If you think American football fans are the wildest on the planet when it comes to their fandom, then you definitely haven’t spent enough time paying attention to that “other” football. You probably call it soccer, but association football reigns supreme in countries all across the world. In England alone, there are an estimated 7,000 teams in leagues that stack on top of each other like a pyramid, the highest of which is the wildly popular English Premier League.
The Aston Villa Football Club plays is the second-highest level of English football. In their game on March 10, a crazed fan ran down from his seat, raced onto the field, and attacked Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish from behind. The cowardly act was condemned by everyone, and the video of the attack has spread like wildfire across the world. That man, 27-year-old Paul Mitchell, is now becoming the target of threats and attacks on his family.
Less than 10 minutes into Sunday’s game, Grealish said he “felt a whack around the side of the face” and went down from the punch. The 23-year-old midfielder would remain in the game and scored the winning goal in a 1-0 victory over Aston Villa’s local rival since 1879, Birmingham City.
“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 Birmingham club said in a statement. “The club will also support any further punishment this individual may face in the eyes of the law.”
Paul Mitchell entered a guilty plea at the Birmingham Magistrates’ Court and was sentenced to 14 weeks in prison for attacking Jack Grealish.
After the Birmingham City fan’s name surfaced, Mitchell’s family faced serious threats of violence from other fans. The Aston Villa and Birmingham clubs are both in the same city, which makes for a lot of local bad blood. The family reportedly fled their home in fear of “serious harm or even death.”
“He cannot explain what came over himself yesterday morning,” Mitchell’s lawyer, Vaughn Whistance, said on Monday. “His initial foolish intention was to go onto the pitch to whip up the crowd. He is certainly remorseful today. He is a man with a partner, they have a 2-year-old together and they’re expecting their second child.”
What Paul Mitchell did was disgraceful, but his pregnant wife and young daughter are now fleeing in fear for lives because of it. The English Football League Championship is the second-highest level of soccer played in England, and Grealish is one if the league’s brightest young stars, but that doesn’t mean fans have the right to threaten anyone who is uninvolved in one man’s idiotic mistake.
This moment should serve as a bitter reminder that any act of violence in the name of fandom is absolutely inexcusable.