Jack Grealish attacked as fan violence rocks English football

Two fans were arrested for separate pitch invasions yesterday as Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish was punched while Manchester United’s Chris Smalling appeared to be pushed.

Jack Grealish, who was earlier attacked by a fan, celebrates scoring Aston Villa's winning goal against Birmingham. Picture: Getty.
Jack Grealish, who was earlier attacked by a fan, celebrates scoring Aston Villa's winning goal against Birmingham. Picture: Getty.

The scenes are likely to spark a widespread discussion about safety at grounds everywhere, especially as they came on the back of Friday night’s incident when Rangers captain James Tavernier was confronted by a Hibs supporter at Easter Road.

Grealish recovered from being punched by a Birmingham fan to score the winner in the Second City derby at St Andrew’s, while Arsenal moved swiftly to confirm a man had been arrested for appearing to push the England defender in the wake of the home side’s second goal in a 2-0 win at the Emirates.

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The Metropolitan Police added: “A man has been arrested on suspicion of common assault and pitch invasion following an incident during the Arsenal v Man Utd game at the Emirates Stadium today. He is currently in custody at a north London police station.”

Arsenal are likely to invoke a lifetime ban on the culprit, which Birmingham have also pledged to do after the sickening lunchtime scenes. Grealish was struck on the side of the head by a spectator who ran on to the field less than ten minutes into the match and threw a punch from behind the midfielder as he stood in the Birmingham penalty area.

The intruder was quickly restrained by stewards as several other Villa players rushed in to confront him. He was led away by police, blowing kisses to the crowd as he left.

West Midlands police confirmed a 27-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of encroachment on to the pitch and assault and remained in custody for questioning.

Grealish, pictured, thankfully appeared unhurt and was comforted by team-mates and opponents. He went on to net the only goal with a low, angled shot in the 
second half.

On the incident with the spectator, he said: “I was just unaware at the time, I was walking into position and then just felt a whack around the side of the face.

“Obviously there’s rivalry and stuff in football but I don’t think there’s any place for that really.”

His team-mate Conor Hourihane branded the attack “absolutely disgusting,” adding: “Full credit to [Grealish], he showed his class, got the winner and had the last laugh.”

Villa said they were “appalled” by the “disgraceful attack” and called on the culprit to feel “the full force of the law”. A club statement read: “A red line has been crossed by this cowardly on-field assault on a player, which is unprecedented in English football. We trust the perpetrator will feel the full force of the law and the authorities investigate the circumstances surrounding today’s deplorable incident.”

Birmingham apologised to Grealish and their rivals and said they would undertake a review of their safety procedures. A statement read: “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 will also support any further punishment this individual may face in the eyes of the law. The club will be working with the relevant authorities to investigate all the circumstances and we will be reviewing our stadium safety procedures. What happened has no place in football or society. Again, we apologise to Jack and all at Aston Villa Football Club.”

Birmingham boss Garry Monk also blasted the violent act and wants the offender punished. “I’m not just speaking for everyone at Birmingham but everyone in football; that cannot happen on a football pitch,” he said. “The guy who has done it needs to be punished severely and given the ultimate punishment he can be.”

Villa manager Dean Smith added: “Security should be better, it’s why we kick off at 12pm on a Sunday to keep them out of the pub. Unfortunately some mindless moron has gone on the pitch and attacked Jack and then you have 15,000 idiots clapping him as well which doesn’t help. It’s disgraceful, we have to educate society a little bit.”