Too often in recent years has the clubs fanbase been undermined by the actions of a small collection of supporters who seem to be doing their utmost to wreck the teams reputation. For three consecutive years Birmingham have soared to the top of the wrong sort of table, running away with the title for being the worst-behaved crowd in English football.
Figures from November showed that, for the third season in a row, more Birmingham fans were arrested than at any other club in Englands top five leagues. It was not even a close title race, either: 95 Birmingham fans were arrested in 2017-18, with Sheffield United coming second with 62.
Abandon matches and issue points deductions if fans go onto the pitch
A wider context, showing that football-related arrests in England and Wales have more than halved in the past 10 years, should of course be noted. For Birmingham, though, the trouble appeared to be getting worse — until this season, at least. Last season there was a jump of more than 30 per cent in arrests, up from 72 to 95, while more than 70 per cent of those took place at home games.
With Villa fans still locked inside the stadium, police spotters were then confronted by masked males throwing missiles at them, with metal brackets, scaffold poles, breeze blocks and glasses thrown. Officers deployed long shields to protect themselves, while the windscreen of a police carrier was smashed with a claw hammer.
As ever with these incidents, it is a small minority who represent a major problem, and it is hard not to feel some sympathy for those who are tarred with the hooligan brush. The Blues Trust on Monday placed on record its utter condemnation of Paul Mitchell, the fan who attacked Grealish, saying the incident has tarnished the reputation of the football club that we love and hold dear.
Other fans went further. One lifelong Birmingham supporter, who has been watching the club for more than 40 years, told Telegraph Sport that he was so ashamed by the incident that he genuinely wanted Villa to win the match, and for Grealish to score the winner.
It is made all the more galling for the club, and the overwhelming majority of the fans, that the Grealish incident comes at a time of genuine positivity on the pitch under Garry Monk. Despite their off-field battle to avoid a points deduction for breaking English Football Leagues spending rules, Birmingham are playing some of the best football that St Andrews has seen for years.
Great strides have been made in relations with the community, with the club doing much in recent months to support the citys homeless through the Geoff Horsfield Foundation. There is subsequently less anger from the stands, and that has translated into less trouble among the fans.
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Officers from West Midlands Police last month appeared on the Tilton Talk Show, a Birmingham-centric podcast, and highlighted the huge steps forward that have been taken this season, including a reduction of more than 90 per cent in the arrests at home games. The rate of improvement has been so dramatic, they said, that the force has this season been able to scale back on the number of officers they are sending to Birmingham games.
So why, then, did a 27-year-old adult feel compelled to attack an opposition player in front of 27,000 spectators and a live TV audience? The obvious answer, of course, is idiocy. But as ever there are separate factors which that apply both to Birmingham and to football as a whole.
Telegraph Sport understands that Mitchell is by no means considered to be part of the small core of die-hard Birmingham supporters. He is not believed to be involved in any wider violent movement within the clubs fanbase. Instead, he is thought to be part of a second category of supporter that has become increasingly prevalent at football matches across the country.
The University of Salford were repeatedly approached for comment on whether Alfie Perkins was a student there and about Alfie's comments. They told The Manchester Tab: "We cannot comment on the identity of staff or students due to data protection laws."
To call it a new breed of football fan is perhaps disingenuous, but those who attend club and international matches have noticed a growing trend of young adults attempting to attach themselves to the glamour of hooligans past. Work a normal job in the week, leap on the bandwagon at the weekend. The fact, for example, that Mitchells jacket was branded with an enormous Z, harking back to the infamous Birmingham Zulus hooligan firm, would have been notable for many older fans who saw the Grealish incident.
This is naturally an issue that goes beyond one incident, as is the separate concern over the popularity of alcohol and Class A drugs among some football supporters. But the actions of Mitchell will divert all eyes back to Birmingham and land another punch on the reputation of a fanbase that would have been forgiven for thinking it was making some much-needed progress.
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Jack Grealish had scored the winning goal in the local derby after being punched to the ground by a pitch invader early in the game. His brother Keelan was nine months old when he died in the year 2000.
Aston Villa man Grealish was punched by a Birmingham fan while Manchester Uniteds Chris Smalling was shoved by an Arsenal supporter on Sunday
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Neil Warnock has told talkSPORT he believes fans invading football pitches should receive six-month prison sentences in light of some unsavoury incidents last weekend.
On Sunday, Aston Villa man Jack Grealish was punched by a Birmingham fan during the Second City derby at St Andrew’s while Manchester United’s Chris Smalling was pushed by an Arsenal supporter during the Red Devils’ defeat at the Emirates Stadium.
“A person who does the thing we saw yesterday (at St Andrews) expresses a series of frustrations which arent necessarily linked to football. The more satisfaction you have in your personal life, the less you need to do this kind of act.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, a Hibernian fan ran onto the Easter Road pitch to kick the ball away from James Tavernier as the Rangers captain was preparing to take a throw-in on Friday night.
Leeds United head coach Bielsa played down the impact of football on each incident, saying they were as likely to indicate a lack of “satisfaction in your personal life.”
All of the culprits in the incidents have been punished with Grealish’s attacker Paul Mitchell being sentenced to 14 weeks in prison, while the Gunners fan who pushed Smalling has been charged with common assault.
And Cameron Mack, who confronted Tavernier is due to be sentenced to prison next month, and has also been banned from attending football grounds in Scotland.
However, Warnock, who joined Adrian Durham and Darren Gough on Drivetime, is of the view these punishments are not severe enough.
The Cardiff boss said: I wrote to the FA a few times in my career because Ive always been worried about the dugout areas. Ive been close to being accosted a few times and I never think theres enough cover from the stewards around so it doesnt surprise me.
For me its got to be a six-month prison sentence. People will think twice if its something like that – a deterrent. Its got to be a little bit more severe for people like that.
Its too often now and it cant continue and I think the FA have got to get a grip with the government because stewards cant stop everything.
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It can be pretty frightening for the stewards when you see the hatred that they have in their faces sometimes. I smile at it but I dont think just stewards should necessarily get punished for one fan.
Its like the diving issue. Ive always thought it should be a six-game ban, if its a proper dive. You wouldnt do it twice!
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I know there is some kind of check [for weapons] but I dont think you can check everything with a metal detector.
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Its going to take something like that incident with the tennis player Monica Seles [who was stabbed during a match in 1993] . Whod have thought that would happen in the modern day ?We need to prevent something like that before it happens.