Pyrotechnics has been a highly debated topic over the past few years, both in Ireland and across the world of soccer. Condemned by clubs and governing bodies, pyro has received bad publicity, and maybe appropriately so. On one side of the coin, flares and smoke bombs have been a key part of the ultra-supporting culture for years, stirring up excitement on the terraces while also spurring on the team on the field. On the other side, the arguments of the authorities are that pyrotechnics put supporters in danger due to high heat and sparks. The Sports Ground Safety Authorities also discourage pyrotechnics on their website stating the risk to sight and hearing, as well as having “possible carcinogenic effects”. Huge fines have been handed to clubs over the past few seasons by UEFA, including Liverpool and Manchester City who were fined thousands of pounds for their pyrotechnic displays on the European Stage. Fines for clubs of this magnitude, are like small change, but for smaller clubs, fines create financial pressure and stress for all involved.
I am all for an electric atmosphere at the games, and there is no doubt that pyro contributes to the excitement in the stands. Safe pyro is a topic that has been widely debated, and its effectiveness on the terraces has been argued by fans around the world. A Danish pyrotechnic expert, Tommy Cordsen has developed a sort of cold flare, that burns at a significantly lower temperature to generic flares, so much so that you can run your hand through the flame. At the end of last year, Brondby IF came together with their clubs ultras to organise a safe pyrotechnic tifo display for their game against Midjtylland. The South Side of the Brondby Stadium was full of safe pyrotechnics, and created an amazing display which was a historic move. The downside of these flares being that they produce far less light than regular flares. This is just one example of clubs working with their fans to create a safe, yet exhilarating atmosphere. You have to wonder could something like this work in the League of Ireland. It would be a fantastic way for fans to show support and create excitement without injury or incurring big fines for their clubs.
Orlando City SC was founded in 2013, and their new home at the Exploria Stadium was completed in time for the beginning of the 2017 season. What is interesting about the stadium is that behind one of the goals, there is an entire safe standing area, like a smaller version of Borussia Dortmund’s famous Yellow Wall. There is also an aluminium floor to enhance the noise, as well as a specific area within the stand for fans to set off flares and other smoke devices. In Orlando’s first MLS game in their new stadium against New York City, it was a full sell out, with the safe standing area looking unbelievable with banners and flares. Of course, League of Ireland stadiums and crowds are reasonably smaller than MLS Clubs, but safe pyro is surely a feasible option.
The safe flares trialled by Brondby over the past few years haven’t been disregarded by officials in other countries. In 2018, Assistant Chief Constable in Scotland, Bernard Higgins said that he would be open to discussions about safe controlled flares, when questioned about Brondby’s trials. Surely it would be in the clubs best interests to interact with supporters and make a plan that satisfies both parties. Pyro contributes to the buzz in the stadium in no small part, and gets the crowd on their feet. It is sad to see that there is such conflict between clubs and supporters, when fans do what they do for the good of the team and a bit of sport. Although it is unlikely that clubs will discuss the issue, it is nonetheless an option for the future.