Police have charged a Birmingham fan who punched Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish in a shocking incident during Sunday’s Championship clash on a day of shameful violence in English football.
Hours after the incident involving Grealish, a pitch invader appeared to confront Manchester United’s Chris Smalling at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.
Grealish did have the consolation of scoring the decisive goal in Villa’s 1-0 win over their bitter rivals but there was no such compensation for Smalling, with United losing 2-0 to the Gunners in the Premier League as they suffered their first domestic defeat under caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Grealish was in the Birmingham penalty area in the 10th minute when a man ran on to the field and threw a punch from behind at the Villa captain.
The blow caught the midfielder on the side of the head and sent him sprawling to the turf.
The intruder was quickly restrained by a steward as Villa players including Tammy Abraham and Glenn Whelan rushed to Grealish’s defence.
After the fan had been shoved over, he was eventually led away by police, defiantly blowing kisses to the crowd.
West Midlands police announced late on Sunday: “We’ve 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, has been remanded in custody to appear before B’ham Mags (Birmingham Magistrates) Court tomorrow (Mon 11 March).”
A visibly furious Grealish was helped to his feet and was able to continue playing once order was restored at Birmingham’s St Andrew’s stadium.
Grealish produced the perfect response to the assault by scoring the only goal if the game in the 70th minute.
He then jumped into the stand to celebrate with the Villa fans behind the goal and was booked as a result.
“I was walking into position and then just felt a whack around the side of the face,” Grealish said.
“Obviously there’s rivalry and stuff in football but I don’t think there’s any place for that really.”
– ‘No excuses’ –
Meanwhile a Birmingham statement said: “We deplore the behaviour of the individual who committed this act and rest assured he will be banned from St. Andrew’s for life.
“What happened has no place in football or society. Jack is a Birmingham lad and regardless of club allegiance should not have been subjected to this — there are no excuses.”
Sunday also saw a worrying incident at the Emirates, the home ground of Arsenal.
After a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang penalty made it 2-0 to Arsenal — the eventual result — a lone fan ran onto the field to celebrate with the players and appeared to make contact with United defender Smalling.
“A man has been arrested on suspicion of common assault and pitch invasion following an incident during the Arsenal v Man Utd game at the Emirates Stadium today,” said a Metropolitan Police statement issued Sunday.
“He is currently in custody at a north London police station.”
After the match, Solskjaer insisted: “(There) shouldn’t be a place that someone runs onto the pitch.
“We just have to make sure we play football and they (the fans) watch football.”
It was a view shared by Arsenal boss Unai Emery, who said: “I don’t want that.”
Sunday’s incidents followed several recent episodes of hooliganism, including coin attacks on players and managers, in Scottish football, with Rangers captain James Tavernier confronted by a pitch-invading Hibernian fan after his side’s 1-1 draw at Easter Road on Friday.
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