PFA chief Gordon Taylor warns of ‘tragedy’ if fan behaviour is not curbed

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Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive Gordon Taylor has called for urgent action to stop football fans invading pitches to confront players before a ‘tragedy’ occurs.

Two supporters were arrested for separate pitch invasions on Sunday with Aston Villa player Jack Grealish punched during their derby match with Birmingham City.

Appearing at court on Monday, Paul Mitchell, a Birmingham fan, pleaded guilty to assaulting Grealish.


And Manchester United defender Chris Smalling was shoved by a pitch invader during their defeat to Arsenal later in the day.

PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor has called for urgent action to curb anti-social behaviour by football fans before a 'tragedy' happens after three incidents over the weekend

PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor has called for urgent action to curb anti-social behaviour by football fans before a ‘tragedy’ happens after three incidents over the weekend

Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish was assaulted by a pitch invader during Sunday's derby match with Birmingham City at St Andrew's

Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish was assaulted by a pitch invader during Sunday’s derby match with Birmingham City at St Andrew’s

An Arsenal supporter ran onto the pitch and clashed with Manchester United's Chris Smalling in the second incident of fan trouble on Sunday

An Arsenal supporter ran onto the pitch and clashed with Manchester United’s Chris Smalling in the second incident of fan trouble on Sunday

The incidents came after Rangers player James Tavernier was confronted by a spectator during their match at Hibernian on Friday night.

And PFA Chief Taylor is concerned these incidents are part of a worrying trend of anti-social behaviour at football grounds in Britain this season.

He told Sky Sports: ‘It was disgraceful, cowardly and criminal but we have seen an increase in such behaviour at clubs this season.

‘There has been racist abuse, there has been anti-Semitism and now there is real fear for the safety of players.

‘From that point of view, we had a meeting just the other week with the Minister for Sport, Mims Davies, about engaging on this issue between the police and the stewards, which is crucial, and the responsibility of clubs.

‘We need to find the right balance between educating supporters who are there, and also having sanctions.

‘We have to make sure we put a lid on it. We have been down this road before and we do not want to go there again and see the game threatened.’

The pitch invader at Birmingham struck Grealish in the head with his right hand from behind, knocking the Villa midfielder over

 The pitch invader at Birmingham struck Grealish in the head with his right hand from behind, knocking the Villa midfielder over

Thankfully the 23-year-old did not appear to be badly hurt and the man was restrained

 Thankfully the 23-year-old did not appear to be badly hurt and the man was restrained

A steward and the players quickly ran over to deal with the pitch invader after the incident

A steward and the players quickly ran over to deal with the pitch invader after the incident

Taylor called for discussions between the government, police authorities, football clubs and stewards to curb the rise of such behaviour before a player is seriously harmed.

‘These are criminal acts,’ Taylor said. ‘If it happened on the high street there would be severe action taken. There is no reason why that should not be done just because it is a football ground.

‘There is a combination of sanctions [for clubs] with fines, ground closures, games behind closed doors and points deductions. Every case will be looked at on its merits.

‘It has almost been a copycat of what has been happening. We have had three incidents this weekend. We have had other incidents this season.

‘It seems to be a time when these things are coming back. We need to improve the atmosphere.

‘You can have commitment and enjoyment and it is great entertainment but when it bubbles over to this it is no longer what we want it to be. It is about setting an example.

Aston Villa players ran over to confront the man but they were able to keep their cool

Aston Villa players ran over to confront the man but they were able to keep their cool

Birmingham City players rushed over to check on their opponent and apologise for the attack

Birmingham City players rushed over to check on their opponent and apologise for the attack

The man was led away by police and stewards, blowing kisses to the crowd on his way out

The man was led away by police and stewards, blowing kisses to the crowd on his way out

‘We have been warned now on too many occasions. This has got to be dealt with by the football bodies, the police, the stewards and the clubs. There is a total responsibility.

‘We have got to address it now. If not, it is going to be too late and there is going to be a tragedy.’

Mitchell, 27, appeared at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on Monday over the incident at St Andrew’s Stadium in which he attacked Grealish, 23, with a punch from behind after running onto the pitch.

The married father-of-one, of Rubery, near Birmingham, has been banned from the club for life.

Mitchell saluted fellow Birmingham fans, some of whom applauded his actions, as he was removed from the pitch by stewards.

The incident occurred in the ninth minute of the game when flat-cap wearing Mitchell ran onto the field from the Tilton End and appeared to punch Grealish in the head from behind.

Stewards quickly grabbed the invader at Arsenal before escorting him off the pitch

Stewards quickly grabbed the invader at Arsenal before escorting him off the pitch

PFA chief Taylor has called for the government to lead a response to the anti-social behaviour

PFA chief Taylor has called for the government to lead a response to the anti-social behaviour

The 23-year-old fell to the floor but was not badly hurt. A steward, helped by both sets of players, then restrained Mitchell.

