FLARES and smoke bombs are becoming an increasing problem in football.
And far from being confined to the Premier League, it is also an issue lower down England’s footballing pyramid, as events at the Pirelli Stadium proved only last week.
Not for the first time, visiting supporters set off a device in the stadium with police admitting they face a difficult task to eradicate what is becoming a rising problem.
A Mansfield Town fan was the latest to light a flare in the ground during their game with the Brewers on November 26, providing a reminder of ugly scenes from visiting Rotherham United fans which marred a game earlier in the year.
A Fulham supporter also had a flare confiscated prior to the Capital One Cup clash with Albion earlier this season.
A survey of football fans has shown that 86 per cent are concerned by the rising prominence of the devices in stadiums.
A 15-year-old Aston Villa fan suffered lung damage during a game at Wigan, with politicians also raising concerns that their increased use could cause injuries or even deaths.
Gary Lote, Staffordshire Police’s Football Liaison Officer, said: “They think it creates an atmosphere but you don’t know what you’re breathing in.
“There’s a lot of young kids doing it. They see it on the continent, but a lot of stadiums where it occurs haven’t got roofs on. The one that went off against Mansfield you could smell in our control room. One fan had to leave the ground for air.”
Officers are also facing obstacles in preventing their use and finding perpetrators after the event.
Mr Lote said fans are becoming wise to what the police can and can’t do and are using children or women’s handbags to get past security, while smoke in the stands often obscures their view of perpetrators.
While high-profile incidents have occurred at Premier League games, two fans of teams in League Two – Exeter City and Oxford United – have been jailed since the beginning of last season, while Mr Lote cited an incident at non-league Hednesford Town as the worst he had seen involving flares.
But while acknowledging the difficulties, Mr Lote insists they will continue to catch offenders.
He said: “We do a lot of proactive work and have been quite successful regarding prosecutions.”