Aston Villa's Jack Grealish finished as the hero with the only goal of the match. Picture: Nick Potts
Aston Villa's Jack Grealish finished as the hero with the only goal of the match. Picture: Nick Potts

‘Worst I’ve seen’: fan jailed over attack

A PITCH invader who punched a footballer in the back of the head during an English Football League match in England has been jailed for 14 weeks.

The football world was stunned as Paul Mitchell, 27, ran onto the pitch 10 minutes into the Birmingham derby and punched Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish in the back of the head.

The Birmingham City fan pleaded guilty to assault. As well as the 14-week jail term, he was banned from football matches for 10 years.

A cross that Grealish had just made was kicked away when the invader - later named as Mitchell - rushed onto the field and made a beeline for the 23-year-old.

"Mr. Grealish felt a punch to the right side of his lower jaw and he realised he had been assaulted by a Blues supporter," prosecutor Jonathan Purser said.

"Footage showed him taking a running swing and jumping on the back of Mr Grealish and throwing that punch. It appears to have caused no physical injuries, fortunately."

Jack Grealish is punched from behind during the match.
Jack Grealish is punched from behind during the match.

Grealish later scored in the 1-0 victory for Aston Villa over Birmingham City.

In a statement read into the court record by prosecutor Purser, Grealish said: "I cannot help but feel how lucky I was in this incident.

"It could have been so much worse had the supporter had some sort of weapon."

Mitchell told the court he carried out the assault "as a joke".

His lawyer told the hearing that Mitchell's family had to leave their home "through fear that they would suffer serious harm or even death" following online comments about the incident.

Birmingham City welcomed the sentence and said it would not tolerate such incidents.

"What he did was unacceptable and has no place in football. The club can confirm that Mr Mitchell is banned from our home ground ... for life," the club said in a statement.

"And nor will he have access to purchase tickets for away games involving Birmingham City Football Club, or have tickets purchased on his behalf."

City said they had also banned another supporter for life for "a series of vile and malicious tweets on social media, relating to Jack Grealish and his family".

Mitchell was detained after the incident. Picture: Getty
Mitchell was detained after the incident. Picture: Getty

Former professional footballer and manager turned Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson welcomed the response but said the club shouldn't be punished.

"It was the worst I've seen on the football pitch. Sometimes abroad you see people coming through and kicking players or the ref, but in England I haven't seen anybody do that before," he told The Debate.

"It has to be bigger sentences because some people will swallow seven weeks in prison for hero status.

"You can't start closing stadiums. Clubs can't be punished for someone's stupidity all the time.

"There are good people in those stadiums and good people who own the clubs. They can't be punished for one silly, silly person."

Former Aston Villa striker Dion Dublin agreed with Merson, but backed players to do whatever necessary to keep themselves safe on the field.

"The only way to stop it 100 per cent is to put fencing in, although that wouldn't be fair to the 99 per cent who are spot-on," Dublin said.

"Do you give bigger fines? Or ban him for life completely at all football venues and give him a bigger sentence?"

"If you've got individuals who go onto the pitch and want to do something wrong and dangerous, put him in prison. If you go over the white line, you go to prison.

"We don't know what's going to happen now, but if it doesn't happen again, it was the right sentence."

There were chaotic scenes after Grealish was knocked to the ground. Picture: Getty
There were chaotic scenes after Grealish was knocked to the ground. Picture: Getty

Former Manchester United star Phil Neville told the BBC that pitch invasions were getting to insane levels.

Over the weekend, there were three separate incidents of fans getting onto the field.

"We have reached the point where banning individuals for going on the pitch is simply not enough of a punishment," Neville said.

"Drastic action is needed - either through points deductions or by emptying stadiums and making clubs play behind closed doors.

"I don't want to overdramatise things, but everyone remembers what happened to the tennis player Monica Seles, who was stabbed on court during a match in 1993.

"We need to start protecting players properly because all it takes is for one of these people who get hurt on the pitch to have a knife or other weapon and it will be a footballer who is badly hurt next time."

- with AAP

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