A senior Aston Villa board member as promised a review of the club's stewarding guidelines after a teenage fan was ejected from the ground after heading the ball back towards the pitch during Sunday’s derby clash with Birmingham City.
Former season ticket holder Kieran Comerford, aged 19, was removed from Villa Park after heading the ball when his momentum sent him tumbling over the advertising hoardings and near the edge of the pitch.
A Villa spokeswoman confirmed Kieran was ejected for “encroaching on the playing area”.
But the club was branded “over-zealous” by the Football Supporters’ Federation and the incident even warranted a mention on the BBC’s Match Of The Day 2 following the brief highlights of the uneventful 0-0 draw.
Kieran, from Sheldon, said: “We were walking back towards our seats in the Doug Ellis Stand after half-time when I saw the ball coming towards us.
“I used to play a bit of football so I headed it back. It wasn’t a bad header but the momentum pushed me forward, I lost my footing and slipped over the hoardings.
“All the fans laughed and cheered, but before I could even get up I was escorted out by stewards. I kept asking them what I had done but they refused to answer me.”
Kieran, an apprentice bricklayer, said he returned to Villa Park demanding answers the following day but claimed he was “fobbed off”.
“I paid £46 for my ticket and I didn’t even get back to my seat,” he said. “I’m disgusted. My dad has had a season ticket for more than 25 years and we have spent a lot of money on the club. I don’t think I did anything wrong.
“I went to Villa Park the next day but they just fobbed me off. They said somebody would call me in the next couple of days.
“My header was probably one of the best bits of the game."
Now General Charles C Krulak, non-executive director and right-hand man to chairman Randy Lerner, has promised to "re-educate" the club's stewards to maintain a family-friendly atmosphere at the ground.
Posting on the Vital Aston Villa online forum, he said he had spoken with the club's head of security, and added: "Stewards have a great deal to do with the atmosphere around the club. If they are judicious in the exercise of their responsibilities, if they understand the concept of "customer friendly", they will be far more effective.
"They need to exercise fairness in the treatment of all fans, home and away. John [Handley, head of security] is meeting with all the senior stewards to "re-educate" them on how to carry out their duties.
"Obviously, they do have a responsibility to ensure health and safety, but how they go about it is very important. We will fix this. Over zealous stewards can destroy the atmosphere of the club as fast as poor play."
Football Supporters’ Federation spokesman Michael Brunskill said: “The response of the stewards looked totally over-the-top and unwarranted.
“What should have been a funny incident ended up ruining a fan’s day. It’s indicative of the over-zealous attitude to supporters many stewards seem to have.
“We hope no further action is taken and we would advise the fan involved to get in touch with us.”
Fans posting comments on Villa internet forums were outraged that Kieran had been turfed out of the ground over the incident.
One fan, on the Villa Views website, demanded an apology and others posted questions on Villa Talk to General Krulak.
One thread, from Ian Robo on Aston Villa News and Views, said: “All the guy did was try to head the ball back and he over-balanced and fell over the hoardings.
“It was very funny and he got a big cheer. Then we had five stewards take him and lead him out and make us look a laughing stock on Match of the Day.
“Please Villa, do the right thing, pay the guy back the money and make a public apology for the worst piece of stewarding seen at Villa Park in many a day.”
Another comment, on the Heroes And Villains website, asked: “Had the gent simply had jumped and caught the ball and handed it back to a player in play or a ball boy, would he have been ejected?
“I think not. The club needs to apologise.”
And a second on the same forum said: “He was only trying to have a laugh in a tense atmosphere of a derby game.
“What is the harm in that? It made me chuckle and it was stupid if they threw him out over it,” the post added.