West Midlands Police have charged 27-year-old Paul Mitchell with invading the pitch and assault after Jack Grealish was attacked during Sunday’s derby between Birmingham City and Aston Villa at St Andrew’s.
Mitchell, a Birmingham fan from the Worcestershire village of Rubery, will appear in front of Magistrates on Monday.
West Midlands Police announced late on Sunday night that they had detained and charged the man who they believe was responsible for the shameful incident in the first half of Sunday’s derby, a sequence of events that shamed football and provoked much soul-searching around the league.
“We’ve this evening (Sun 10 March) charged a man with invading the pitch and assaulting Aston Villa player Jack Grealish during the Second City derby,” West Midlands Police tweeted.
“Paul Mitchell, aged 27, of Rubery, has been remanded in custody to appear before B’ham Mags Court tomorrow (Mon 11 March).”
The safety of players is at the top of the agenda after Grealish was attacked on the pitch and Chris Smalling was confronted during Manchester United’s defeat at Arsenal, with the Professional Footballers’ Association calling for a full inquiry after a dark day for the sport.
Two fans were arrested following separate incidents on Sunday, with Aston Villa skipper Grealish punched by a fan just hours before Smalling was ran at and appeared to be pushed by a supporter during Manchester United’s 2-0 loss on Sunday.
Grealish was struck on the side of the head after nine minutes as he stood in Birmingham’s penalty area during the Second City derby, but went on to hail it the ‘best day of his life’, recovering from being punched to score the winner in the Second City derby.
Birmingham have confirmed Mitchell will be banned for life from St Andrew’s.
Arsenal later pledged the same treatment for their invader, with the nasty incidents following on from Friday, when Rangers captain James Tavernier found himself face to face with a fan who had jumped out of the Hibernian support before being led away.
In a statement released before the Smalling incident the PFA said: “The PFA condemns in the strongest possible terms the actions of the individual who has encroached on the field of play and attacked Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish.
“There needs to be a full inquiry into the incident to ascertain why in a fixture with such a charged history, a fan was able to run onto the pitch virtually unchallenged and assault a player.
“The PFA is concerned that we’ve seen elements of this type of behaviour coming back into the game, with several high-profile crowd related issues this season.
“Over the last few decades there has been a great improvement in matchday security however incidents like this demonstrate certain problems have not been eradicated and that players can be particularly vulnerable.
“We must address issues of violence and player safety – this should include continued efforts with regards to education but be underpinned by strong punishments and sanctions.”
Grealish scored a 67th-minute winner and later told Sky Sports Football: “Best day of my life. To come here, captain Aston Villa and score the winner is what dreams are made of, especially for me as a Villa fan.”
Birmingham issued a statement apologising to Grealish while Villa also released their own statement saying: “A red line has been crossed by this cowardly on-field assault on a player, which is unprecedented in English football.” Villa boss Dean Smith also called the individual “mindless moron”.
West Midlands police also confirmed a steward was “spoken to” in the aftermath of the Villa goal after television footage appeared to show him pushing Grealish as the player celebrated but no offence had been reported.
After Smalling was confronted at the Emirates Arsenal released a statement, saying: “We utterly condemn the behaviour of the individual who ran onto 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 individual was apprehended and arrested.”
The EFL and Football Association condemned the incidents, while the Premier League was contacted for comment.
Additional reporting by agencies