Jack Grealish attacked by fan: Gary Neville calls for individuals and clubs to be punished more heavily
Last Updated: 11/03/19 7:39am
Gary Neville says there has to be a more serious deterrent to stop scenes like the one which saw Aston Villa's Jack Grealish attacked by a pitch invader on Sunday.
Grealish was punched around the back of the head and neck by a fan who ran on to the pitch in the early minutes of Villa's 1-0 win over Birmingham City at St Andrew's - he went on to score the only goal.
The incident came less than two days after Rangers captain James Tavernier was confronted by a fan at Hibernian's Easter Road, one that led Celtic skipper Scott Brown to admit his fears that a player would be attacked.
Birmingham have apologised to Grealish and said the fan will be banned from St Andrew's for life - they also "support any further punishment this individual may face in the eyes of the law".
Sunday's incident was swiftly condemned by the EFL, who said they would "work with all the relevant parties to address the issue of player and match officials safety", and Neville says punishment for individuals, as well as clubs, concerned needs to be severe to put an end to what is becoming a growing problem.
Speaking from the Super Sunday studio before Arsenal's clash with Manchester United, Neville said: "If you remember going back 25-30 years we had spikes around the ground. If you think of the stadiums we come to today [the Emirates Stadium] it is one of the best.
"I do think it needs punishing. It's not the club's fault in some ways because you can't stop him doing what he's going to do. But as a deterrent for the future there has to be a huge punishment for Birmingham City for that.
"In the future if any fan thinks they can go on and a just get a five-game ban or season-long ban [it's not enough].
"We've seen horrific incidents in other sports where athletes have been attacked more seriously than that. If that comes into football we will have fences around the ground again.
"That's a serious problem that needs nipping in the bud. I think the club will have to get a huge punishment."
Former Villa midfielder Lee Hendrie was part of the Sky Football team at St Andrew's and said: "I'm all for the rivalry, I'm all for the banter, but that is literally the worst thing I've seen on a football pitch.
"Jack Grealish, one of the key players - what if he breaks his jaw and has to go off the pitch? That's one key player who is out of your side. If that would have happened, I think the game would have had to have been abandoned.
"A fan running on to the pitch and taking someone like Jack out, that could have been anything, there's knife crime... anything could have happened out there."