Birmingham City fan is jailed for 14 weeks for Jack Grealish assault
Aston Villa captain says he was ‘lucky’ Paul Mitchell was not carrying a weapon
The fan who attacked Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish is escorted off the pitch at St Andrew’s. Photograph: PA
Birmingham City fan Paul Mitchell, who assaulted Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish during Sunday’s derby match, has been jailed for 14 weeks and banned from all soccer stadiums for 10 years at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court.
Mitchell had pleaded guilty at the court earlier on Monday.
Mitchell appeared in the court after being remanded in custody overnight.
Prosecutor Jonathan Purser told the court that Grealish felt lasting pain after the incident but had suffered no substantial injury from a punch to the right side of his jaw.
In a statement read into the court record by Purser, the Aston Villa captain 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.”
Earlier Mitchell’s solicitor Vaughn Whistance told the court: “He cannot explain what came over him yesterday morning. His initial foolish intention was to just go onto the pitch and whip up the crowd.”
British minister of sport Mims Davies and the head of the players’ body condemned the assault and the recent spate of football violence.
The Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive, Gordon Taylor, said the game’s authorities must consider points deductions and ground closures in order to “put a lid” on the bad behaviour of supporters.
Taylor comments came in the wake of the attacks on Grealish and Manchester United’s Chris Smalling on Sunday – the latest in a long line of aggressive incidents this season, including racist abuse, anti-Semitic chants, and fighting among rival fans.
Birmingham announced on Monday that they had banned Mitchell from St Andrew’s for life, and the club have also banned another supporter for the same term “for a series of vile and malicious tweets on social media, relating to Jack Grealish and his family”.
A club statement added: “Birmingham City FC rejects all forms of anti-social behaviour. We will not tolerate the kind of incidents we have seen during and since Sunday’s derby fixture against Aston Villa Football Club.”
Taylor said the attack on Grealish was “disgraceful” and “cowardly” and called on the FA to work with the government, police and stewards to help stamp out such incidents. “We have seen an increase in such behaviour at clubs this season,” he added. “It’s been racist abuse, it’s been anti-Semitism and now it’s real fear for the safety of players.
“From that point of view, we had a meeting just the other week with the minister for sport about engaging on this issue between the police and the stewards, which is crucial, and the responsibility of clubs about trying to get the right balance between educating supporters but also having sanctions to make sure we put a lid on it, because we’ve been down this road before and we don’t want to go there again and see the game threatened.”
When asked about what sanctions could be implemented, Taylor said: “There’s a combination you can consider – fines, ground closures, playing games behind closed doors and points deductions. Every case needs to be looked at on its merits but it has to be a job for the national association.”
Ms Davies said: “The incidents that happened over the weekend were a disgrace. It is right that they are investigated immediately and strong action is taken by the football authorities and clubs. Protecting players’ safety is of paramount importance and every possible step must be taken to ensure that they are not put at risk.”
Alan Shearer said the latest incidents proved that soccer had a “real problem” and called on the authorities to stamp it out. “There has to be the right message here,” he added. “Come down like a ton of bricks on Birmingham and punish so-called fans where it hurts, with bans and fines.
Former Aston Villa midfielder Lee Hendrie also backed Shearer’s calls for action, calling the incident at St Andrew’s the worst of its kind that he had seen. “It could have been someone running on with a knife – how are you meant to stop this?” he added. “Why do we need to wait for that to actually happen, before someone gets really hurt?”
The Birmingham defender Harlee Dean condemned the incident. “You should never fear for your safety on a football pitch and it’s disappointing to see,” he said. “There’s a lot of hate amongst the fans and stuff, which is fine to an extent, but you shouldn’t be able to come on the pitch and make contact with a player. I’m sure it will be addressed and I just hope it’s not too serious.”
The court heard Mitchell’s family members had been forced to move out of the Birmingham area after the “high-profile” incident because of online threats. Making an application for the court to withhold Mitchell’s home address, Whistance told the court: “There have been various comments posted on different social media platforms. My client’s young family have had to leave their home address to move to outside of Birmingham through fear that they would suffer serious harm or even death.”
–PA and Guardian services