Soccer field

Invasions of English football pitches see players punched, pushed

Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish was tackled by a spectator at the start of his side’s derby game in Birmingham

LONDON — In an allegedly malicious moment, a pitch invader hits a player. In an apparent attempt to join in the goal celebrations, a fan pushes an opposing player.

The first incident happened in the opening minutes of the match known as the ‘Second City Derby’ in Birmingham. A fan charged onto the pitch and surprised Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, swinging a right arm and hitting the side of his head.

The pitch intruder – later identified as Paul Mitchell – was quickly restrained by a stadium security official as Villa players rushed to confront him at the start of the Second Division Championship game. Mitchell, 27, was led away by police, blowing kisses at the crowd. He was later charged with assaulting Grealish and invading the grounds, and held in custody ahead of a court appearance on Monday.

Hours later in rainy north London after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored Arsenal’s second goal from the penalty spot in a 2-0 Premier League win over Manchester United, a fan s rushed to the field. As he ran towards the celebrating Arsenal players, he pushed United defender Chris Smalling.

“It’s obviously a problem with the one from earlier today,” United’s Ashley Young told beIN Sports.

The Metropolitan Police said a man was in custody on Sunday evening after being arrested on ‘suspected common assault and invasion of land’. Arsenal said the man would be banned from their games – home and away.

“We totally condemn the behavior of the individual who ran onto the pitch and approached Chris Smalling,” Arsenal said in a statement. “We would like to apologize to Chris and Manchester United, and are pleased the individual has been apprehended and arrested. We will be working closely with the Metropolitan Police in their investigation.”

In Birmingham, Grealish responded to the violence by scoring a second-half goal that secured a 1-0 victory for Villa. But he was booked for jumping into the stands to celebrate with visiting Villa fans.

“I just tried to continue my work,” Grealish said. “Scoring the winner was amazing, after what happened in the first half I think it was planned for that.”

The contest organizer said it “condemns the senseless actions” of the man who attacked Grealish.

“This is a situation that no player should ever face,” the English Football League said in a statement. “In all circumstances, the playing surface is for the players, not the fans. Those who play in the game must be able to do so in the safety of knowing that they will not be subjected to this type of behaviour.

“We will work with all parties involved to resolve the issue of player and match official safety on the pitch and ensure that appropriate action is taken.”

Birmingham said it would assist authorities with their investigations and review stadium security procedures. Precautionary measures have already been taken to try to reduce the risk of violence.

“We start Sunday at (noon) for a reason, to keep people out of pubs,” Villa manager Dean Smith said. “Security has to be ready for people coming onto the pitch, but a madman is still trying to make a name for himself.”

The attack follows a number of recent high-profile incidents of crowd disorder north of the border in Scottish football.

During a Scottish Premiership game on Friday night, Rangers captain James Tavernier came face to face with a Hibernian fan who had jumped from the home support stand. The previous weekend, a glass bottle was thrown from the same section of the stadium as Celtic winger Scott Sinclair was about to take a corner during a game at Hibernian.


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