Recent incursions that sparked alarm in the media are trivial (so far) compared to the trouble that led to fences going up in the 1970s. Mike Ticher looks back
While “friendly” pitch invasions had been relatively common for decades (Kenneth Wolstenholme was famously unconcerned) the late Sixties and early Seventies saw a rash of high profile incidents that eventually led to the erection of fences at almost all big English grounds.
Chelsea were the first to put them up in October 1972 after trouble in a match against Leeds, but it wasn’t until 1973-74 that matters really came to a head (“It will go down as the season the lads started coming on to the pitch,” wrote Chris Lightbown in the proto-fanzine Foul). In May 1974 the sports minister, Denis Howell, wrote to League clubs recommending they build a wall at least 4ft high around the pitch. By the end of that decade the barriers were going up everywhere. These were some key milestones.
Newcastle v Rangers May 21, 1969
The Fairs Cup semi-final first leg had finished goalless. In the return at St James’, a tussle between Wyn Davies and Ron MacKinnon early in the game ended with bottles flying from Rangers fans, followed by a pitch invasion. Then Newcastle fans came on after their side went 1-0 up after half-time. The referee announced he would take the players off if it happened again, so logically, when Jackie Sinclair made it 2-0, Rangers fans came on in an attempt to get the game abandoned. They were chased off by police with dogs, who then guarded the visitors’ end for the last ten minutes.
Leeds Utd v West Brom April 17, 1971
Leeds fans invaded the pitch after referee Ray Tinkler allowed Jeff Astle’s controversial second goal for West Brom in a game Leeds needed to win to maintain their title challenge (they eventually lost it by a point to Arsenal). As a result of the scenes, Leeds were fined £750 and Elland Road was closed for the first four home games of the next season, which were played at Huddersfield and Hull instead. Two of the four were drawn and Leeds lost by a single point that year too. “It cost us nine months of hard work,” said Don Revie – referrring to Tinkler’s decision, not the fans.
Newcastle Utd v Nottingham Forest March 9, 1974
After Pat Howard was sent off and Forest went 3-1 up with a penalty, several hundred fans invaded from the Leazes End. Referee Gordon Kew took the players off for eight minutes, but when the game was restarted Newcastle came back to win 4-3 – reports suggested the linesman was too scared to flag Bobby Moncur’s winner offside. “The Newcastle supporters put us out of the Cup,” says Forest manager Allan Brown. Thirty-nine fans were charged, 23 hospitalised (two with fractured skulls) and 103 treated for minor injuries. The FA ruled that the game should be replayed at Goodison Park (“I half-expected a ridiculous solution and they came up with one,” said Malcolm Macdonald) and Newcastle won 1-0, again at Goodison, after a 0-0 draw. As a result of the trouble Newcastle were ordered to play all their 1975 Cup games away.
Man Utd v Man City April 27, 1974
Eight minutes from the end of the game that ensured United were relegated, with City winning 1-0 through Denis Law, home fans spilled on to the pitch. Referee David Smith took the players off, then brought them back on to a hail of missiles. Despite Sir Matt Busby’s appeals, the fans came on again. Back in the dressing-room, Smith abandoned the game once he heard that other results meant United would go down anyway, and the result was allowed to stand. “We have the best supporters in the world, but a small number of them have done our name such harm,” Busby said.
From WSC 181 March 2002. What was happening this month