PAUL MERSON has slammed an incident involving a Birmingham City fan and Aston Villa star Jack Grealish as the “worst I have seen on a football pitch”.
Paul Mitchell, 27, was jailed for 14 weeks on Monday and given a 10-year banning order from all stadiums after running onto the pitch and attacking Villa captain Grealish in Sunday’s derby game at Birmingham.
Mitchell admitted assault and encroachment on to the pitch early in the game at St Andrews and a statement from his solicitor said after that he “cannot explain what came over him yesterday morning.
“His initial foolish intention was to just go on to the pitch and whip up the crowd,” it added.
Ironically, Grealish was able to continue with the game at St Andrews and went on to score the winning goal in the 67th minute.
Speaking on Sky Sports’ The Debate, Merson, who played for Aston Villa for four years between 1998 and 2002, condemned the incident, saying that something needs to be down about the issues surrounding people running on the pitch before something really bad happens.
There were also two other incidents just this weekend involving games between Arsenal and Manchester United and Hibernian and Rangers.
“It was the worst I’ve seen on the football pitch. Sometimes abroad, you see people coming through and kicking players or the ref, but in England, I haven’t seen anybody do that before,” said Merson.
“It has to be bigger sentences, because some people will swallow seven weeks in prison for hero status.
“It was the worst I’ve seen on the football pitch”
“You can’t start closing stadiums. Clubs can’t be punished for someone’s stupidity all the time. There are good people in those stadiums and good people who own the clubs. They can’t be punished for one silly, silly person.
“I keep hearing about the points. When you take points off someone and you say ‘take two points off them’, it’s not just two points because if a team gets relegated because of that, a lot of people lose their jobs.
“It’s like when a team gets relegated and people say ‘oh don’t worry, they’ll be back next year’ – they might be back, but the people working behind the scenes might not be back. They’re losing their jobs.
“Don’t punish working class people, by punishing them for someone who has made an unbelievable mistake, otherwise we might as well all play behind closed doors and ask people to watch it on the telly because clubs can’t afford to have anyone in their ground.”
Dion Dublin – who took part in a Second City derby as a player – says only time will tell if the prison sentence will act as a deterrent, as he gave his view as an ex-pro on what a player could do.
“The only way to stop it 100 per cent is to put fencing in, although that wouldn’t be fair to the 99 per cent who are spot on. Do you give bigger fines? Or ban him for life completely at all football venues and give him a bigger sentence?” said the former Villa striker.
“If you’ve got individuals who go onto the pitch and want to do something wrong and dangerous, put him in prison. If you go over the white line, you go to prison. We don’t know what’s going to happen now, but if it doesn’t happen again, it was the right sentence.
“As a player, if you see someone running towards you, you forget about being a player and you become a human being. For me, if someone comes running towards me and I can tell by his aggressive nature that he’s after me, either I run away or you have to protect yourself.
“And if it’s a point where you have to protect yourself, you’ve got to do it. What do you do, take it on the chin and say ‘oh you’ll get a ban for that’? You’ve got to protect yourself because it’s dangerous.”