A pitch invader who punched Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish on the jaw has been jailed for 14 weeks and ordered to pay the star £100 in compensation.
Birmingham City fan Paul Mitchell, 27, was told that a deterrent sentence was necessary in the interests of justice for the “completely unacceptable” attack during Sunday’s Birmingham derby match.
The city’s magistrates court heard father-of-one Mitchell, of Rubery, Birmingham, told police who led him off the pitch that he “always thought Jack Grealish was a knob”.
The pub worker admitted common assault and pitch encroachment at the hearing on Monday, 24 hours after running towards Grealish from behind and lashing out.
Chairman of the bench Alison Fisher and another magistrate ordered Mitchell to pay £100 to Grealish as compensation for the “pain, discomfort and shock” caused by the assault.
Mitchell was also hit with a £115 victim surcharge and £135 in prosecution costs, and given a fortnight to pay the total sum of £350.
As Mitchell – who was holding the jacket he wore during the offence – remained calm in the dock, Mrs Fisher told him: “This was an unprovoked attack on a footballer who was simply doing his job.
“It was a single punch but with enough force to knock Mr Grealish to the ground.
“We have been told there were no lasting injuries to Mr Grealish.
“However this type of behaviour is completely unacceptable, a view shared by your own football club.
“Mr Grealish has stated that he was shocked and scared and feels lucky that it wasn’t worse.
“The court must send a message that players such as Mr Grealish are entitled to protection.
“We have therefore gone outside of our guidelines in the interests of justice.”
In a statement read to magistrates from Grealish, who went on to score the winning goal in Sunday’s game, he 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 blew kisses to Birmingham City fans as he was led away by stewards following the attack in the ninth minute of the Championship fixture.
The former Blues season ticket-holder claims not to have been drunk at the time of the offence.
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 – and a separate incident in which Manchester United defender Chris Smalling was confronted by a fan on the pitch during a match against Arsenal – 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.
Police have charged 30-year-old Gary Cooper, from Chertsey, Surrey, with assault and pitch invasion following the incident during Arsenal’s 2-0 win on Sunday.
Meanwhile, West Midlands Police said the force was conducting a post-match inquiry into “a number of incidents” before, during and after the Birmingham derby game.
In a statement, the force said its footballing unit would also be looking at “offensive tweets which are offences under the Communications Act”.