How do we address inconsistent pitch invasion sanctions? The FA v. Reading FC

Pitch_Invasion
Published: Thursday, 29 October 2015. Written by Nick De Marco QC No Comments

Walk into the boardroom of many a football club and you are likely to pass a proudly displayed framed photograph reflecting one of the club’s finest moments, a promotion or getting through to a cup final, with players and fans celebrating the special day on the pitch. A pitch incursion, even a celebratory one, is a breach of FA Rule E.201 and when Reading FC’s fans went on the pitch2 after their team beat Bradford City to get through to an FA Cup semi-final for the first time in 88 years an FA Regulatory Commission fined the club £100,000.3 The FA Appeal Board overturned that decision and reduced the fine to £40,000.4 Their reasons, just published, should make interesting reading for other clubs.5

 

Regulatory Commission hearing

At the initial hearing before the Regulatory Commission,6 Reading produced evidence showing that there were more than 20 pitch incursions taking place at the end of last season across the Premier League and top two leagues of the Football League. The FA only took action against a small handful of other clubs (Aston Villa, who had a series of incursions that were aggravated, and who were fined £200,000;7 Blackpool, who had a pitch incursion that led to the match being abandoned and were fined £50,000;8 and Preston,9 who have yet to have a hearing). The inconsistency in both the FA’s charging policy and the sanctions Regulatory Commissions impose is troubling for those concerned about consistency and proportionality in regulatory decision making.

Whilst an article could be written just about the difficult nature of the charge itself – FA Rule E.20 imposes strict liability on clubs for pitch incursions that can only be rebutted by the club proving it exercised “due diligence” and different Regulatory Commission’s appear to have taken a different approach to what that means. This article focuses on how this impacts on the sanction imposed for a breach of Rule E.20.

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About the Author

Nick De Marco

Nick De Marco QC

Nick is rated a leading silk in Sports Law and is a member of Blackstone Chambers.

He has advised and acted for a number of sports governing bodies, athletes, most Premier League football clubs and many world-class football players in commercial and regulatory disputes.

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