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Birmingham City fan runs onto the pitch, attacks Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish

A fan invades the pitch and attacks Aston Villa's Jack Grealish during the match. (Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine)
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In a sobering scene that one former player called “diabolical behavior,” a Birmingham City fan ran onto the pitch during the team’s championship match Sunday and attempted to slug Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish.

The midfielder was uninjured and scored the game-winner after the incident, which occurred in the 10th minute of the English Football League match in Birmingham. The spectator, clad in a Birmingham City jacket, attacked Grealish from behind, his blow landing on the side of Grealish’s head. The fan was quickly surrounded by players and escorted off by stewards, blowing kisses to the crowd, as a dazed Grealish sat smiling on the St. Andrews field.

“It is a rivalry and you get passionate, but you should never come on to the pitch,” former Birmingham midfielder Darren Carter said (via the BBC). “That is diabolical behavior.”

Afterward, Grealish seemed to shake it off. Asked to describe what happened, he replied, “It’s the best day of my life. I’ve captained Aston Villa and I’ve scored the winner.”

The Guardian described what was a “feisty opening to the game, in which Birmingham’s Maikel Kieftenbeld was booked for Scything down Grealish,” the Aston captain. In addition, it reported that fans skirmished before the game. The man who attacked Grealish was turned over to police by the stewards.

“It’s a situation no player should ever be faced with,” the EFL, the second-highest division in English soccer, said in a statement. “Those playing in the game must be able to do so safe in the knowledge they will not be subjected to this type of behavior. While this incident falls within the remit of the Football Association, we will work with all the relevant parties to address the issue of player and match officials’ safety on the pitch and ensure the appropriate action is taken.”

The Guardian noted that there were a couple of recent incidents involving fans in Scottish football. Police arrested a fan who ran onto the pitch during Friday night’s 1-1 draw between Rangers and Hibernian, an incident that took place six days after a bottle was thrown onto the field as Celtic’s Scott Sinclair prepared to take a corner in a Scottish Cup game.

“Twice in three days we’ve seen players attacked by supporters, what is going on?” Stoke City’s Charlie Adam tweeted after Sunday’s incident. “Football needs to stamp this out quickly. Only a matter of time before someone is seriously hurt.”

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