Less than 10 minutes into the EFL Championship match between Aston Villa and Birmingham City, a Birmingham supporter ran onto the pitch during a dead period of play, charged at Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish and landed a punch that hit the side of the player’s head. A steward was able to make his way over to the guy shortly after his hit landed, as were a few of Grealish’s teammates.
It’s worth noting that these two clubs have a fierce rivalry known as the Second City Derby that has been going on since 1879. That obviously doesn’t justify this idiot’s actions, but it at least provides context to his incredibly stupid and dangerous decision. Plus, it allows for the in-game moment of justice to feel a bit sweeter.
In the 66th minute, Grealish received a pass just outside his opponent’s penalty box and made a made a quick stutter-step move before firing off a shot that made its way through all of Birmingham’s defense and goalkeeper. The goal would ultimately be the decider in Aston Villa’s 1-0 victory.
After Grealish made his way over to his club’s supporters, the stewards immediately surrounded him so as to prevent any further incident with anyone from the stands. What this didn’t stop, however, was the possibility of a steward getting a few licks in on the Aston Villa captain during the celebration—which is exactly what happened. On the replay of the celebration, you can see a smaller, older steward try and throw a meek attempt at a knee to the back of Grealish. Soon after, the camera cuts to that same steward getting dragged away by police officers at the stadium.
Shortly after the game, Birmingham City released a statement apologizing to Grealish and Aston Villa, and promised that the supporter who invaded the pitch will be banned from their stadium for life. Aston Villa also released a statement that was understandably more upset with the situation:
Aston Villa Football Club is appalled by the disgraceful attack on Jack Grealish during today’s game.
A red line has been crossed by this cowardly on-field assault on a player, which is unprecedented in English football.
We trust the perpetrator will feel the full force of the law and the authorities investigate the circumstances surrounding today’s deplorable incident.
Local rivalries are part of the fabric of the game however, as we are sure our friends at Birmingham City would agree, to have a player’s personal safety placed under such jeopardy is a serious cause for concern for the entire football community.
As for Grealish, it seemed as though he had put any frustrations from getting punched in the face behind him and was brimming with enthusiasm as a result of his game-winner. In a postmatch interview with Sky Sports, he described what had happened to him today as “The best of my life. To come here, you know, for the first time, obviously, captain Aston Villa and score the winner, it’s what dreams are made of.”