English football's governing bodies are launching a campaign to warn of the dangers of fans letting off flares and smoke bombs after it was revealed children as young as eight have been used as "mules" to smuggle pyrotechnic devices into football grounds.
The campaign by the Premier League, Football League and the Football Association comes less than two months after linesman David Bryan was struck by a smoke bomb thrown by a Tottenham fan at Aston Villa.
CCTV at one Premier League ground recorded a young boy handing out fireworks to adults from his rucksack.
Flares are wielded at football grounds worldwide
Fans will be reminded fireworks are illegal at matches, carrying the risk of possible jail sentences, and warned of the dangers - last season a 15-year-old boy suffered lung damage from a smoke bomb thrown at Wigan, while in February a 14-year-old boy was killed by a flare thrown by fans during a South American Libertadores Cup match in Bolivia.
The Premier League said in a statement: "It is not uncommon for 'mules' to bring the pyrotechnics into a ground on behalf of others, and in one incident at a Premier League match last season a child aged around eight was observed aiding those involved in pyrotechnic use.
"The child came into the ground with pyrotechnics in his rucksack and was then seen passing them to members of an adult group who let them off inside the ground."
New research has found one third of fans have been affected by pyrotechnics, 87% believe they are dangerous and 78% say they want more action taken against users.
Flares are commonplace at football matches around the world and rarely concern continental countries' FAs, however the sanitised English game is vexed by their recent surge in popularity. There have been eight incidents in the 2010-11 season, 72 in 2011-12 and 96 incidents so far this season.
Linesman David Bryan was hit by a smoke bomb at Villa Park in October
Policing minister Damian Green said: "Football fans might see images of football grounds in other parts of Europe full of smoke and light caused by pyrotechnic devices and think that they create a good atmosphere - but they do not.
"Flares are very dangerous and can cause severe injuries. We are very lucky that no one has been seriously injured or killed by a flare here for a long time.
"This campaign clearly sets out the dangers of flares and smoke bombs. I want to see the courts taking this problem seriously and dealing in the strongest way possible with fans who still illegally smuggle pyrotechnics into football grounds."
A United fan let off a flare during Sir Alex Ferguson's last game at West Brom
While safety is paramount, some fans claim this is another scaremongering tactic intended to preserve the manufactured atmosphere at football grounds throughout the country.
Nine people have been injured or burned by fireworks thrown at grounds in England in the last 18 months.
Last month, a Manchester United supporter who set off a smoke bomb during Sir Alex Ferguson's last game in charge, at West Brom, was given a suspended two-month jail term and banned from any football grounds for three years.
In February, two Chelsea fans were jailed for 28 days and given six-year football banning orders for taking smoke bombs into the Liberty Stadium for a match versus Swansea.