Words: Ryan Dobney
Images: Offside Sports Photography
The issue of pyro has been a long-standing one in football.
Just recently, Paris Saint-Germain, Saint-Étienne, and Olympique de Marseille have all being sanctioned by French officials for using flares, with the latter being fined 1.3 million Euros last season alone because of fireworks. While it makes for a cracking atmosphere when its supporters are so keen, that’s not exactly a sustainable model for clubs.
Arsenal striker Alexandre Lacazette has said he misses the atmosphere of Ligue 1 stadiums and told of how fans in England can be more “spectators than supporters”. And while some may argue that this might be a resolutely Premier League (or Arsenal) issue, the issue of fan atmosphere is a tricky one that science bods have been looking to solve.
In France, the question of pyrotechnics in football became such a heated debate (wait for it) that it was taken to the government, as a new alternative for the flares has come to light (almost), in the form of 'smoke without heat’ (there we go).
Emitting little to no heat, 'cold smoke flares' visibly imitate the bright colours of the banned flares but do not give off the high temperatures that are a risk to safety. Developed in Denmark after several clubs in Scandinavia including Brøndby IF suffered similar, pyro-related punishments, they introduce an interesting opportunity for the FA to have its cake and eat it too, with the chance to experience the kind of displays we all fawn over in other national leagues, only this time you can get the bus home after.
French football expert Loïc Tanzi said: “In French culture, they love to use flares because it’s beautiful for them to see fireworks, it's been the case that in the last 20 years.
“There is a problem every weekend, and every week there is some debate because the fans want to use it and they continue to use it in the stadium, and the clubs continue to get fines.”
The beauty of the flares is liked so much that Marseille's Director of Security, Thierry Aldebert, has even said the French side would look to “unlock funds” to develop further research into the cold smoke project.
Following a letter from French politician Stéphane Testé to Sports Minister Roxana Mărăcineanu, it has been confirmed that a “dialogue has been opened” within the government, for the use of 'cold smoke' or 'smoke without heat' to replace flares within French football stadiums.
“Cold pyros could represent a solution for all parties concerned in that they represent no potential danger. Starting a dialogue around flares could open the door to trial use,” Testé said in a statement. “I think some supporters would welcome this even if certain ultras might find it difficult to accept.
“I believe France has sensible supporters and could, therefore, lead the way in developing a model that could be copied elsewhere.”
For many, it does seem to be a feeling that football authorities are not listening to fans when the topic of pryo is brought up. This was seen in Germany, when third-tier side Karlsruher SC had agreed with the emergency services and officials they would commemorate and say goodbye to their stadium by staging a pyrotechnic tribute at the Wildparkstadion and the German Football Association got arsey when they found out; launching an investigation into the club, regarding the ignition of pyro during the farewell.
“It's dangerous [when] governments say they do not want to find another solution,” says Tanzi.
However, the solution of cold smoke flares brought forward to the French government is still in its infancy. But, for many, the opening of a dialogue at government level is at least a start, showing a progression in the understanding of the game and fan culture that previously seemed non-existent.
There would need to be a discussion between clubs and relevant individuals, such as the league and local security services in order to outline the usage of the new technology, but it’s good to know the options are out there.
And if and when it is solved in France, it might just be that the option is extended across the Channel, too.