Will pitch invasions tarnish the reputation of English football?

Back in the 1970s when I started watching football, the atmosphere at games was very different.

Every game I attended had a huge police presence; hordes of hooligans would be carted off as fights broke out before the games; and football was anything but family friendly.

English clubs were involved in a number of high-profile incidents, most notably at the Heysel Stadium in 1985 that prompted a ban from European competition.

No wonder fans were penned in by high fences that felt like cages, until the tragedy of Hillsborough resulted in all-seater stadia and the transformation of the English game that resulted in an inclusive atmosphere, shiny new arenas and the Premier League.

Back in Europe and with England having many more games overseas, racist chants, closed stadia and bans have been the fabric of other clubs, of other leagues and of other nations.

We’ve already had lamentable incidents such as Chelsea fans abusing Raheem Sterling, which prompted his own statement on the impact such behaviour has on him and brought the topic to front of mind for many who might previously have ignored it.

But the past weekend has been a stark reminder that fan misbehaviour is never far away with players confronted at three matches.

Five individuals were arrested and a fan confronted Rangers captain James Tavernier in the Glasgow side’s match against Hibernian.

After Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had given Arsenal a 2-0 lead, a man ran onto the pitch and shoved Manchester United defender Chris Smalling before being led away.

But perhaps the most concerning incident saw Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish punched in the back of the head by a Birmingham supporter, who has since been jailed for assault.

The clubs and managers were quick to condemn those who had invaded the pitches, with the EFL and the FA also issuing statements condemning the behaviour.

Given the increasing prevalence of knife crime in the UK, players are rightly concerned that a player could be seriously injured by a spectator.

Manchester United’s Ashley Young commented that a fan could well carry something that gave them the means to really hurt a player.

It’s clear that the authorities have a real challenge on their hands.

The demands of the television broadcasters mean that some of the biggest games are held later in the afternoon, giving fans all day to drink and take leave of their senses.

Should clubs be held accountable for their ability to ensure no one gets onto the pitch with stronger punishments such as stadium closures?

Should they be obliged to employ more stewards, particularly for high-octane matches against historic rivals?

We certainly don’t see the same sort of misbehaviour in rugby, so all governing bodies need to remind fans that they have a responsibility to behave so that we do not require increased security and fencing as we see in some parts of Europe.

And what part do players have to play, given the high emotions that come in matches, be they derbies or not?

The importance of a new Respect campaign to ensure that officials do not get surrounded whenever there is a dubious decision may well have some impact, as will stronger punishments if they do not start setting a better example on the field.

When England played in the World Cup in Germany in 2006, there were fears that fans may run riot in the back yard of one of their traditional rivals.

We devised an FA campaign with Ray Winstone which reminded fans of their roles as ambassadors for the nation and by the end of the tournament, they were praised for their conduct.

Let’s hope the recent sad episodes are not the start of a new era of hooliganism for the beautiful game, which inspires and excites thousands of law-abiding fans going through the turnstiles each week.