Football fans who post abusive messages about players or supporters online will be targeted by police this season, according to new guidelines over tackling hooliganism.

Homophobic chanting would also be curbed for the first time, according to joint guidelines issued by the Crown Prosecution Service and Association of Chief Police Officers.

Match-related incidents have fallen over recent years, but a "robust prosecution policy" would remain in place, they said.

Arrests at international and domestic games fell by nearly 24%, to 2,363 during 2011-12, while the number of banning orders fell from 3,173 to 2,750.

Nick Hawkins, lead sports prosecutor at the CPS, said: "Vile chanting has no place in any walk of society."

However, he said the "friendlier atmospheres" at matches had led to a rise in the number of families who attend.

"In years gone by, racist and homophobic chanting in the stands was an ugly feature of football matches across the country, but I believe we are beginning to see a shift in culture. Hate crime legislation has a large part to play in this ongoing culture change," said Hawkins.

"Decent, law-abiding football fans deserve to be reassured that the criminal justice system is better equipped than ever before to protect their right to follow their teams in safety, while players, referees and supporters should know that harassment and abuse against them will not be tolerated."

Troublemakers subject to banning orders will not be allowed to attend the 2014 Brazil World Cup, or any other matches for three years, said police.

Assault of players by fans and the use of flares or fireworks inside grounds are among the "emerging challenges" that police and prosecutors face according to Hawkins, who added: "It's not just criminality in the stands that will be taken on. Our legal guidance on communications sent by social media clearly sets out how we will approach the abuse of players or fellow supporters online."

Hawkins said the "worst examples" of "vile abuse or threatening tweets" would be prosecuted.

Prosecutions following online racist abuse of Fabrice Muamba, who suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch last year, and Northampton Town players Adebayo Akinfenwa and Clarke Carlisle showed the CPS took such incidents "seriously", he said.

'There is a place for humour'

The CPS has previously published guidance over when to prosecute following online threats of violence or damage to property, or those in breach of a court order. It said there was a "place for humour in football but where the line between humour and offensive behaviour is crossed then positive action will be taken".

Brighton and Hove Albion fans were subjected to homophobic abuse at more than 70% of away games last season, due to the city's reputation as a "gay capital", research showed.

Homophobic incidents were still happening "frighteningly often", said Hawkins.

Liz Costa, vice chairwoman of Brighton and Hove Albion Supporters' Club, welcomed the move to treat homophobic abuse as seriously as racism.

Alice Ashworth, from gay rights charity Stonewall, said homophobic abuse "continues to be all too common in football and deters gay fans, as well as many families, from attending matches".

Darren Bailey, director of governance and regulation for the Football Association, said: "The FA welcomes the CPS' policy and wholeheartedly supports its ambitions in continuing to make football a safe environment for everyone."