Two brothers who begged forgiveness in the Echo after invading the pitch at the Stadium of Light after the crucial Everton game have avoided football banning orders – while a third man was told to stay away from games for three years.
Alan Appleby, 25, and his 24-year-old brother Ben have been told they can continue to go to games to watch their beloved SAFC, despite pleading guilty going onto the playing area.
The pair, of Scoresby Close, Southwick, were arrested after they jumped onto the pitch at the final whistle of the Black Cats’ 3-0 win on May 11.
Afterwards, they spoke of their fears that they may be subject to football banning orders, which would have stopped going to games, especially as Alan Appleby has a previous like conviction, dating back to 2013.
They admitted the offence before Sunderland magistrates this morning, along with Martin Hoggarth, 28, of Osman Close, Hendon.
The court heard the players had encouraged fans to enter the pitch to celebrate with them.
Nobody wants to go to court, it’s not a nice place to be, but we went in there. It’s my first and last time, because it’s horrible.Ben Appleby
Prosecutor Paul Anderson said around 20 people in total went onto the playing area, but those who returned immediately to their seats, were not arrested.
These cases all arise out of being on the pitch at the Stadium of Light during the Sunderland-Everton game – the penultimate game of the season,” he said.
“It was the final game, following the Sunderland game with Chelsea, and it was straight-forward: If SAFC beat Everton, it was safe on the Premiership for another year.
“Of course the result was 3-0 and their neighbours at Newcastle were plummeted out of the Premier League and will now have to play in the Championship next season.
“There was joy at the result and numerous people went onto the playing area.
“Aware of the significance of the fixture, the deputy safety officer at the stadium liaised with police and increased the number of stewards four-fold, from the usual 30 to 120.
“At the end of the game, there were a small amount of people on the pitch, celebrating ‘The Great Escape’, 20 of them went off when told, without any problems.”
Anna Haq, defending the Applebys, said: “They both accept that, at the end of this important match, they got onto the playing area.
“What they are saying to me is this; They were actively encouraged by the football players celebrating on the pitch, taking selfies with players and Ben Appleby has a video on his phone.
“They took the invitation of the players because they are passionate football fans. They have been going to games since they were five years old.
“This was a very important game and after the final whistle was blown, they jumped right into the celebrations.”
Mrs Haq added that the pair had returned peacefully to the stands when asked to do so and football banning orders should only be made for the purpose of preventing violence.
Alan Appleby was given a two-year conditional discharge and Ben Appleby was sentenced to an 18-month conditional discharge.
Chris Wilson, defending Hoggarth, said: “He saved his benefits for two weeks to be able to buy a ticket to the see the Everton game.
“He was emotional. The fans were overcome by euphoria and many climbed over the barrier onto the football pitch, they weren’t arrested. Clearly it was a spur of the moment thing.”
Hoggarth was given six-month conditional discharge, and a three-year football banning order.
Bench chairman Joan Green said: “It was a silly mistake. You have been overwhelmed at the result and these football players have encouraged you to celebrate with them, and both of you received a photograph with them.
“This should not have happened, but you were encouraged to break the law.
“You were beckoned onto the pitch – that is a lot of the reason behind it – but take no notice of these players, because they are not going to end up in court.”
Ben Appleby has spoken of his and older brother Alan’s relief as they walked away from court with their football-going future intact.
Speaking to the Echo after the case, the dad-of-two said he had immediately ordered a season card for the 2016/17 season, while Alan continues to collect paper tickets from every single game.
Ben said: “No ban, so it’s happy days.
“To be honest, we would have taken a big fine as long as we didn’t get banned.
“I regret what I did, of course, but at the time I didn’t think because I was well happy with the result.
“But obviously, there were repercussions and you can’t got back in time.
“Nobody wants to go to court, it’s not a nice place to be, but we went in there. It’s my first and last time and it’s horrible.”
Ben is now looking forward to going to the next home game with his family.
“Sunderland ‘til I die,” he added.
Alan Appleby told magistrates he hoped to “give something back” to the club, by donating a treasured, signed Sunderland shirt he’s got, to be auctioned to raise money for SAFC’s charity, The Foundation of Light.
Sunderland AFC head of safety, Paul Weir, said after the case: “Encroaching onto the pitch is a criminal offence, regardless of the circumstances. In this instance, whilst a number of individuals were arrested, only those with aggravating factors, such as struggling with stewards when detained or exhibiting violent or threatening during the pitch encroachment were charged. All others were warned regarding their behaviour.
“Such incidents can lead to the club receiving significant punishment from the FA and as such we take a zero tolerance approach to incidents of disorder of this nature.”