A man has been arrested on suspicion of assault after Sheffield United captain Billy Sharp was apparently attacked when Nottingham Forest fans spilled on to the pitch at the end of the Sky Bet Championship play-off semi-final.
Nottinghamshire Police’s chief inspector Paul Hennessy said: “A 31-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of assault in connection with this incident. He remains in custody and will be questioned by officers.
“Our enquiries into the circumstances surrounding the incident are ongoing. We have spoken to the player concerned and we are working with both clubs who are supporting us with our investigation.”
The Blades captain was sidelined for the second leg because of injury and was stood on the touchline after Forest secured a dramatic 3-2 penalty shootout victory following a 3-3 aggregate draw, which precipitated a pitch invasion at the City Ground.
Footage shared on social media appears to show one supporter running at the 36-year-old former Forest striker and knocking him to the ground.
Sharp called the man a “scumbag” who “ruined an unbelievable night of football”.
Posting on Twitter on Wednesday morning, the 36-year-old said: “One mindless idiot ruined what was an unbelievable night of football.
“Congratulations to Nottingham Forest on their victory and good luck in the final.
“As an ex-Forest player I will not let one scumbag ruin my respect for the Forest fans.
“Incredibly proud to be captain of this group of Sheffield United players, they gave their all and can hold their heads up high. We will be back and go again. Thanks for all your messages and support after the incident.”
Forest have condemned the incident and said in a statement they will “will work with the authorities to locate the individual” and the offender will be subject to “a life ban” from the club.
The Professional Footballers’ Association denounced it as a “senseless assault”.
It said in a statement on Twitter: “We are shocked and appalled by the senseless assault by a fan on Sheffield United’s Billy Sharp.
“The football pitch is a place of work for our members, this is one of a growing number of incidents this season…
“Matchday security and fan disorder needs to be reviewed ahead of next season, and we will be raising player safety with the clubs, leagues and the UK Football Policing Unit.
“There is no place in football for this behaviour. We recognise that stewards and the police have a very difficult job, a suspect has been arrested, and Nottingham Forest have confirmed the offender will be banned for life.”
The incident overshadowed Forest’s win, where the Reds’ victory secured a play-off final showdown against Huddersfield on Sunday, May 29 at Wembley Stadium and the chance of a top-flight return for the first time since 1999.
They were pushed all the way there, though, after squandering a two-goal lead. After leading 2-1 from the first leg Brennan Johnson gave them a cushion but second half goals from Blades duo Morgan Gibbs-White and John Fleck pushed the tie to extra-time and then penalties.
Brice Samba, who produced a special point-blank save from Iliman Ndiaye late on, then kept out the spot-kicks of Oliver Norwood, Conor Hourihane and Gibbs-White to the delight of a packed out crowd.
Forest head coach Steve Cooper, who took charge of the club when they were bottom of the second tier last September, said: “To get through a two-legged play-off semi-final, you have to do everything.
“We’ve managed to come through a lot. I would have loved to have won the game 3-1 and walked off but the fact we’ve done it like we have means we’re more tooled up now to go to the final.
“I promise you I will work even harder than I’ve worked to get this. No days off, I’ll be the first one at the training ground (on Wednesday) and we’ll be ready.
“Don’t come into something and not aim to be the best, there’s no point just competing, especially at this football club – it deserves the best.”