Oli McBurnie and Rhian Brewster charged with assault after play-off semi-final pitch invasion

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Oli McBurnie and Rhian Brewster charged with assault after play-off semi-final pitch invasion
Oli McBurnie and Rhian Brewster charged with assault after play-off semi-final pitch invasion

Sheffield United strikers Rhian Brewster and Oli McBurnie have been charged with assault following the pitch invasion that marred the climax of the club’s Championship play-off semi-final against Nottingham Forest.

Police confirmed the pair had been ordered to appear at Nottingham Magistrates’ Court on July 28 after a United statement announced the charges, which both players “strenuously deny”.

McBurnie had previously been arrested on suspicion of assault and released on bail following the emergence of a video online of the pitch invasion at the end of the second leg of the play-off semi-final.

A Forest season-ticket holder, Robert Biggs, was last month jailed for almost six months for headbutting United captain Billy Sharp during what were ugly scenes at the City Ground.

Sharp, McBurnie and former Liverpool youngster Brewster all sat out the May 17 game through injury but were part of United’s travelling party.

The club said: “Sheffield United Football Club is disappointed to learn that Rhian Brewster and Oli McBurnie have been charged following the incidents that took place at the EFL Championship play-off semi-final second leg against Nottingham Forest last month.

“Both players voluntarily engaged in interviews with Nottinghamshire Police in the aftermath of the fixture which saw their team-mate, Billy Sharp, the victim of assault in the chaos which followed the final whistle.

“Brewster and McBurnie strenuously deny the charges brought against them, and football manager Paul Heckingbottom, who wrote letters to the League Managers’ Association, the Professional Footballers’ Association, the EFL [English Football League] and FA [Football Association] following a number of pitch invasions last month – including one involving Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira – is continuing discussions with key stakeholders in a bid to better protect players and staff in their place of work.”

English football’s governing bodies have vowed to launch a crackdown on pitch invasions next season, which could see partial, or even full, stadium closures imposed on offending teams.

Uefa regularly imposes such sanctions on clubs whose fans are guilty of disorder, but fines have been the most common sanction in England to date.

Disciplinary charges have yet to be brought against teams involved in last month’s disturbances, but Birmingham City were fined £42,500 in March 2019 when a spectator ran onto the pitch and assaulted Jack Grealish, then of Aston Villa.

On the crowd trouble last season, Hewitt said: “It’s a worrying and ugly trend. The pitch is sacred and players, match officials and coaches have to be able to play in a safe environment.

“If you look at some of the footage that happens at the end of last season, it was disturbing and anything but safe for those players and indeed for some of those fans that invaded the pitch.

“It’s a huge concern and we are working in the FA to put in place the toughest possible sanctions that we can.

“I think the thing that pleased me when we started to have the debate, when we first saw this trend appearing [the assumption was], ‘Oh, the clubs won’t want [sanctions], the clubs will reject it’, and actually, anything but.

“I was at a session with all of the Premier League clubs a week or so ago and every club in that room was [saying], ‘We have to put in place tougher sanctions’. There was absolutely no resistance [but] complete and utter alignment on what we need to do.

“We plan – probably the week before the new season starts – to make a statement on that.”

Asked directly about the possibility of stadium closures, Hewitt replied: “I’d like the strongest possible sanctions that we can have, so I think that says enough about what we’ll be bringing in.”

As well as the chaos at Forest, the end of last season also saw players confronted by spectators during matches at Manchester City, Northampton Town and Port Vale, while Crystal Palace manager Vieira was involved in an altercation with a supporter when Everton’s fans invaded the pitch after they secured Premier League survival in their final home match of the season.

Maheta Molango, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, has said the football authorities cannot afford to “gamble” with player safety.

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