FA stance under scrutiny as Preston pitch invasion mars victory

Fans of Aston Villa and Reading will be watching closely how the FA react to the scenes following Preston's 3-0 play-off semi-final victory on Sunday.

Three weeks ago both Aston Villa and Reading were hit with FA charges for failing to control spectators after pitch invasions following FA Cup quarter-final victories within days of each other. Both clubs have responded to the charge and currently await their fate, but they will be watching closely after Sunday's events at Deepdale.

Preston's 4-0 aggregate win over Chesterfield in the League One play-off semi-final - with three of the four goals coming from loan man Jermaine Beckford - was greeted with a jubilant pitch invasion amid familiar celebratory scenes. It was only afterwards that news filtered through of Chesterfield captain Ian Evatt - a former player at Preston's local rivals Blackpool - being "punched, kicked and spat on" by Preston fans invading the pitch.

The incident appears far worse than anything reported at Villa Park or the Madejski Stadium in April, and Evatt has made a direct complaint to the police, as reported by BBC Sport. So far the FA have said only that they are "aware" of the incident and are awaiting reports from both clubs and the police. 

While this is obviously routine protocol, fans will be looking for consistency in how the FA acts.

Many observers felt the FA charges brought upon Aston Villa and Reading were very harsh, and resulted only from the fact that both games were high profile occasions televised live by the BBC.

Pitch invasions are a feature of football at this time of the season, and always have been. Jubilant fans have invaded the pitch up and down the country in recent weeks as relegation is avoided, a play-off place secured or in Bournemouth's case two weeks ago, an automatic promotion to the Premier League is achieved. If the specific charge is 'failing to prevent spectators encroaching on the pitch', how are Aston Villa and Reading any more culpable than any of the other clubs allowing such scenes in recent weeks?

Although no injuries have been reported to players or officials from recent pitch invasions - before Sunday's encounter at Deepdale - this was also the case at Aston Villa and Reading, and fans and officials at both those clubs are entitled to ask for consistency.

Nobody wants to see players intimidated by invading fans, and they should rightly be protected from this. Likewise, football and police authorities are inclined to ignore pitch invasions that pass without incident. It is a fine line, and one that the host clubs can do little about if it is crossed in the heat of the moment.

Many observers felt the FA acted hastily in bringing charges against both Aston Villa and Reading last month, and they have now set a precedent that they will be under pressure to follow. Either pitch invasions are outlawed altogether and a traditional part of the ups and downs of football is lost forever, or an FA charge is automatically administered if the unrestrained joy of celebration is allowed to take place, regardless of whether an unlawful incident occurs as a result. 

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