March 11, 2019 12:46 pm
Updated: March 11, 2019 1:09 pm

Aston Villa captain punched in face by fan, scores winning goal

WATCH: Soccer player attacked from behind during match

A A

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.

READ MORE: Hamilton’s Forge FC looks to set attendance record with free tickets to opener

A fan is restrained by a steward after invading the pitch and attacking Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish during a match, March 10, 2019.

Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine

“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.

Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish sits on the floor after being attacked by a fan on March 10, 2019, while playing Birmingham City at St. Andrew’s Stadium.

Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine

Story continues below

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.

READ MORE: Hamilton’s Forge FC lands former Impact midfielder, Choinière

“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.”

Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish celebrates scoring the winning goal of a 1-0 victory over Birmingham on March 10, 2019.

Action Images via Reuters/Craig Brough

“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.”

READ MORE: Canada men’s soccer team coach bullish about qualifying for 2022 FIFA World Cup

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

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Report an error

Comments

Want to discuss? Please read our Commenting Policy first.