UK & World News
Football Flares: Young Fans Are 'Used As Mules'
Children as young as eight have been used as "mules" to take flares and smokebombs into grounds to be set off by adults.
Premier League officials made the claim as a new campaign is launched warning fans of the dangers posed by setting off flares and smokebombs inside grounds.
It comes just weeks after an assistant referee was hit on the back by a flare during a Premier League clash between Aston Villa and Tottenham.
The use of pyrotechnics has risen significantly in English grounds in the past few seasons.
There were just eight recorded incidents during the 2010/11 season across the Premier League, Football League and Football Conference and the domestic cup competitions.
This rose to 72 during the 2011/12 season and jumped to 172 last season.
There have been 96 incidents this season, as of the end of October.
"Football fans might see images of football grounds in other parts of Europe full of smoke and light caused by pyrotechnic devices and think that they create a good atmosphere, but they do not," said policing minister Damian Green.
"Flares are very dangerous and can cause severe injuries. We are very lucky that no one has been seriously injured or killed by a flare here for a long time.
"This campaign clearly sets out the dangers of flares and smoke bombs. I want to see the courts taking this problem seriously and dealing in the strongest way possible with fans who still illegally smuggle pyrotechnics into football grounds."
New research carried out for the Premier League found that 87% of fans believe that pyrotechnics are dangerous at matches, while 86% said they were concerned for their safety.
Cathy Long, the league's head of supporter services, said: "We have launched this education campaign because we want fans to be fully aware of the dangers of pyrotechnics and realise the harm they can cause to other supporters.
"Pyrotechnics are not innocent fun, they can be very dangerous and there are victims.
"Fans, club staff and match officials have already been injured, some of them severely, and supporters who bring them are doing so illegally and can face jail and long bans.
"We don't want that, we just want everyone to be safe and able to still come to the game."
The use of pyrotechnics by fans is a relatively new phenomenon in British football, with the trend imported from continental Europe, where the issue is much more prevalent.
Over half of fans have now witnessed pyrotechnics at a match, while 36% have been directly affected, 24% have had their view of the match obscured, 10% have suffered from smoke inhalation and 2% have been affected by heat from a flare.
Alan Weir, head of medical services at St John Ambulance, said: "We know that (our) volunteers have treated people for burns and smoke inhalation caused by flares at several football grounds.
"These cases could have led to disfigurement or other serious injuries, so we're advising fans to seek prompt emergency help should they come into contact with a flare to help prevent their injuries from getting worse."
Of the 172 incidents last season, 164 involved away fans. The average age of fans arrested for using pyrotechnics is 20.