Football faces urgent calls to protect players after Aston Villas captain, Jack Grealish, was attacked by a spectator in his sides derby win at Birmingham
Football is facing urgent calls to improve player safety after the Aston Villa captain, Jack Grealish, was assaulted on the pitch by a spectator in the latest among a rash of troubling crowd-related incidents in recent weeks.
Grealish was punched from behind by a pitch invader, ostensibly a Birmingham City fan, in the ninth minute of the Championship derby at St Andrews. The assailant was arrested and Grealish, who was uninjured, gathered himself to score the only goal of the game after half-time. But the matter is unlikely to end there, with Birminghams role in the incident coming under particular scrutiny and concerns growing about a wider trend of violence at football matches across the UK.
Just under six hours later, in another episode that will raise serious questions about the measures in place to keep footballers out of danger, a supporter ran on to the Emirates Stadium pitch during Arsenals 2-0 win over Manchester United, and shoved Chris Smalling, as the north London side celebrated their second goal.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the United manager, said: I didnt see exactly what happened but there shouldnt be a place in the game where someone runs on to the pitch. Its not nice to see. Its one of those thing that we dont want. An Arsenal spokesman said: We utterly condemn the behaviour of the individual who ran on to the pitch and approached Chris Smalling during todays match. We would like to apologise to Chris and Manchester United, and are pleased that [the intruder] was apprehended and arrested. We will be working closely with the police in their investigation. The individual will also be banned from Arsenal matches home and away.
In a strongly-worded statement, Villa demanded an investigation into the chain of events that put Grealish in harms way. Aston Villa football club is appalled by the disgraceful attack on Jack Grealish during todays game, it read. A red line has been crossed by this cowardly on-field assault on a player, which is unprecedented in English football. We trust the perpetrator will feel the full force of the law and the authorities investigate the circumstances surrounding todays deplorable incident.
Local rivalries are part of the fabric of the game however, as we are sure our friends at Birmingham City would agree, to have a players personal safety placed under such jeopardy is a serious cause for concern for the entire football community.
On Sunday night West Midlands police announced a 27-year-old man had been charged with invading the pitch and assaulting Grealish. A statement read: We have this evening charged a man with invading the pitch and assaulting Aston Villa player Jack Grealish during the Second City derby. Paul Mitchell, aged 27, of Rubery, has been remanded in custody to appear before Birmingham magistrates court on Monday.
Grealish preferred to focus on his match-winning goal and admitted to finding that moment particularly satisfying in light of what had occurred earlier. I was just unaware at the time, I was walking into position and then just felt a whack around the side of the face, he told Sky Sports. Obviously theres rivalry and stuff in football, but I dont think theres any place for that really. I just tried to get on with my job. To score the winner was unbelievable. After what happened in the first half I think it was set up for it.
A contrite Birmingham statement confirmed that the offender will, as a minimum, be banned from their stadium for life. We deplore the behaviour of the individual who committed this act and rest assured he will be banned from St Andrews for life, it said. The club will also support any further punishment this individual may face in the eyes of the law.
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