Fan jailed for goalkeeper attack

Banbury Cake: Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Chris Kirkland after being struck by Aaron Cawley (EMPICS Sport) Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Chris Kirkland after being struck by Aaron Cawley (EMPICS Sport)

A football fan has been jailed for 16 weeks after he admitted attacking a goalkeeper during a televised football match.

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

Cawley, who appeared at Sheffield Magistrates' Court, was arrested after Wednesday keeper Chris Kirkland was pushed in the face during the game at Hillsborough stadium. The incident was one of a number of ugly scenes at the Yorkshire derby, which ended in a 1-1 draw.

Kirkland, who has played for England, was shoved to the ground moments after conceding an equaliser in the 76th minute. A man was clearly seen running from the Leeds fans on to the pitch and pushing Kirkland in the face before running back into the crowd. The incident 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, the court heard.

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. Mr Macaulay said Cawley told officers he had drunk a number of cans of 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 Naomi 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.

District Judge Redhouse said she had no choice but to impose an immediate custodial sentence. She said a huge effort had been made to tackle hooliganism in football and "make football an event where there's no violence and where families are happy to attend with children".

She said footballers were at matches as part of their employment and everyone has the right to be "protected from being assaulted by a stranger" at work. The district judge also noted that, while she had heard all the evidence about how much Cawley had to drink, she did not see any evidence of his drunkenness on the TV footage she had been shown.

Later, Cawley returned to court where he was formally given a six-year football banning order. One of the conditions is for him to stay at least a mile away from football stadiums where Leeds United are playing on match days. He was handcuffed before being led from the dock.

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