Even before the launch of the Premier League in 1992, English football exerted a significant pull on the attentions of fans at home and abroad.
Clubs, many of which have not even featured in the country’s top flight at any stage in their history, have groups of loyal supporters spread around the world for whom following each match is a ritual and every trip to their favoured side’s ground becomes something of a pilgrimage.
However, the creation of the Premier League propelled the sport into another dimension, at least in terms of its commercial potential and the ever greater attention which it commands.
Whilst most of that scrutiny is favourable and helps ensure that the competition retains its appeal for fans, players and sponsors alike, its profile also draws some elements which pose a potentially significant problem for clubs and the game’s governing body.
In recent years, an increasing number of clubs have found their stadia targeted by groups of individuals whose interest is more in being watched than watching games.
They practice something called ‘parkour’ or freerunning, a form of urban gymnastics which uses cities as obstacle courses. Many film themselves scaling tall buildings and leaping acrobatically from great heights and broadcast their exploits to peers and fans of their own via the internet.
Land Law’s property litigation team has acted on behalf of a number of major land owners whose sites have seen such activity, obtaining court orders to prevent a repeat.
As I’ve been explaining to Sky Sports News, more and more top football clubs have begun to follow suit. After seeing their stadia feature in freerunners’ illicit recordings, the likes of current Premier League champions Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea have all felt compelled to resort to court action.
We’ve learned of other clubs in the Premier League, Football League Championship and Spain’s La Liga facing such difficulties, although it’s not known whether they have also opted for injunctions.
Taking legal action might sound excessive to some people. It’s worth pointing out, though, that what might sound like a harmless pursuit in fact involves trespassing on private property. In some cases, occupants of premises are threatened and buildings damaged.
Given the added security which is now present at all prominent landmarks, the prospect of people gaining entry without permission and – even worse – injuring themselves or others is something which understandably causes concern.
Some companies regard publicising the issue as only fuelling the possibility of copycat behaviour.
In my opinion and that of a growing number of clients, the legal deterrent is an important and effective way of preventing this kind of trespass and protecting both staff and property.
It will be interesting to see if further Premier League clubs agree that being similarly firm is enough to blow the final whistle on football’s parkour problem.
by Steven Jennings