Fan who punched Grealish jailed; gets 10-year stadium ban

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The justice system in the UK has acted swiftly, as the fan who punched Jack Grealish on Sunday has already been sent to prison.

Paul Mitchell, a Birmingham City fan, pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to 14 weeks in prison. He has also been banned from going to any football stadium in the UK for the next 10 years and was fined $458.

Mitchell, 27, ran onto the pitch during the second-city derby in England’s second-tier on Sunday and punched Aston Villa star Grealish.

The Villa captain was knocked to the floor, but then had the last laugh as he went on to score the winning goal in a 1-0 victory.

[ MORE: Grealish reacts to being punched ]

Birmingham City have released a statement on the fan being jailed.

“Birmingham City Football Club welcomes the sentence handed down to Paul Mitchell by Birmingham Magistrates today. What he did was unacceptable and has no place in football. The Club can confirm that Mr Mitchell is banned from our home ground, the St. Andrew’s Trillion Trophy Stadium, for life. And nor will he have access to purchase tickets for away games involving Birmingham City Football Club, or have tickets purchased on his behalf.”

“The Club has also banned another supporter for life for a series of vile and malicious Tweets on social media, relating to Jack Grealish and his family. The individual in question remains the subject of an ongoing investigation by West Midlands Police.”

Click play on the video above to watch the shocking incident, as three separate incidents involving fans running on the pitch took place over the weekend in the UK.

Glasgow Rangers James Tavernier was confronted by a Hibernian fan in Edinburgh on Friday, while Man United’s Chris Smalling was barged into by an Arsenal fan who ran onto the pitch at the Emirates Stadium in celebration on Sunday.

Players must shun pitch invaders or risk more on-field attacks

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Over the past few years, pitch invaders have become a constant bane of stadium security in the game across the world. The stewards guard the sideline and give chase when needed, but the publicity received often sways those bold enough to jump the fence.

Fortunately, the tamer version of the events largely outnumber the more aggressive ones, but no matter how sparse, the violent incidents are reprehensible in a manner that makes them inexcusable. The players are exposed on the field, and pitch invaders who evade immediate capture pose a significant threat if filled with ill-intentions.

Consider the incident with Jack Grealish on Sunday morning. The Aston Villa star, captaining the side for the first time, was rushed by a fan in the stands who sucker punched the 23-year-old in the head from behind. Grealish did not see it coming, and it is by nothing outside of blind luck that the punch was not more devastating.

Now consider the possibilities of a violent pitch invader reaching a player with a more sinister instrument besides his bare fist. If fans can sneak pyrotechnics into a stadium, they surely can work in a knife or a shiv or something worse. Just a single occurrence of that nature would send shockwaves through the soccer community and undoubtedly result in sweeping changes in stadium security and fan access to the game.

So what has buoyed fans to run onto the pitch at such a rate? Consider the aforementioned tamer versions of these incidents. Players with worldwide star power like Neymar, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo have all faced pitch invaders with clearly harmless intentions in the recent past, and have treated them with kindness, often interacting in a positive manner with these folks, even occasionally offering to take a selfie, sign their shirt, or give up their own clothing or gear. Often times those running onto the pitch are children, hoping to earn a moment with their lifelong idol, unaware to fully grasp the true extent of the consequences.

While those moments are precious and make for beautiful opportunities to praise the graciousness of the players, they have potentially ugly side effects. As the benign pitch invaders make waves across the viral community, it serves to spark and embolden those who may have more malicious intentions. In the end, it is impossible to know the true nature of a pitch invader’s intent until they reach the player they intend to target.

Players, therefore, have a responsibility to their fellow athletes to turn away and shun pitch invaders and allow stewards and security officials to do their job protecting those exposed on the field. As unfortunate as it is, the days of adorable moments between players and pitch invaders should end soon, or the game risks the safety of its players and the relatively generous access to their favorite clubs and role models they enjoy these days.

Pitch invasion has no place in the game of football, innocuous or otherwise, and when stadium security fails as the first line of defense to protect those on the field, it falls to the players to stop glamorizing the attention-seekers and do their best to dissuade any more violent encounters.

Grealish reacts to attack by pitch invader, match-winning goal

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Jack Grealish was on Cloud Nine before he was face down in the 18.

The Aston Villa man was handed the captain’s arm band for a Sunday derby at Birmingham City, and incredibly proud of it.

[ MORE: Liverpool-Burnley recap ]

But early in the Second City Derby, a pitch invader attacked Grealish from behind. The punch in the side of the face floored Grealish, and teammates rushed to his aid.

“I was just unaware at the time,” Grealish said. “I was walking into position and I just felt a whack around the side of the face. Obviously there’s rivalry in football but I don’t think there’s any place for that really.”

Grealish would get the last laugh, scoring the lone goal as Villa kept its promotion playoff hopes alive and leapt over Birmingham City on the table.

“I just tried to get on with my job in the end and I think I did. It was unbelievable to get the winner in front of the fans after what happened. … It’s the best day of my life to come here for the first time, captain Aston Villa and score the winner. It’s what dreams are made of, especially being an Aston Villa fan.”

As for the managers, Villa boss Dean Smith ripped the security at St. Andrew’s while Blues manager Garry Monk said that “one idiot does not reflect Birmingham fans and I’m sure they don’t condone it as well.”

Birmingham City apologized to Grealish and Villa, saying the act has “no place in football or society.” The club said in a release that the fan will be banned from St. Andrew’s forever, and that it will back the fullest enforcement of the law.

Pitch invader sucker punches Aston Villa’s Grealish

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There’s been an absolutely stunning and sickening scene at St. Andrew’s, where the Second City Derby has become a second-class story.

That’s because a Birmingham City fan charged onto the pitch and sucker-punched Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish from behind.

[ MORE: Grealish, clubs react | Championship Focus ]

The fan was immediately met by Villa players Conor Hourihane and Glenn Whelan.

It’s disgusting stuff, no hyperbole, and will certainly result in criminal charges.

Both clubs are on the outskirts of the promotion playoff picture.

Wild 3-goal comeback sees Aston Villa remain in playoff hunt

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Aston Villa remained within striking distance of the Championship top six with a bonkers three-goal comeback to earn a 3-3 draw against third-placed Sheffield United.

A hat-trick from Billy Sharp had Sheffield 3-0 up just past the hour mark, but the home side was not finished at Villa Park, with three goals in the final eight minutes-plus from Tyrone Mings, Tammy Abraham, and Andre Green sealing the remarkable comeback.

Sharp’s goals were all too easy, with the third capping off the comedy of errors in the 62nd minute as he remained remarkably open at the back post to head home a lofted cross by Kieran Dowell. From there, however, Aston Villa completely turned things around.

With the home side turning on the afterburners, Villa out-passed Sheffield in the attacking third 57-24 and out-crossed the visitors 14-0. They got on the board in the 82nd minute as Mings headed in a corner from close range, and bagged the second four minutes later as he tapped in the rebound of a saved Glenn Whelan free-kick.

Finally, with time winding down, Villa equalized in the fourth minute of stoppage time as John McGinn latched ontoJack O’Connell’s whiffed clear and sent in a right-footed cross from just outside the six-yard box. Green rose high above his defender George Baldock, and headed into the back of the net as Villa Park exploded.

The draw pulls Aston Villa within three points of a playoff position, although they have played two games more than most teams directly above them. For Sheffield, the dropped points are enormous, as a win would have brought them above both Norwich City and Leeds United into the Championship lead on goal differential. Instead, they remain in third two points back.