Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Suspended sentence for football fan who hit linesman with coin

A self-employed builder who injured a linesman by throwing a coin during a World Cup football qualifier in Belfast has been given a suspended jail sentence.

Peter Savage (41) also faces a lifetime ban from Windsor Park for launching the missile from the stands as Northern Ireland took on Poland in March.

Savage, of De Wind Drive, Comber, Co Down, pleaded guilty to assaulting Swedish assistant referee Stefan Wittberg during a match further marred by crowd trouble before and afterwards.

Belfast Magistrates Court heard the coin was thrown in the first half, striking Mr Wittberg on the back of the head.

The incident led to the game being halted for seven minutes while the linesman was examined by a doctor, prosecutors said.

Savage was identified by others around him and picked out from Sky Sports television footage of the match.

His solicitor Pat Kelly yesterday said he had been left “deeply upset and distressed” by the court proceedings against him.

Mr Kelly said: “He’s been a Northern Ireland supporter for over 30 years. He’s attended every match, it’s his only social outlet in life.

“But he realises that whatever this court does to him he will be forbidden by the IFA (Irish Football Association) from attending any other matches.”

Savage has written a letter of apology to the governing authorities and also expressed regret towards Mr Wittberg, the lawyer stressed.

He had taken drink before the game which he attended with a young son he looks after, the court heard.

Mr Kelly stressed: “It was purely a stupid act of emotion when he threw the coin. He understands the shame this matter has brought upon himself and the team.”

Savage’s act was not the only violent incident surrounding the match, which Northern Ireland won 3-2.

Four Polish supporters have pleaded guilty to disorderly behaviour linked to trouble which flared at a city centre pub ahead of the game.

Imposing a two-month jail term, suspended for 18 months, District Judge Fiona Bagnall gave Savage credit for how he had met the charge against him.

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