Published time: 10 Mar, 2019 15:43 Edited time: 10 Mar, 2019 18:07
Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish had a day to remember at St. Andrews after first being attacked by a crazed Birmingham City fan but then going on to score the winning goal in a crazy Second City derby on Sunday.
In a shocking opening to the derby clash between Birmingham City and Aston Villa on Sunday lunchtime, a Birmingham fan ran onto the pitch and attacked Grealish, striking the Villa midfielder in the back of the head.
The crazed fan was accosted by matchday stewards and was led away while he triumphantly blew kisses toward his fellow Blues fans.
West Midlands Police tweeted a statement confirming an arrest had been made in connection with the incident.
The statement read: "Following the incident on the pitch involving an attack on an Aston Villa player; a man has been arrested and en route to a custody block. Further details to follow."
ARREST: Following the incident on the pitch involving an attack on an Aston Villa player; a man has been arrested and en route to a custody block. Further details to follow. pic.twitter.com/fed9KrHBgl— West Midlands Police (@WMPolice) March 10, 2019
The incident was widely criticized on social media, with Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling tweeting: "Idiot of the year... congrats on your lifetime ban."
Former WBC cruiserweight world champion and huge football fan Tony Bellew was equally disgusted. He tweeted his concern over the fact that the incident could have been much, much worse.
"The frightening part about this is he could have had a weapon and done serious damage!" he said.
"Absolute rat scumbag coward he is for doing this!"
The frightening part about this is he could of had a weapon and done serious damage! Absolute rat scumbag coward he is for doing this!!pic.twitter.com/gWlxv2CDdL— Anthony Bellew (@TonyBellew) March 10, 2019
Keep your eyes on the steward in the JD sports hi vis and the way he deals with Grealish. Then after the player close ups it looks like the police are lifting the steward. 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/FNYufe7JMI— Fitbatweets (@fitbatweets) March 10, 2019
Former England international and current TV pundit Gary Neville also weighed in on the incident, saying Birmingham may have to be hit with a points deduction or be forced to play games behind closed doors as a result of the pitch invader's actions.
He tweeted: "The club are going to [to] have to take a huge punishment for this to act as a deterrent in the future. A points deduction or empty stadium for 10 games!"
The club are going have to take a huge punishment for this to act as a deterrent in the future . A Points deduction or Empty stadium for 10 games ! https://t.co/wQtcAUuvnx— Gary Neville (@GNev2) March 10, 2019
But that wasn't the end of the story, as Grealish had the last laugh. The 23-year-old, who was born in Birmingham, picked up the ball on the edge of the Blues' penalty area and fired a low shot into the bottom corner in the 67th minute to give Villa a priceless derby-day win.
Grealish's goal sealed the three points and in the process took Villa above Birmingham to ninth in the Championship league table.
His strike was the perfect retribution for the attack he'd suffered earlier in the game, and Manchester City star Sterling tweeted his approval for the Villa man's match-winning finish, posting: "Karma at its best. Well done @JackGrealish1"
Birmingham City FC released a strong statement condemning the actions of the fan, who they assured would be banned from St. Andrews for life as a result of his attack.
"We deplore the behavior of the individual who committed this act and rest assured he will be banned from St. Andrew’s for life," the statement began.
"The Club will also support any further punishment this individual may face in the eyes of the law.
"The Club will be working with the relevant authorities to investigate all the circumstances and we will be reviewing our stadium safety procedures.
"What happened has no place in football or society. Jack is a Birmingham lad and regardless of club allegiance should not have been subjected to this – there are no excuses. Again, we apologize to Jack and all at Aston Villa Football Club."
Former Villa midfielder Lee Hendrie was working at the event as a pundit for Sky Sports, and said the incident went way beyond the boundaries of the long-standing rivalry between the two clubs.
"This is absolutely embarrassing," he said. "I'm all for the rivalry, I'm all for the banter but that is below the belt. If you were a Birmingham City fan you would be embarrassed watching that. The worst thing I've ever seen on a football pitch.
"A fan running on the pitch and doing something like that. [Grealish is] a lucky man, it could have been anything. There's knife crime that we see, anything could have happened."
For his part, Grealish said he wasn't fully aware of the incident as it unfolded, saying: "I was just unaware at the time. I think we had a corner, I was walking into position and felt an arm come around my face from behind.
"There's rivalry and stuff in football, but I don't think there's any place for that in football.
"I just tried to get on with my job really and I think I did. I've scored the winner and we've come away with the three points."