A man who was shoved in the face by Manchester City footballer Craig Bellamy after running onto a pitch was banned from attending football matches for three years today.
Jake Clarke, 21, from Chorley, Lancashire, admitted entering the playing area at Old Trafford during his team Manchester United’s 4-3 victory over City.
Bellamy confronted Clarke after the solo pitch invasion, which came at the end of a highly charged game on September 20.
The bricklayer, who had to be restrained by four stewards, told officers he “got overexcited” and “just wanted to celebrate with the players” after Michael Owen scored a last-gasp winner.
Clarke, who has previous convictions for cannabis possession and common assault, told Trafford Magistrates’ Court that he “deeply regrets” his behaviour.
He said: “I’m gutted about what I have done. I know it was a stupid action. I just wanted to celebrate.”
The court heard Clarke was leaving the ground when Owen scored deep into injury time, and the fan was pushed towards the pitch before he decided to enter it.
Steve Woodman, prosecuting, showed CCTV footage of the incident, and said that Manchester United are considering imposing their own ban on the football fan.
Their rivals, Manchester City, could have equalised if it had not been for Clarke, Mr Woodman suggested.
“The defendant’s actions could well have caused a full scale pitch invasion. It will have been viewed by millions across the world.
“It was a very tense, very high profile match. The game went right down to the wire.
“The City players were trying to get back to the centre circle to respond to the late goal.
“City may well have been able to push on and score the equaliser,” he said.
Police are not investigating Bellamy over the incident but he is thought to have received a warning from the Football Association, Mr Woodman said.
Ian Huggan, defending, said that football is a large part of Clarke’s life and he attends around 40 games a season.
“This was a foolish mistake by Mr Clarke. It has caused a lot of concern and anxiety for the people involved,” he admitted.
But he asked the court not to impose a ban on his client, saying: “Is it right that this defendant is made subject to a banning order when the player who took the action is just given a warning?”
If Bellamy had not got involved the incident would have been dealt with “very quietly” and would have “gone away”, Mr Huggan said.
He pointed out that other football fans who have invaded pitches have been given cautions rather than bans.
But Anne Marie Evans, chair of the Magistrate’s bench, decided to ban Clarke from all football matches for three years, and imposed a fine of £305.
She said: “Your explanation was that you wanted to celebrate. This does not give you any right to run onto the pitch. Your actions could have resulted in disorder and possible violence.”
Speaking outside court, Mr Huggan said Clarke is “extremely disappointed” by the decision.
“He is now going to take the time to give consideration to that decision and the options available to him,” he said.