In a smart, simple and almost funny way the Premier League wants to drive people away from lighting flares at football games. And though its campaign caused a lot of irony and criticism across Europe, English fans support it. Vast majority just doesn't see flares as part of their culture.
Recent months haven't seen particularly many differences inside English stadia – safe standing's momentum is growing, but changes haven't been introduced legally yet.
There's one thing that is increasing, however: the use of pyrotechnics inside stadiums. Across Championship, League 1 and League 2 statistics show some 290-340% increase, while arrests related to pyrotechnics are 100% higher overall.
This is why Premier League (along with The FA and The Football League) launched an educational campaign to discourage fans from using 'pyro'. The initiative called Face Pyro Facts consists of 8 simple arguments against this element of global fan culture. Worth noting, the action paraphrases popular stadium chants to get the message in an almost funny way. Here they are:
- Sing when you're coughing. Message: smoke from flares may cause cough or worse and should not be inhaled;
- Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be. We're going to A&E. Message: pyrotechnics can cause accidents and one may end up in hospital;
- Banned in the morning, you're getting banned in the morning. Message: penalties for the use of flares may include fines, bans or even imprisonment;
- We’re by far the greatest team the world has never seen. Message: You could miss a goal if smoke gets in the way;
- We can’t see you sneaking out. Message: Excessive smoke may affect play, even ending with abandoning the game.
- Don’t go home in a St John ambulance. Message: pretty much the same as in Fact 2;
- Is there a fire drill? Message: The use of pyrotechnics may get out of control and cause panic;
- I fell into a burning ring of fire. Message: Fact 2 once again, but even when the fire dies down.
The campaign caused severe criticism among football fans in other countries, often seen as manipulative and severely biased. But, what may be a surprise to some, largest British fan organisation, the Football Supporters Federation, has a very different view and supports the Face Pyro Facts action.
The FSF chief executive Kevin Miles issued a statement to explain other fans, why his organisation feels it should support the initiative.
“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.”
“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.” says Miles, who goes on to a less serious statement:
“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.”
StadiumDB.com comment: We're not from England, but can surely appreciate why the FSF decided to follow their members and address the issues regarding pyrotechnics by supporting this project.
However, having first seen this campaign we found it almost outrageous how social engineering and manipulation were used to discourage fans from using pyrotechnics. Showing blood, using children's injuries as examples of negative consequences, drawing images of disasters waiting to happen and using large quantification to show how hot flares are when lit - it's used to persuade people only, not inform. Whether ends justify means is up to one's personal judgement. We still consider the campaign a smart one, just don't agree with what it says. Scaring people into believing something isn't how it should be done.
The actual facts are far less spectacular/sensationalist and could be pretty well summed up with a few sentences: Pyrotechnics pose several risks/challenges, you need to be responsible every moment with them – both when buying, learning how to use, then using and disposing of them. Your behaviour may affect others and you need to think about it. Thank you.
Wait, no, not just yet. Here's how we see the 8 'Facts' about Pyro.
Fact 1: Smoke should not be inhaled. Eureka! And yet people smoke, we drive regular cars, use coal/oil/whatever power plants. There's so much that shouldn't be inhaled and yet we never found any study that would show incidental inhalation of flare smoke to cause health issues, apart of course from cough or shortness of breath. We were only able to find studies about how dangerous professional fireworks may be and yet no-one ever banned the use of those for health reasons. In fact, we can recall the English football authorities using colourful fireworks (those with allegedly toxic smoke) themselves. Hmm... More seriously – we like to believe it's common knowledge that children, elderly, people suffering from asthma or other similar ailments shouldn't be exposed to inhaling smoke, even if not too harmful and only incidentally. That's why in some countries these people are discouraged from taking their seat in the more vibrant/fanatic sections. Really, it's not that difficult.
Fact 2: Flares may cause accidents, the flame burns at 1600°C so it's dangerous. Sounds scary? Of course it does. But did you know, that a regular gas stove has flames burning at almost 2000°C? The truth is, if you use your brain and not stick your face in the flame, you'll be fine. Of course there are many things to consider when buying flares: which one spills out less sparks, which one offers a safe handle and which one is attested by your authorities. But that's really called thinking.
Fact 3: Legal consequences. Here's something we can do nothing about. Populist authorities tend to punish disproportionally various stuff that poses little to no risk.
Fact 4: You may miss a goal because of smoke. OK, we know English fans concentrate on the game more than on the stands. But in all fairness, is there anyone who dedicated years for matchgoing and saw all goals? I missed my club's domestic championship goal on my way to the toilet, missed a dozen more just because I closed my eye or didn't focus for that split-second. Is that a serious argument?
Fact 5: Pyrotechnics may affect the game, even cause a delay. Yes, in extreme cases it may even lead to match being abandoned, but using the extreme as an example for the more regular stuff isn't appropriate. The truth is most pyro-presentations see the smoke disperse within seconds (yes, seconds, even if 60-100!) in a regular stadium and you might even avoid the problem in its entirety by setting off flares as players enter the pitch, not while ball is in play.
Fact 6: Repetition of Fact 2, contrary to the Premier League we're not repeating ourselves on this one...
Fact 7: Pyrotechnics may cause panic. Yes, we know that argument all too well. But actual fact is much more general: anything can cause panic when there's a highly congested crowd in one place with limited exit options. This doesn't work in favour of using flares, but practice shows that once this crowd is aware of a pyrotechnics display, nothing of that nature happens in 99% of the cases, while in the 1% mentioned by the Premier League only 'signs of mass panic' can be seen, not even one case. It's ironic that most panic cases and stampedes in the history of football happen because of poor policing and organisation and yet the Premier League was never so eager to educate on that.
Fact 8: Pyrotechnics may be hot even when the fire dies down. Well, thanks for the scientific newsflash, but it's primary school knowledge that you don't touch the iron the very moment you unplug it, temperature doesn't just shift like that. Once people remember this, they'll be OK. You didn't really need to bring up a misleading case of the Belgrade derby, where fire was set intentionally, not because of laws of physics alone.