Pyrotechnics or pyro is one of the most hotly debated issues in the world of football. Pyrotechnics such as flares and smoke bombs have been a regular fixture on the terraces across Europe for many years now. While smoke bombs can be dangerous and uncomfortable for people with breathing difficulties, they aren’t known for causing any lasting damage. They can hinder the supporters view for a couple of minutes and in rare cases give someone a bad reaction from the smoke as they weren’t meant to be used in confined spaces. However, it’s flares that really tend the split the fan base.
Flares can burn up to 1600 degrees and leave people with horrific burns, scares and other injuries. They’ve even led to people losing their lives in rare occasions.
Teams in countries like Poland, Turkey, Greece and Russia are notorious for engulfing their stadiums with flares and smoke bombs on match days. These countries and others across Europe have huge problems with violence and antisocial behaviour at football games. Many people point to the use of flares as a contributing factor as many videos have surfaced of rival fans launching flares at each other. Despite this they are still a very regular sight across these countries on a weekly basis.
Closer to home the attitude on the use of pyrotechnics is very different. A new British law has outright banned them from all games, and anybody caught with them will face a three months prison sentence and/or a heavy fine.
At home they have been condemned by all League of Ireland clubs and the FAI with fans being heavily policed on match days. Most if not all grounds announce their no tolerance stance on pyrotechnics before the game and at half time. Despite this stance when the league is advertised most of the marketing includes images or shots of flares and smoke bombs being let off. You can watch an advert pop up on RTE for a game and it will usually include one or two of these images. Even the clubs themselves tend the use them for advertising upcoming games to lure people down with the draw of an electric atmosphere.
That’s what they do they create an atmosphere. Pyrotechnics are a part of fan culture and they do lead to an exciting and intimidating atmosphere. It stirs up plenty of excitement on and off the field with even players coming out and saying these types of atmospheres in their home ground gives them a boost. It even helps make the atmosphere at the football as unique as it is compared to other sports.
However, the issues start when the flares come into the hands of the wrong people. When the drunk lad starts letting them off as he is stumbling around that’s when injuries in the stands happen. Even when the small minority of idiots let them off and start throwing them at opposing players, stewards and guards causing injury to people who are just doing a job at the end of the day. When they get throw on the pitch causing delays to the game, putting people at risk and fines getting sent to the club you love so much.
Also, not everyone is comfortable around flares. Sure, it’s fun being young going to the football with the lads enjoying a few beers and getting lost in the atmosphere. A lot of older people, families and just general fans that don’t see that as their idea of fun get panicked around them. That’s fine every fan should go the support their team and enjoy the experience and be excited to go back again.
Ultimately flares shouldn’t be forbidden from football grounds. The fans that enjoy pyrotechnics should be accommodated the same way families, disabled fans and elderly fans are. Football should be open to all and people shouldn’t be made to feel like a criminal for passionately supporting their team.
Pyrotechnics aren’t going anywhere in football. They have always found their way into a ground and always will. So, controlling them in the right environment would be the best way forward that would satisfy everyone from all types of fans, the clubs and officials. The evidence is out there to prove with a lot of effort it can be done. European teams could look across the America and how they are handling the use of pyrotechnics in the MLS. The American fans aren’t known for their violent behaviour, but they still use pyrotechnics at their games to create and atmosphere without any violence breaking out. An example would be to look at Orlando City they have an entire stand behind one of their goals designated to safe standing. This concept is being introduced around European with the famous Dortmund yellow wall being the most famous example. These areas are specifically for fans who are comfortable around flares and smoke bombs and enjoy the atmosphere that come with it. This leaves them in their own area away from other fans that aren’t comfortable without outright segregating them in their home ground.
They even provided sand buckets to put out the flares in same manner. Could even look at controlled use of smoke that MLS team Portland Timbers use. While the MLS does draw bigger crowds compared to the League of Ireland safe standing could be a viable option
Another option for a safe atmosphere would be with the arrival of these new cold flares. These flares look like normal flares and still give off the light of a normal flare to produce that atmosphere you would normally get when one goes off. However, it doesn’t give off the high temperature that normal flares do which wont result in nasty injuries that flares can cause.
They have been tested in Denmark by the likes of Brondby IF who in the past have been published for their use of pyrotechnics in the past. It has gone down well with officials still not disregarding the usage of them at games. These cold flares have gone down so well even other countries in Europe are beginning to talk about trialling them out at games. Frances Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu confirmed “dialogue has been opened” in terms of cold flares replacing regular flares at football matches across France.
While that isn’t the most hopeful statement in the world its certainly a start on an issue that has been somewhat demonised in the world of football. It is vital to let every fan that comes through the turnstiles to enjoy themselves on a match day no matter how they chose to support their team once it is within reason. Maybe looking at how other leagues handle pyro correctly is the way out of the debate to keep all sides happy and enjoying their experience at the football.