The hooligan who ran on to the pitch and assaulted the Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper, Chris Kirkland, during the match against Leeds on Friday night has been identified by police. The suspect, who has been named on social media sites but not by police, has yet to be arrested after Kirkland was shoved in the face amid ugly scenes at Hillsborough. The FA are also investigating crowd trouble at the Yorkshire derby and are awaiting the referee's report.
The incident prompted the Professional Footballers' Association chief executive, Gordon Taylor, to warn against football going back to the dark days of its past. "It was a very disturbing incident," said Taylor, "and coming in the week with the trouble in Serbia and the attention on racism it's a time to be reminded that we need even more vigilance in football. Football's with us every day of the year and it's important that we don't go back to the bad old days with supporters behind fences. There needs to be a full inquiry because, of course, players can be particularly vulnerable, especially goalkeepers. We need to see positive action from Leeds, the FA and the police."
Kirkland was assaulted by a Leeds fan after the visitors had equalised in the 76th minute. The shocking scenes were broadcast live on Sky Sports and fans were quick to condemn the trouble on Twitter and Facebook. That led to a suspect being named on sites, and a mobile phone number being circulated.
South Yorkshire Police's senior investigating officer, Detective Inspector Mark Monteiro, said: "With the public's assistance we have clearly identified the offender who ran on to the pitch during last night's game between Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United and who is suspected of assaulting the Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper. We are dealing with the complaint made by the player and we are currently taking statements, collating evidence and making inquiries to locate and arrest the offender. We are also using CCTV footage from around the ground to identify suspects who may have been responsible for other offences before, during or after the match."
There were five arrests for various offences including public order before and after the game, while three people were ejected from the ground and 12 were subject to dispersal orders.
An FA spokesperson said: "An investigation is under way. The FA absolutely condemn the scenes that we saw [on Friday night]. The FA has been in touch with both clubs. Any individual found guilty of any violent conduct, we would expect the authorities to deal with in the sternest fashion, including football banning orders."
The former England keeper said in a statement released by Wednesday: "I was gutted with conceding the goal and had my head down as I kicked the ball down the field so we could restart the game. I was looking at the ground but when I looked up, I caught a glimpse of someone coming towards me on the pitch. I thought he was going to give me some abuse but then suddenly he came at me with both hands and I was stunned. I felt the full force and I was just shocked because you never know what could have been in his hands."
Kirkland was treated by Wednesday's medical team and was able to complete the match. He added: "It was scary. I thought of my family watching something like that and it was not a nice feeling to think my daughter saw me assaulted. I just want the authorities to look at what happened and take the appropriate action because sooner or later, we could be talking about something even more serious."
Sections of the travelling support also attempted to confront Wednesday fans, flinging bottles and ripping up seats. Some chanted in praise of Jimmy Savile and aimed vicious barbs at Dave Jones, the Wednesday manager. who described the Leeds fans as "vile animals". The Sheffield Wednesday manager called for them to be banned from attending all away games. While that is thought to be unlikely to be sanctioned, privately the FA also condemn the chanting. Of the chants aimed at Jones, relating to child abuse charges of which he was emphatically cleared 12 years ago, he said: "All the Leeds fans will be tarred with the same brush, and they should be, because from what I could hear it wasn't just one person chanting the vile things, it was quite a lot," said Jones. "You talk about racism in the game – what about the chanting? That is a form of racism – I've had it for 12 years, so I'll put up with it, but the club needs to clean its house out."
With regard to the timescale, the The FA will act as soon as possible, though the police have their own investigation under way and it will take some time for CCTV images to be gathered and witness statements to be heard. That the suspect has yet to be identified and arrested is causing some disquiet, with the chairman of the Leeds United Supporters' Club, Ray Fell, critical of Wednesday for allowing him to enter the field then abscond. He told Sky Sports 1: "These clubs need to make sure the stewards works properly. The Taylor Report seems to have been forgotten in recent years and it's time we went back to looking at these things and that the grounds are properly policed and stewarded.
"The only hope for most of us is the police act quickly and this lad is brought to task for it. He let the club down and he let us all down. The only thing we don't like about it – it wasn't the Leeds fans who attacked the goalkeeper, it was a Leeds fan who attacked the goalkeeper and the other issue is also what fuelled it. Both sets of fans were chanting."
Of Jones' description of Leeds fans as "vile animals", Fell added: "I can understand his anger."
While a senior South Yorkshire Police investigating officer is working to identify those responsible for the disruption, A Leeds statement said: "Leeds United would like to publicly apologise and condemn the action of the fan who came on the pitch and attacked Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Chris Kirkland. The club will fully co-operate with the police and the football authorities in identifying the individual concerned. After the week football has endured there is no place for this type of behaviour and the majority of Leeds supporters will be ashamed of his actions."
Immediately after the game, Neil Warnock told Sky Sports he felt Kirkland had gone down too easily, but later called on the culprit to be jailed. He said: "It's just so sad and disappointing. The club has made a statement and I'm pleased, we don't condone that. I hope the authorities and constabulary take the appropriate action. Get him sent to prison and stop it."
On Saturday Warnock, speaking to Sky Sports News, apologised for his post-match comment. Warnock said: "I was out of order saying that. There is nobody should be allowed to get on the pitch and do that to Chris. It's a minority who got on the pitch but you only need a small group, a few morons put everyone else to shame."
Warnock said that there had been offensive chanting by both sets of fans during the match. "I talked to the police afterwards. There were chants about Istanbul, Jimmy Savile, and I got abuse throughout the whole game. Dave got abuse too. I don't see how anyone can enjoy it."