Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish was struck on the back of the head by a punch thrown by a Birmingham City supporter during their latest match on Sunday afternoon.
The Birmingham supporter, named as Paul Michell, ran onto the pitch in the ninth minute past security and threw a punch as Grealish who had his back turned to Michell.
Grealish was knocked to the ground following the punch but handled himself well by not reacting to the incident.
Stadium security quickly restrained Michell and escorted him off the pitch away from Grealish’s angry teammates.
Michell recently appeared in court for the assault and was sentenced to 14 weeks in prison and banned from all football stadiums for ten years.
A statement from Grealish, read in court by prosecutor Jonathan Purser 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.”
Mitchell’s solicitor 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.”
The incident is a wake-up call for the Football Association to tackle the issue of player safety during matches and are expected to provide a harsh punishment on Birmingham City for the actions of their fan.
The FA said:
“This weekend a line has been crossed in terms of fan behaviour. On Sunday we saw two separate incidents, at Birmingham City and Arsenal, of individuals entering the field of play and assaulting players,” the FA statement read.
“Not only is it an offence to enter the pitch, which could result in a club ban and criminal charges for the individual, but it also puts the safety of the players at risk. This is entirely unacceptable and we strongly condemn both incidents.
“We will be working with the clubs, the leagues and the police to discuss what collectively needs to be done to protect players and officials on the pitch.
“In addition, we have written to both Birmingham City and Arsenal to seek their observations and examine the security measures they had in place.”
Following the incident on Sunday, Grealish was able to continue and went on to score the winning goal for Aston Villa in a 1-0 victory.
Both Aston Villa and Birmingham City released statements after the game.
Aston Villa said:
“A red line has been crossed by this cowardly on-field assault on a player, which is unprecedented in English football,” Villa’s club statement read.
“We trust the perpetrator will feel the full force of the law and the authorities investigate the circumstances surrounding today’s deplorable incident.
“Local rivalries are part of the fabric of the game. However, as we are sure our friends at Birmingham City would agree, to have a player’s personal safety placed under such jeopardy is a serious cause for concern for the entire football community.”
While Birmingham City responded:
“We deplore the behaviour of the individual who committed this act and rest assured he will be banned from St Andrew’s for life,” a club statement read.
“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. Jack is a Birmingham lad and regardless of club allegiance should not have been subjected to this – there are no excuses.
“Again, we apologise to Jack and all at Aston Villa Football Club.”