A Birmingham supporter pleaded guilty Monday after punching Aston Villa’s captain in the face during a match between two of English soccer’s biggest rivals.
Paul Mitchell, 27, ran onto the field, in the early minutes of a League Championship (second-tier) game Sunday at St. Andrew’s Stadium.
He approached midfielder Jack Grealish from behind and landed a punch on the player’s face.
“Mr. Grealish felt a punch to the right side of his lower jaw, and he realized he had been assaulted by a Blues supporter,” prosecutor Jonathan Purser said. “Footage showed him taking a running swing and jumping on the back of Mr. Grealish and throwing that punch. It appears to have caused no physical injuries, fortunately.”
Grealish fell to the turf as a steward and Villa players Glenn Whelan and Tammy Abraham caught the man and dragged him away from the spot.
The Villa captain got to his feet a few seconds later, apparently unhurt, and the match continued after stewards and security personnel ushered the man, seen blowing kisses to the crowd, off the pitch.
West Midlands police later said they had charged Mitchell with “invading the pitch and assaulting Aston Villa player Jack Grealish during the Second City derby.”
Grealish later had the last laugh, scoring to give Villa a 1-0 victory that saw them leapfrog their Midlands rivals and move up to ninth in the standings, a point ahead of Birmingham.
Mitchell entered his guilty plea at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court.
“My client doesn’t seek to justify his behaviour at all,” said Mitchell’s lawyer, Vaughn Whistance.
“He has brought shame upon himself and his family … and the football club he has supported since he was a child.
“He apologizes to Aston Villa and, in particular, Jack Grealish for his terrible behaviour. He cannot explain what came over him. He is certainly remorseful today.”
“There’s rivalry and stuff in football, but I don’t think there’s any place for that,” Grealish told Sky Sports. “I just tried to get on with my job, really, and I think I did.”
“It’s the best day of my life, to come here for the first time as Villa captain and score the winner is what dreams are made of,” he continued.
Birmingham City apologized to Grealish and Villa, saying the supporter would be banned from the stadium.
“We deplore the behaviour of the individual who committed this act, and rest assured, he will be banned from St. Andrew’s for life,” the club said in a statement on their website.
“The club will also support any further punishment this individual may face in the eyes of the law… What happened has no place in football or society.”
The English Football League (EFL) condemned the actions of the supporter, promising to work with the relevant parties to address the issue and take appropriate action.
“It’s a situation no player should ever be faced with,” the EFL said in a statement.
“In all circumstances, the playing surface is for players, not supporters, and those playing in the game must be able to do so safe in the knowledge they will not be subjected to this type of behaviour.”
—With files from the Associated Press and Reuters
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