As Chelsea drew 0-0 with Juventus in the Women’s Champions League group stage last week, it was not the football that took centre stage.
Instead, it was the occurrence of a male fan running aimlessly onto the pitch –– a sight seen in men’s football with frustrating regularity but rarely in the women’s game.
The pitch invader filmed himself running around the Kingsmeadow pitch, with no stewards around to restrain the fan.
Chelsea striker Sam Kerr, therefore, decided to take her own action. The Australian shoulder barged the intruder, sending him flying to the floor.
The crowd found the incident hilarious and were less than impressed when Kerr was shown a yellow card for her actions.
But while some may have found the situation humorous at the time, the ease with which the fan was able to saunter onto the pitch, has raised questions over the safety of players.
Speaking after the Juventus game, Chelsea boss Emma Hayes said: “We do have to think about player safety. We’ve seen in the growth of the game there is this sense of the players being more in demand. It should serve as a reminder to us all in our stadiums and with our stewards we’ve got to put player protection first.”
The Metropolitan Police confirmed that the man who invaded the pitch was not arrested, though he has been suspended by the club.
Under section four of the 1991 Football (Offences) Act, it is an arrestable offence for a non-player to step foot on the pitch during a “designated” match.
The law states: “It is an offence for a person at a designated football match to go onto the playing area, or any area adjacent to the playing area to which spectators are not generally admitted, without lawful authority or lawful excuse (which shall be for him to prove).“
Anyone guilty of this offence could be fined up to £1000.
However, The Athletic have identified a loophole in these regulations that explains why no action was taken against the Chelsea fan.
The law only applies to “designated matches” and it is understood that Women’s Champions League and Women’s Super League fixtures are not classified in this way.
Only clubs that are part of the English Football League, the Premier League, the Football Conference, and the League of Wales are included in this category –– thereby excluding all women’s teams.
Considering the lack of stewards and next to no police presence at the majority of women’s football matches in the UK, the incident at Kingsmeadow sets a dangerous precedent moving forwards.
With women’s football continuing to grow and attract bigger crowds, knowing that it’s possible to get away with invading the pitch may provoke more to do so.
It is essential, therefore, that appropriate action is taken quickly to rectify the current law.