Illegal use of flares on the rise at football grounds in Britain PIC: Reuters
Illegal use of flares on the rise at football grounds in Britain PIC: Reuters

Use of flares at football matches is shooting up and social media has been blamed for making the illegal practice popular.

A new campaign has been launched against incendiary devices being set off inside grounds by fans, as incidents hit 172 last season, up from just 72 a year earlier.

It comes as government minister Damian Green warned "someone could get killed" by a device smuggled in to a ground. Setting off a flare at a match is illegal in Britain and can carry a prison sentence.

A survey by the Premier League found more than one in ten fans had been physically affected by a flare at a game.

Amanda Jacks of the Football Supporters Federation said video content on social media websites such as Facebook and YouTube was fueling the trend.

"Their use is on the rise, so there does need to be a message got to fans about the consequences of using them. Probably one or two fans started using them and then it spread on social media, where people see them and think it's a good idea.

"There's loads of videos on YouTube of pyrotechnics being used at European games and people think it looks brilliant. There's no doubt some fans use pyros because they think it enhances the atmosphere, but it is illegal in this country and the law is not going to change any time soon."

Buying flares to carry in to football grounds is easy on the internet. One website advertised that its flares are "ideal for hooligans." The incendiary devices can also be purchased from retailers selling them for legitimate purposes, such as rescue aids for climbers to attract attention.

During last season's Everton v Liverpool Merseyside derby at Anfield, James Maddocks, aged eight, was floored after being hit by a blue smoke bomb. He needed medical treatment by emergency staff.

In England, an eight-year-old was filmed handing out to a group of adults flares which were stored inside his bag.

"It's the biggest concern we've got among fans at the moment," said Premier League spokeswoman Cathy Long. "There have been incidents across the world where people have had bad injuries or died. We've been lucky that our leagues haven't had such major issues yet, but we want to stop that from happening."

Use of flares is popular in Europe. Italian football fan Sergio Tortini told IBTimes UK: "Flares are great for a few seconds after they're lighted up. Especially in cold winter evenings the reddish fumes warm up a stadium's atmosphere. However flares-excitement dries up quickly."

Measures to combat the use of flares are in place at some Premier League clubs. Cardiff has an amnesty bin for disposing of the devices without running the risk of arrest and a potential criminal record. It is not only top level matches which are being affected by flares. Last month, a device was set off at a non-league match between Barnet and Cambridge.