Fan punched Stevenage player over girlfriend

A football fan ran on to a pitch and punched a player because he had previously had a relationship with his girlfriend and had "not treated her correctly", a court heard today.

Robert Fitzgerald, 24, admitted invading the pitch after Stevenage's 3-1 win against Newcastle in the FA Cup on January 8.

He also admitted punching Stevenage defender Scott Laird as crowds of fans celebrated the win on the pitch.

The altercation was captured by TV cameras and a clip was shown at Stevenage Magistrates' Court this morning.

Phillip Mansefield, prosecuting, said Fitzgerald had been seen hurling abuse as well as throwing a drink and a hamburger at Laird during the game.

He said: "When Scott Laird came near to him or that side of the pitch, the steward has seen him throwing water and spitting at Scott Laird."

He continued: "The defendant is seen to throw a burger he had been eating again in the direction of Scott Laird.

"Stevenage win 3-1. The crowd are on the pitch. What the crown say is the defendant, one of that number on the pitch, has then assaulted the victim Scott Laird.

"The punch is landed with quite some force. Mr Laird falls to the floor. He has no recollection of how he got back to the changing room."

He told the court Mr Laird had a bump on his left jaw after the blow.

Mr Mansefield asked the magistrates to issue a banning order on Fitzgerald attending football matches.

The court heard Fitzgerald, a Stevenage fan, threw the punch "out of loyalty" to his girlfriend Jade Coles, who had previously been in a relationship with Mr Laird.

Jennifer Browne, defending, said: "Mr Fitzgerald goes onto the pitch, he congratulates other players. He sees the injured party and he throws a punch. Why? Because the injured party had had a relationship with Mr Fitzgerald's current girlfriend.

"This was some time ago but my instructions are that the injured party did not treat the current girlfriend, Mr Fitzgerald's girlfriend, correctly.

"Mr Fitzgerald takes matters into his own hands and it was seizing the opportunity. It wasn't premeditated to go on to the football pitch."

Miss Browne added Fitzgerald later handed himself in, telling police he was "feeling like a bit of a prat in front of all those people".

He showed "deep remorse and deep regret" and wished it had not happened, she added.

"Mr Fitzgerald actually is a loyal fan of Stevenage so therefore, there's an embarrassment that he has actually punched a good player for the team," she said.

The court heard Fitzgerald had a previous conviction for grievous bodily harm and was handed a sentence of six and a half years before being released in 2008.

In a victim statement, Mr Laird said he did not want to worry about fans coming on to the pitch.

Reading his statement, Mr Mansefield said: "I'm concerned that if the male who did this to me is allowed back into the ground that it might happen again.

"I just want to play football well and enjoy the celebrations when we win, not worry about him getting back on to the pitch."

Fitzgerald, of Colts Corner, Stevenage, pleaded guilty to one charge of common assault and one charge of entering the field without lawful authority.

Miss Browne said the offence was mitigated by the fact only one punch was thrown and Mr Laird suffered a minor injury.

She said: "He recognised the injured party as the ex-boyfriend and that is how he punch has resulted. We can term it really as loyalty to his current girlfriend."

Miss Coles, 24, sat in the public gallery in the courtroom to support Fitzgerald, an unemployed personal trainer.

Miss Browne also said Fitzgerald had had a "chequered childhood" but nevertheless had done "incredibly well".

Magistrates adjourned sentencing for reports but said the offences had crossed the custody threshold.

Granting Fitzgerald conditional bail, magistrates' chairman Kevin Seymour said: "Before we sentence you we need to have a report from the probation service, which will give us more information about you.

"We are going to ask the probation service to consider all options. The custody threshold has been crossed by this offence."

Fitzgerald was granted bail on the condition he does not contact Mr Laird or anyone connected with the club, and does not attend designated football matches, including Stevenage Football Club and Stevenage Academy.

He will be sentenced on February 17.

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