Football Clubs forced to play behind closed doors - Legal Issues

Playing football matches behind closed doors

What is meant by a football matched played behind closed doors?

When a football match is deemed to be required to be played behind closed doors this means that the normal supporters will not be able to gain access to the stadium to view the match.

Will the match be completely closed?

The match will be completely closed to members of the general public, however, access will be granted to such individuals as the media and various staff required for the smooth operation of the match.

Clearly the make-up of the two teams participating in the match will not be affected by the match being played behind closed doors.

For what reasons would a football match be played behind closed doors?

There are many different reasons why a football match would be played behind closed doors with the main one being due to the recent behaviour of the fans of one of the teams playing – usually the home fans.

How will the behaviour of the fans affect the match being played?

The behaviour of certain sections of the support may affect both the safety of other sections of the support and the individuals participating in the match.

Certain sets of football supporters have been seen to cause riots within the stadium which affect the safety of the rest of the people watching the match. In certain situations whereby this behaviour is deemed to be extremely serious and continues on a consistent basis a decision may be made to play the club’s matches behind closed doors.

How will the behaviour of the fans have an adverse impact on happenings on the pitch?

In certain situations whereby it is deemed that the behaviour of fans can infringe on the safety of both the players and the officials during a football match it may be deemed to play the match behind closed doors. This will often happen whereby an object, often a coin, is thrown from the stands and injures a player or official.

If this is deemed to be serious enough the club may be required to play the next match or matches behind closed doors.

Who will make the decision to order a club to play behind closed doors?

The decision to order a club to play behind closed doors will often be handed down by either the national governing body or the European governing body (UEFA).

A recent example of a team being ordered to play matches behind closed doors came in European competition when a referee was hit by a coin thrown from the home section of the support of an Italian club.

In this case UEFA handed down the penalty to the club. Often a fine will be imposed also.

Are there certain scenarios whereby a match is played behind closed doors for other reasons than punitive?

Recently there have been instances of matches being played behind closed doors for safety reasons due to an epidemic of an illness. This occurred recently involving games played in the top division of Mexican football when the onset of swine flu hit Mexico City. In this case the safety of all supports and individuals involved in the matches was deemed to be of paramount concern.

In this case the decision was made by the national governing body in Mexico.

Have there been situations where an outside influence has a say on whether the match is played behind closed doors?

A match involving the England national team was threatened to be played behind closed doors due to the concerns from the police that fans would not be able to gain access to the stadium. This was due to a strike on the tube network of London Transport halting much of the transport to the stadium.

However, the Football Association made the decision that the match would not be played behind closed doors and thus the supporters were provided with access to the stadium.

Is it legal to restrict fans access to the stadium which have paid for tickets?

A football stadium is not a public place, it is private property usually owned by the club or a company on behalf of the club. The club is therefore within their rights to restrict access to the stadium.

The fact the fans have already paid for the tickets ensures that the club would have to be justified in restricting their access. Where a club has been ordered to play behind closed doors by a national governing body it can be assumed that this decision would be regarded as justified.

Will the fans be provided with a refund if they are not able to gain access to the stadium?

Often the decision will lie with the club – in the context of club football – or the national governing body – in the context of international football – as to whether the fans will be provided with refunds.

In the case of the England game where it was feared it would be played behind closed doors the Football Association made the decision that they would refund all fans the price they had paid for the tickets.

However, when a club is ordered to play behind closed doors for the reason of the behaviour of the home fans they may use their own discretion as to whether they will provide any fans with a refund.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.