Fan jailed over pitch assault on England goalkeeper Chris Kirkland

 

A football fan who admitted attacking goalkeeper Chris Kirkland during a televised football match was jailed today for 16 weeks.

Aaron Cawley, 21, from Cheltenham, pleaded guilty to assault and invading the pitch during Leeds United's match against Sheffield Wednesday on Friday evening.

Cawley, who appeared at Sheffield Magistrates' Court, was arrested after Sheffield Wednesday keeper Kirkland was confronted and pushed in the face during the game at Hillsborough stadium.

The incident occured as Leeds United fans celebrated a 76th minute equaliser in the acidic match which ended 1-1.

Kirkland, a former Liverpool player who has played once for England, was shoved to the ground moments after conceding the late goal.

Viewers of the Championship match clearly saw a man running from among the Leeds fans onto the pitch and pushing Kirkland in the face before running back into the crowd.

Kirkland was given treatment by medical staff after the incident.

The confrontation was caught on camera by Sky Sports, which was broadcasting the game.

Unemployed labourer Cawley stood in the glass-fronted dock wearing a blue T-shirt which left an "LUFC" tattoo clearly visible on his neck and a Leeds United club crest on his right arm.

The court heard that he had been the subject of two football banning orders in the past, which he had breached four times.

Despite living with his mother in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, he had supported Leeds United all his life and went to every game - home and away, a district judge was told.

Prosecutor Paul Macaulay said Cawley told police he was so drunk he could not remember the incident, which has been seen by millions of TV viewers.

District Judge Naomi Redhouse said she had not seen the footage and it was played for her in court today.

Mr Macaulay said Cawley told officers he had drunk a number of cans of Stella Artois lager on Friday morning, followed by three-quarters of a litre of vodka - all before he got to Sheffield by train.

Once in Sheffield, he had a further seven to 10 pints of cider, the court heard.

District Judge Redhouse heard that Cawley, of Blenheim Square, Cheltenham, only realised what he had done when other people told him and then he saw himself clearly on TV.

He emailed the police to say sorry and also emailed Sky Sports in the hope that his apology would be passed on to the two clubs and Kirkland.

His solicitor, Elizabeth Anderton, tried to tell the judge that reports that her client had bragged about the incident in social networking sites were wrong. But District Judge Redhouse stopped her, saying she had not seen the reports and was not interested.

Mr Macaulay told the court the incident happened in about the 77th or 78th minute of the match.

Kirkland told police he had been already been hit by an object as he warmed up in front of the Leeds United fans after coming out for the beginning of the second half.

The Leeds fans were in the Leppings Lane end of the ground - the area where the Hillsborough disaster claimed 96 lives in 1989.

The prosecutor said Cawley came on to the pitch after Leeds scored and, when he stood in front of Kirkland, the goalie thought it was someone just "excessively celebrating" or "taking the mickey out of Mr Kirkland".

Mr Macauley described how Cawley then slapped the keeper on both sides of the face - hardest on the left-hand side.

He said Kirkland told police it was like he had been "hit by a ton of bricks and went straight on the floor".

The prosecutor said Kirkland was not seriously injured and Cawley was quickly identified as the perpetrator on the internet.

"This was not the most difficult police investigation," Mr Macaulay said.

He added that Cawley was fully co-operative with the police but told them he did not remember what happened after half-time because of his drunken state.

He said he left the stadium before the end of the match and a steward opened a gate for him to leave. Cawley told police he had been drinking since 10am.

"He saw exactly what he had done on TV although he did not recall what he'd done," Mr Macaulay said.

"He accepted it was clearly him on TV. He made email contact with South Yorkshire Police and Sky TV."

The court heard that in the emails he said: "It was a disgrace and I'm embarrassed by my actions."

He said he had "brought shame on Leeds United Football Club".

The court heard that Cawley has a long history of football-related offending.

He was given a three-year football banning order in January 2008 at Leeds Crown Court and another at Derby Magistrates' Court in November 2008 after breaches.

When he breached that order in September last year he was given 10 weeks in a Young Offenders' Institution.

The court was told that Kirkland made a Victim Impact Statement which said: "I feel shocked, upset and angry.

"I think the man is a thug and should be caught and put jail.

"Anyone who supports what he's done is just as bad."

Today, Cawley admitted common assault and going on to a football pitch.

He was jailed for 16 weeks and ordered to pay £85 costs.

The district judge said he will be given a new banning order, probably for five years, but the details of this will be sorted later.

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