Disputes on the football pitch should remain on the pitch – and not escalate into violence after the game, a judge has told a player who attacked an opponent in the changing room.
And rejecting an argument for Thomas Scott to be given a suspended sentence, a Warwick Crown Court judge said it had to be treated in the same was as an assault in the town centre.
Scott, 34, of Bromage Drive, Warwick, was jailed for 12 months after pleading guilty to inflicting grievous bodily harm.
Prosecutor Simon Foster said the incident took place after a Sunday League football match at the Bishops Tachbrook Sports and Social Club ground in September last year.
During the game there was some disagreement on the pitch between Scott, who was playing for VTS Warwick, and Bishops Tachbrook FC player David Bates.
At the end of the game, in which the home team trounced the visitors 10-0, the players were on their way to the changing rooms when Mr Bates heard a shout.
He turned and saw Scott, and told him to ‘give it a rest,’ but Scott demanded: “What are you going to do about it?”
One witness described the two men squaring up to each-other on a ramp leading to the changing rooms, and Mr Bates’s head coming into contact with Scott.
Mr Bates then turned away and went into the home changing room where he then felt a hard blow to the right side of his face, causing him to fall and hit his head on the floor.
When he came round from the blow from Scott, who had followed him into the changing room, there was a pool of blood on the floor and he could not see out of his right eye.
Other Bishops Tachbrook players described Scott as ‘almost running into the changing room’ and punching Mr Bates without any warning, then getting on top of him on the floor before being pulled off.
As a result of the attack, Mr Bates had a broken nose and two fractures to his eye socket which have caused permanent damage to his eye and caused him to suffer from blurred vision.
He was off work for some time, which had an impact on his business, with debts building up as a result.
When Scott was arrested he denied there had been any issues between them, but claimed that Mr Bates had turned round and headbutted him, so he had punched his in self-defence.
He maintained that position when he was questioned for a second time in March, but became volatile during the interview and had to be told to calm down by his solicitor.
Mr Foster added that Scott had previous convictions for public order offences and assaults, but nothing recently.
Nick Devine, defending, suggested there had been ‘a degree of provocation.’
But Judge Anthony Potter commented: “But if Mr Scott, who had only been playing for 15 minutes, had not approached Mr Bates, there would have been no difficulty.
"It’s a fronting-up Mr Scott seeks and Mr Bates meets with a clash of heads and walks away.”
Mr Devine said: “The red mist descended, and it didn’t go away as quickly as it should. He recognises his behaviour was completely wrong. He let himself down and he let his team down.”
He pointed out that in his statement, Mr Bates talked of not returning to football, ‘but the results show that from last season he continued playing for the team and scoring goals.’
Jailing Scott, Judge Potter told him: “I can be confident that when David Bates set out that morning to play football, what he was not expecting was to end up lying on the floor in his changing room bleeding and unable to see.
“The only reason he was in that state was you.
“Sporting contests can raise the hackles, but disputes on the pitch should remain there, and the appropriate course, no matter how frustrated an opponent feels, is simply to leave it and go back to the changing room.
“You were provided with a number of occasions when you could have let matters lie. When you sought out a physical confrontation and there was a clash of heads, others intervened.
“Whatever David Bates’s conduct at that stage, and whatever annoyance you felt about him pushing his head into your face, he walked away – and that’s what you should have done as well, but you didn’t, you sought him out.
“People are entitled to take part in Sunday football in the knowledge that any dispute and aggravation is left on the pitch, without this kind of incident occurring.
“I have regard to the fact that you are a man with a number of family obligations. You have six children and are a grandfather at the age of 34. But I also note this is the worst possible example to set your children.
“I am afraid I cannot suspend the sentence.
"The message needs to go out that assaults of this kind at sporting locations are going to be treated in the same way as if you had assaulted someone in the town centre of Leamington Spa.”