Shortly after the incident Grealish scored what would end up being the match-winning goal and jumped over the hoardings to celebrate.

A steward restraining him appeared to kick the Aston Villa captain and was later led away by police.

Later in the afternoon at the Emirates Stadium, a spectator ran onto the pitch and pushed United and England defender Smalling shortly after Arsenal had scored their second goal.

Smalling was unhurt and the fan was taken off the pitch and arrested after running over to celebrating Arsenal players.

An Arsenal spokesperson said: ‘We utterly condemn the behaviour of the individual who ran on to the pitch and approached Chris Smalling during today’s match.

‘We would like to apologise to Chris and Manchester United, and are pleased that [the spectator] was apprehended and arrested. We will be working closely with the Metropolitan Police in their investigation.

Rangers player James Tavernier was confronted by a spectator during their match at Hibernian on Friday evening

Rangers player James Tavernier was confronted by a spectator during their match at Hibernian on Friday evening

A 21-year-old man was arrested for invading the pitch at Easter Road to confront Tavernier

A 21-year-old man was arrested for invading the pitch at Easter Road to confront Tavernier

‘The individual will also be banned from Arsenal matches home and away. Our matchday staff receive ongoing training on managing incidents such as this.’

Shortly after the match, a statement from the Metropolitan Police said: ‘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.’

A 21-year-old was arrested after he ran onto the pitch to confront Rangers captain Tavernier during their match at Hibernian’s Easter Road stadium on Friday night.

The man attemped to kick the ball away from Tavernier as he moved to pick it up to take a throw in. The two then laid hands on each other before the fan was led away by police.

Worrying rise of football incidents

Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish was punched by a pitch invader during his side’s derby clash at Birmingham on Sunday, while Manchester United’s Chris Smalling appeared to be pushed by an Arsenal fan.

Grealish was struck on the head early in the match, but went on to score the winner in Villa’s 1-0 win while his attacker was arrested by West Midlands police.

A man was also arrested in London as Smalling appeared to be pushed after his side conceded the second goal in their 2-0 defeat at Arsenal.

The assaults were the latest examples of crowd trouble which has blighted English and Scottish football in recent weeks and, here, Press Association Sport takes a look at the unsavoury incidents.

Sectarian abuse at Rangers

Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke was targeted with sectarian abuse during his side’s 5-0 William Hill Scottish Cup defeat by Rangers. Chants of ‘sad Fenian b*****d’ echoed round Ibrox during the February 20 clash and afterwards Clarke accused the Rangers support of living in the Dark Ages. He added: ‘What are we doing in Scotland?’

Hibernian’s shame part one

A glass bottle was thrown from the Hibernian support as Celtic winger Scott Sinclair prepared to take a corner during a Scottish Cup match at Easter Road on March 2. Referee Willie Collum had to remove the bottle before play resumed, while a flare was thrown on the field after James Forrest’s opening goal in Celtic’s 2-0 win. Celtic interim boss Neil Lennon condemned the incident as ‘totally unacceptable’.

Steel City derby trouble

Sheffield United defender Jack O’Connell had a coin and a plastic bottle thrown at him from the crowd as he prepared to take a throw-in during the goalless Championship draw at Sheffield Wednesday on March 4. Blades boss Chris Wilder condemned the derby atmosphere, saying: ‘It’s gone pretty hostile now and I don’t think anybody wants to see that. I’m disappointed it’s gone that way and you can’t really do a lot about it.’

Hibernian’s shame part two

In their Ladbrokes Premiership match at Hibernian on Friday, Rangers captain James Tavernier was confronted by a man who had leapt from the same stand as the bottle was thrown against Celtic. As Tavernier bent down to pick up the ball on the stroke of half-time, the pitch invader booted the ball from his hands before being quickly led away after squaring up to the Englishman. A 21-year-old man was arrested and Hibs chief executive Leeann Dempster refused to rule out closing sections of Easter Road in the wake of the incident.

Disgraceful attack at Birmingham

Grealish was punched in the side of the head by a spectator who ran on to the pitch inside the opening 10 minutes at St Andrew’s. The intruder was quickly restrained by stewards as several other Villa players rushed in to confront him and he was led away by police, blowing kisses to the crowd as he left. He was later arrested and is set to be banned from Birmingham’s ground for life.

Smalling pushed

Arsenal moved swiftly to confirm a man had been arrested for appearing to push the United defender in the wake of the home side’s second goal in a 2-0 win at the Emirates.

The invader ran on the field and then towards Smalling, before continuing his intrusion and ultimately being dragged out.

BY PRESS ASSOCIATION

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