Hooligans used to be the biggest risk to people attending professional soccer matches in England, but a growing concern these days is possible frostbite while waiting for games to resume after being suspended by drones flying in the stadium.
That may have been the fear of fans packed into St. Mary’s stadium this weekend to watch hometown Southampton take on Aston Villa, only to see both teams return to their locker rooms during the first half after a drone was spotted buzzing over the soccer pitch. Fortunately, the delay was limited to around five minutes – though possibly only because the pilot also got too cold during the pause to continue the numbskull flight any longer.
Referee Michael Salisbury pulled the players off the pitch according to English Premier League (EPL) safety rules applying to drones flaunting bans on flying near soccer stadiums on game days. The pilot of Saturday’s disruption went well beyond that prohibition by navigating what appeared to be a DJI Mini 2 above one of the goal cages before exploring other parts of the arena.
After being alerted to the drone’s hovering presence by a player, it took Salisbury a moment to spot the craft, and even longer for the stadium announcer to explain to puzzled, freezing fans why it was the game was being suspended.
Even the television announcer providing play-by-play of the match needed a little time for his perplexity to shift to informed anger at the stupid aerial stunt.
“What’s he pointing at?” he asked of Salisbury. “The players are coming off! Some idiot has ruined the afternoon for 33,000 people!”
Given the relative brevity of the delay, that might have been overstating the illicit flight’s impact on the match – especially given the even worse blow to Southampton spirits when Aston Villa scored the winning goal in the second half, which you can watch here.
Saturday’s aerial invasion may be the first of a drone so deep inside an EPL stadium, with most sightings reported around venues or during training sessions that soccer clubs hold in remote practice facilities. Still, there is a rising willingness of pilots to get closer to on-pitch action.
Last year a match between West London team Brentford and visiting Wolverhampton was halted when a UAV was spotted initially hovering at a high altitude over the stadium, before swooping lower down above seated fans.
EPL officials aren’t the only organizers of pro or international sports competitions battling intrusions of banned drone flights, meanwhile.
A French cup match between Paris Saint-Germain and Vannes was briefly halted last year due to a UAV intrusion, and a 2021 World Cup qualifier between Moldova and Austria was delayed 30 minutes following a similar incident.
In the US, meantime, both Major League Baseball and the National Football League have suffered game disruptions due to drone flights in stadiums, causing both to join other sports organizations in an appeal to Congress to strengthen counter-UAV rules and mitigation capacities to take on the problem.