A Manchester City fan has been fined and handed a football banning order after he was captured throwing a blue smoke flare onto the pitch during last season’s frantic title decider at the Etihad stadium. Phillip Maxwell, 29, hurled the pyrotechnic over the heads of supporters towards away fans after Rodri scored a late equalizer.
The 78th minute goal formed part of a dramatic come-back for City who had been two goals down at home to Aston Villa, and were looking like they might lose the title to Liverpool. Ilkay Gundogan’s winner three minutes later handed the Blues the trophy, prompting delirious scenes and a pitch invasion after the final whistle.
A court heard lifelong City fan Maxwell, from Knowsley, Merseyside, hurled one of 20 smoke flares that were thrown by supporters during the game amid a troubling increase in disorder at football matches last season. He is the second City fan to receive a football banning order following trouble at the game.
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Prosecutor Shahid Khan told Manchester and Salford Magistrates’ Court yesterday (Thursday) that Maxwell threw the flare after the ‘local team’ scored an equalizer during an ‘important championship deciding match’. The pyrotechnic, which was issuing blue smoke, ‘crossed over the heads of supporters and stewards’, he said, adding that hurling the missile ‘risked injury to the supporters and staff’.
Greater Manchester Police football hooligan ‘spotter’, PC Matthew Ford, captured the incident on a hand-held camera, the court heard. The footage, which was played in court, showed a close up of Maxwell, wearing a white baseball cap, throwing the flare towards a section of Aston Villa supporters.
The incident was a ‘deliberate flagrant act’ and had posed a ‘clear risk of injury’, according to the prosecutor.
A statement from PC Ford, which was read to the court, said the re-introduction of fans to football matches following the restrictions prompted by the Covid pandemic had seen a ‘dramatic increase in violence and disorder’ at games in the UK and throughout Europe. .
He also cited social media posts which appear to glorify football violence and a ‘growing trend’ of fans smuggling pyrotechnics into stadiums. The officer said there had been an 18.6 per cent increase in the number of times flares had been set off at grounds during league games in England last season.
During the title-deciding Villa game at the Etihad, some 20 smoking flares had been thrown onto the playing area or towards opposing supporters risking ‘animosity’ between rival fans, according to PC Ford.
Manchester City had attempted to address the problem by employing staff to deal with fans coming into the ground with flares which ‘can be bought quite easily online’, he said.
The officer said fans who purchased them frequently did not appreciate the danger of the flares purchased and he referenced one supporter, aged 15, who had to be treated for ‘lung damage’ after inhaling smoke from a flare.
Chloe Gaffney, defending, said her client ‘had no intention’ of throwing the flare towards the Villa supporters, adding that what he did was ‘an act of immaturity’. “He finds himself before the court today having lost his good character,” she said.
Chairman of the bench Sohail Ahmad told the defendant: “You have lost your good character. You have paid a big price for this stupid mistake you have made.”
Maxwell was fined £ 1,440 and ordered to pay £ 55 towards prosecution costs and a £ 144 victim surcharge. He was also handed a three-year football banning order, which prohibits him from attending games at the Etihad or any other league games until June 23, 2025.
The defendant, of Anzio Row, Knowsley, who had no previous convictions, pleaded guilty to throwing a flare at or towards the playing area during a designated football match on May 22. He also admitted a second charge of possessing a firework at a sports ground . The court heard he had served in the military and earned £ 30,000-a-year in his current job. He agreed to pay off the fine at £ 100-a-month.
Earlier this month, another City fan, Paul Colbridge, 37, from Salford, was handed a four-year football banning order for invading the pitch during the game when the winning goal was scored. He ‘taunted’ opposition players and fans before slipping and falling and being caught by stewards.
The mass incursion onto the Etihad pitch was the culmination of a series of pitch invasions at matches that week, including one in which Sheffield United’s Billy Sharp was headbutted by Nottingham Forest fan at the end of the Sky Bet Championship play-off semi-final second leg.
After Maxwell was sentenced, District Crown Prosecutor for the north west Kerry Grieve said: “Maxwell’s actions were thoughtless and selfish. Flares create a risk to the safety of players and spectators. On this occasion, thankfully nobody was hurt but we have seen many times the consequences of flares at football matches and we must root out those who jeopardise the safety of others.
“The CPS are committed to taking a robust stance towards tackling football related disorder as we continue to play a crucial role in making sports such as football inclusive and safe to watch.”
Crown lawyers are working with football clubs, the Premier League and other football bodies to explain what evidence is required to bring charges against supporters, and in doing so protecting players from future incidents.
Douglas Mackay, leading sports prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service, added: “Over recent years and months there has been a significant rise in football-related criminality compared to pre-pandemic levels. At the CPS, we play a crucial role in tackling these “crimes and making our national sport inclusive, safe to watch and play in. There is no place for violent criminal acts in football, and incidents such as these has a significant impact on victims.”
Flares may appear harmless but they contain toxic chemicals and can burn at 1,600 degrees Celsius, the melting point of steel. They are particularly hazardous for anyone with asthma. They have been linked to two deaths of young boys at football matches, one in Brazil and the other in Spain.