I’m lucky, fan attack could have been so much worse, Jack Grealish tells court
Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish believes he was “lucky” a Birmingham City fan who attacked him was not armed with a weapon, a court has heard.
In a statement read to Birmingham Magistrates’ Court, Grealish also said he was surprised how easy it was for Blues supporter Paul Mitchell to get on to the pitch and run towards him.
Mitchell, 27, of Rubery, will be sentenced later on Monday after pleading guilty to assaulting Grealish, as well as a charge of encroaching on to the playing surface during Sunday’s Birmingham derby.
The former Birmingham City season ticket-holder – a father-of-one – claims not to have been drunk when he launched the on-field assault in the ninth minute of the match.
The court was told pub worker Mitchell was wrestled off the playing surface by stewards, allegedly telling police he thought Grealish “was a knob”.
Prosecutor Jonathan Purser told the court: “Mr Grealish felt a punch to the right side of his lower jaw and he realised he has been assaulted by a Blues supporter.
“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, the court heard, was left shocked by the incident but went on to score the only goal of the game.
Mr Purser said of the midfielder: “At the time he felt pain to his lower right jaw. The pain was lasting, though it didn’t stop him playing.”
The footballer was surprised at how easily Mitchell – who has been banned for life by Birmingham City – was able to run on to the pitch, Mr Purser said.
In a statement read into the court record by the prosecutor, the Aston Villa captain said: “I cannot help but feel how lucky I was in this incident.
“It could have so much worse had the supporter had some sort of weapon.”
Summarising Grealish’s statement, Mr Purser added: “He was simply doing his job and didn’t expect to be assaulted by anyone.”
Defence solicitor Vaughn Whistance told the court: “My client doesn’t seek to justify his behaviour at all.
“He has brought shame upon himself and his family … and the football club he has supported since he was a child.
“He apologises to Aston Villa and in particular Jack Grealish for his terrible behaviour. He cannot explain what came over him. He is certainly remorseful today.”
Speaking after the assault at St Andrew’s – and a separate incident in which Manchester United defender Chris Smalling was confronted by a fan on the pitch – former England striker Alan Shearer warned players’ lives could be at risk unless the authorities take urgent action.
“It is absolutely disgusting and if we don’t stamp it out now, next time it could be a knife,” Shearer said in his column in The Sun.
“It’s that serious. Where are we at in football when some thug thinks that is what he is going to do?”