The trend of pitch invasions at end of season games continued on Thursday night, with the end of the League Two play-off semi-final between Port Vale and Swindon turning ugly.
The second leg was a tight and tense affair, and ultimately went to penalties after a 1-1 draw on aggregate. Port Vale would triumph 6-5 on penalties, prompting their fans to rush the pitch at Vale Park.
The jubilant scenes were spoiled, however, when a group of Swindon players were attacked by Port Vale fans on the pitch. Among the group of Swindon players appeared to be Ireland U21 international Jake O'Brien, as well as Ben Gladwin and Jack Payne.
Speaking after the game, Swindon head coach Ben Garner called the scenes "disgusting", on a night when the Premier League game between Everton and Crystal Palace was also marred by violence on the pitch.
Port Vale v Swindon: Pitch invasion turns ugly at play-off semi-final
The nervy play-off semi-final between Port Vale and Swindon went right down to the wire on Thursday. After Swindon had been in control early in the penalty shoot-out, they would ultimately lose out after Ellis Iandolo missed their ninth penalty in sudden death. Port Vale will now go on to face Mansfield Town at Wembley for a place in League One.
After Iandolo's miss, the ecstatic Port Vale fans stormed the pitch to celebrate a huge win for their club. Some of their fans, however, spoiled the occasion by attacking a group of Swindon players (the incident can be seen in the bottom right of the below clip just after the 0:50 mark).
Port Vale: ✅❌❌✅✅✅✅✅
𝙋𝙊𝙍𝙏 𝙑𝘼𝙇𝙀 𝘼𝙍𝙀 𝙂𝙊𝙄𝙉𝙂 𝙏𝙊 𝙒𝙀𝙈𝘽𝙇𝙀𝙔 𝙁𝙊𝙍 𝙏𝙃𝙀 𝙇𝙀𝘼𝙂𝙐𝙀 𝙏𝙒𝙊 𝙋𝙇𝘼𝙔-𝙊𝙁𝙁 𝙁𝙄𝙉𝘼𝙇 pic.twitter.com/XO6TmvFCP5
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) May 19, 2022
The Mail report that Ireland U21 international Jake O'Brien was among those targeted by the Port Vale fans. Highly rated Corkman O'Brien is on loan at Swindon from Crystal Palace for the season, and came off the bench in extra time during Thursday's game.
O'Brien appeared to confirm this with a Tweet sent in the aftermath of the game. He praised his teammates, before slamming the "disgusting" scenes at the game's conclusion, and saying that the Port Vale fans should be ashamed of themselves.
Absolutely devastated but so proud of the boys. Stuck together until the very end. ❤️ #stfc
Disgusting what happened at the end, having to protect ourselves with no help from the stewards. All you’s @OfficialPVFC Fans should be disgusted with yourselves.
— Jake O’Brien (@obrienjake_) May 19, 2022
O'Brien's head coach Ben Garner spoke on the incident in his post-match interview, and said he was disgusted by the abuse hurled at the Swindon players.
"It's absolutely disgusting"
Swindon Head Coach says his players were "physically and verbally abused" after a pitch invasion after their League Two play-off semi-final. pic.twitter.com/BqPxeNe44b
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) May 20, 2022
What they've had to put up with coming off that pitch...players are being physically and verbally abused. I've seen it in some of the other play-off games - I don't know where we're going as a country with this, it's absolutely disgusting. It's frustrating to play a play-off game and the home team are even refusing to water the pitch. It just doesn't sit well with me. But we can't control that, we can only control what we can control, and we have to come back stronger next season.
It was the latest in a string of unpleasant clashes between fans and staff in recent days in English football. Tuesday night saw Sheffield United striker Billy Sharp assaulted by a Nottingham Forest fan after the Championship play-off semi-final. The Forest fan has since been sentenced to a spell in jail.
Also on Thursday night, Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira was seen kicking out at an Everton fan after his side's dramatic defeat at Crystal Palace. The fan appeared to taunt Vieira, before the Frenchman reacted by forcing him to the ground.
Dion Dublin says there must be firm action taken against pitch invaders after Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira was confronted by Everton fans as he was walking off the pitch at full time. pic.twitter.com/FFDhfSqFgv
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) May 19, 2022
Dion Dublin was adamant on Sky Sports that pitch invasions should be forcibly avoided, as they continue to put players and coaches in danger.
Former Ireland international Stephen Ward gave his two cents on the matter. Ward suggested that pitch invasions not only put players in danger, but spoil the celebrations for the winning team:
It's difficult for a player to enjoy the moment. Straight away, they're trying to get off the pitch because there's so many people around them. For them, they can't enjoy it with the rest of the fans around the stadium. It's happened for years, but it is something that hopefully can be stopped.
Despite the understandable excitement and energy both at Goodison Park and at Vale Park, the incident which affected Jake O'Brien and the Swindon players was simply unacceptable.
We wouldn't be surprised if swift action is taken soon to prevent similar incidents in the future.