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Shearer Warns Lives Could be at Risk After Spate of Pitch Invasions

Former England striker Alan Shearer has warned that players' lives could be at risk unless urgent action is taken to prevent pitch invaders as the Professional Footballers' Association called for a full inquiry.

AFP

Updated:March 11, 2019, 7:27 PM IST
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Shearer Warns Lives Could be at Risk After Spate of Pitch Invasions
(Image: Reuters)
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Former England striker Alan Shearer has warned that players' lives could be at risk unless urgent action is taken to prevent pitch invaders as the Professional Footballers' Association called for a full inquiry.

Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish was punched by a Birmingham fan and Manchester United defender Chris Smalling was confronted on the pitch by an Arsenal supporter in two separate incidents on Sunday.

It followed an episode on Friday in which Rangers captain James Tavernier was challenged by a pitch-invading Hibernian fan in his side's stormy Scottish Premiership draw.

"It is absolutely disgusting and if we don't stamp it out now, next time it could be a knife," Shearer said in his column in the Sun newspaper.

"It's that serious. Where are we at in football when some thug thinks that is what he is going to do?"

Grealish was assaulted at St Andrew's by Birmingham fan Paul Mitchell, 27, who was later charged with invading the pitch and assault, while Smalling was confronted in United's 2-0 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.

"The football authorities have to be seen to nail Birmingham for the behaviour of their fan," Shearer said.

"If that means docking them points, playing in an empty stadium, so be it. There cannot be a strong enough punishment."

In a statement read out by the prosecutor at Mitchell's Birmingham Magistrates' Court appearance, Grealish said he was fortunate not to have been seriously harmed.

"I cannot help but feel how lucky I was in this incident," Grealish said.

"It could have been so much worse had the supporter had some sort of weapon."

Pub worker Mitchell pleaded guilty to assaulting Grealish and also admitted a charge of invading the pitch.

"He cannot explain what came over him yesterday morning. His initial foolish intention was to just go onto the pitch and whip up the crowd," Mitchell's solicitor told the court.

Birmingham said Mitchell would be banned for life from St Andrew's and Arsenal later pledged the same punishment would be imposed on the pitch invader at their match.

Former Aston Villa midfielder Lee Hendrie said the incident at St Andrew's was the worst of its kind that he had seen and backed Shearer's calls for urgent action.

Knife risk

Hendrie told BBC Radio: "It could have been someone running on with a knife -- how are you meant to stop this?

"It's going to take something, that's going to cause a big, big scene in football, that's going to make people really stand up."

Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor said the attack on boyhood Villa fan Grealish, who scored the winning goal against Birmingham, was "disgraceful, cowardly and criminal".

"We have seen an increase in such behaviour at clubs this season. It's been racist abuse, it's been anti-Semitism and now it's real fear for the safety of players," Taylor told Sky Sports News.

When asked about what sanctions could be implemented, Taylor said: "There's a combination you can consider -- fines, ground closures, playing games behind closed doors and points deductions."

United defender Smalling took to Twitter on Monday, remarking on the incident at the Emirates.

He said: "Commenting would only add to the attention he craved... Disappointed with yesterday's result but we'll learn from it. Looking ahead. Have a good start to the week everyone!"

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard called on fans to take responsibility for their actions after Tavernier became embroiled in a shoving match with a Hibernian fan who jumped out of the stands to kick the ball away.

"It is a huge concern. For the image of the game, it's not right at all," said the former England player.

"Fans have to take responsibility and think before they do these type of things, because if it continues someone is going to get hurt and hurt badly, and no one wants it to get to that stage."
| Edited by: Shayne Dias
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