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Phil Neville suggests points deductions, empty stadiums for pitch invasions

Jack Grealish

Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish was punched by a pitch-invading Birmingham City fan at St Andrew’s, on a weekend plagued by shocking incidents in British football.

On Friday, Rangers captain James Tavernier was confronted by a Hibernian supporter at Easter Road, while on Sunday, Manchester United’s Chris Smalling was shoved by a fan on the pitch during his side’s defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates.

“We have reached the point where banning individual fans for going on the pitch is simply not enough of a punishment,” England women’s manager Neville told the BBC.

“It cannot be a sufficient deterrent, because it keeps on happening, and my worry is that it's going to take an incident where a player is stabbed or seriously hurt before things change.

“Player safety was a huge concern of mine even before this weekend's incidents.

“What's happened in the past few days has highlighted the size of the problem, but I actually think things have been getting worse for a while and the situation should be a major concern for the clubs and the governing bodies.

“Drastic action is needed - either through points deductions or by emptying stadiums and making clubs play behind closed doors.

“I also think players and managers need to make a stand.

“It's time to start protecting players, especially when they are on the pitch.

“I don't want to see fences back up at football grounds as they were in the dark days of the 1980s, but there needs to be a way to control the fans and it's clear just banning one person from the stadium isn't having an effect.

“Everyone needs to sit down together - the game's governing bodies, the players' union, supporters' groups and the authorities - and accept things have to change.

“If they don't, I'm seriously worried about what will happen next.”