Enda Stevens wants better policing at matches after claiming players are ‘fearing for their lives’ after a recent surge in fan violence.
The Ireland star looked on in horror as his Sheffield United team-mate Billy Sharp was the subject of a sickening assault by a rival supporter a fortnight ago.
Stevens played in the first-leg of the Championship playoff semi-final against Nottingham Forest, but missed the second-leg with a knock.
After a tense penalty shootout at the City Ground, which Forest won, Stevens looked on from the sideline as thousands of home fans raced onto the pitch.
But one Forrest supporter made a beeline for Blades skipper Sharp and headbutted him, sending the veteran striker crashing to the ground and requiring stitches.
That fan has since been jailed for 24-weeks but Stevens feels players should be protected more as some are ‘fearing for their lives’ after the spike in violence.
Crystal Palace boss Patrick Vieira was involved in a fiery altercation with an Everton fan after the Toffees sealed their top flight survival.
Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard said his goalkeeper, Robin Olsen, was ‘attacked’ while trying to leave the pitch during the title-winning pitch invasion at Manchester City.
And Swindon boss Ben Garner said his players were attacked by fans who had rushed onto the pitch after their play-off defeat to Port Vale.
But quizzed on the Sharp incident, Stevens said yesterday: “It was shocking. Over the course of that week or so, it was happening continuously.
“I was out there with him and it was just an absolute disgrace. The thing is with that, you’re actually fearing for your life.
“You’re on a pitch and thinking ‘I can be attacked at any moment here’. There was no help for us, nobody there to protect us.
“There were policemen beside us who didn’t help us and didn’t want to get involved.
“A few of our lads ended up trying to protect Billy when the second fella came up into his face.
“All we could do was protect ourselves and help each other out. It’s something in football that needs to change.
“I don’t really blame the stewards because it’s very hard for them to contain 25,000 or 30,000 Nottingham Forest fans but the situation was shocking – it shouldn’t happen.”
Stevens appreciates that emotions were running high as Forest had just booked their place in the Championship final – which they later won to reach the Premier League.
But he says that is no excuse for the rise in flashpoint violence on the pitch when fans invade in numbers.
“It’s all well and good if you want to run onto the pitch and celebrate but the attacking of opposition players is an absolute disgrace,” he said.
“Especially because there are 11 lads – or a squad of 20 – but there are 20,000 people on a pitch running at you from left, right and centre.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen. It could come from anywhere.
“Billy wasn’t far from the tunnel and that’s where you should be policed the most but we had zero protection.”
It wasn’t the first time that Stevens has encountered issues when players are trying to leave the pitch but they were minor compared to the Sharp incident.
Stevens continued: “Even over the last couple of weeks, it was even happening in the Premier League, which you would never see really happening and that’s disappointing.
“It comes down to protecting us. We’re the one’s isolated out there, and we had no protection at all.
“”It was up to ourselves to help each other out and try to get ourselves off the pitch, so they could probably do better in terms of policing it more and having more stewards.
“It’s a difficult one for the stewards, I do understand that, but it’s something that has to change.”
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