended we were with a TV crew, and the gatemen let us in.

"We managed to get down to pitchside and waited for the players to come out of the tunnel.

"Then with 20 minutes until kick-off, we saw an opening where there were no stewards and a couple of us walked all the way round the running track and ended up behind the goal.

"We sat with the photographers watching the warm-up. Then, when the teams walked out, I went to the players' entrance and knew nothing was going to stop me."

Ugly - Brian Clough punches his own fans

It might seem like we are picking on Nottingham Forest here, but it's not just fans who assault club staff on the pitch at the City Ground - sometimes it's legendary club staff who assault the fans.

This one happened after a League Cup quarter-final win for Nottingham Forest over QPR in 1989. Forest had won 5-2 on aggregate and fans were oddly jubilant to have reached a semi-final. Some ran onto the pitch, including teenager Paul Richardson.

"I was trying to get to Lee Chapman," Richardson recalled. "He'd scored four goals and I wanted to say, 'Well done'.

"I had my arm round him and then, all of a sudden, bang! I didn't know who it was at first. I just knew someone had smacked me round the ear.

"'Get off my pitch, young man.' I knew that voice. That's when I turned round and, bloody hell, I saw who it was."

Clough didn't stop there either. Mark Wheeler, 16, was next.

"Everyone was celebrating and then, I saw him on the pitch. 'There's Cloughie, wahey… great! Go and shake his hand.'

"So I started making my way towards him and suddenly, he has given someone a crack. Oh… s***! If you watch it on television, you can see me realise he's not happy. I moved to the left to swerve him but it was too late.

"I walked right into it. It probably looked worse than it was - it wasn't actually a punch and his fist wasn't clenched. But he caught me full on. Cloughie, bloody hell."

Clough himself was unrepentant, as he usually was. "I was concerned about the possible confrontation of rival fans on the pitch," he said.

"Whether people believe me or not, I took the action with the right motive. I just wanted to help the police clear the pitch as quickly as possible."

Because it's Brian Clough, it's easy to romanticise it. Truth is, though, it was a very ugly incident.

READ MORE: Michael Owen says fans are acting like sheep as two Man City supporters are charged after title win

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