Boy aged 12 arrested over Zaha abuse
West Midlands Police have arrested a 12-year-old boy after Wilfried Zaha was subjected to vile racist abuse on social media.
Zaha revealed before Crystal Palace’s game at Aston Villa yesterday that he had received several messages from someone who said they were a Villa supporter, which included a picture of a Ku Klux Klan gathering.
The Premier League, which has been supporting the Black Lives Matter movement with slogans on the back of players’ shirts and in stadiums, branded the abuse “completely unacceptable”.
A new online system to allow Premier League players to report abuse has also been launched.
Palace condemned the messages, while Villa pledged to impose a lifetime ban on the supporter.
West Midlands Police confirmed that a youngster from Solihull had been taken into custody yesterday afternoon.
Prior to being told about the age of the suspect, Roy Hodgson, the Palace manager, said: “Wilfried is very unhappy and he’s entitled to feel like that.
“It’s very sad that people resort to this type of abuse, and it’s too simple for people to hide behind websites making vile and despicable comments.
“Everyone seems to be making such an effort to eradicate this behaviour. It’s very sad that, on the day of a game, a player should wake up to this cowardly and despicable abuse. The punishment cannot be severe enough, and this discrimination has gone on for too long.
“Our club, Aston Villa and the Premier League are doing everything they can to find out who this despicable individual is, and one can only hope he will get identified and called to account.”
The Premier League posted a message on its social media account which read: “This behaviour is completely unacceptable and the Premier League stands alongside Wilfried Zaha in opposing this, and discrimination in any form.”
Perhaps that final day of the Premier League season at West Ham United might be significant for Aston Villa and Jack Grealish after all.
Villa’s hopes of securing a miraculous escape are still flickering, albeit faintly, and the fact that a team winning their first league game since Jan 21 have a chance of staying up is remarkable in itself.
Trezeguet, one of the players signed in the summer’s £127 million spend, scored both goals to leave Villa four points adrift of safety after capitalising on another Var debacle early in the game.
Mamadou Sakho, the Palace defender, was judged to have handled the ball by Jonathan Moss at Stockley Park after scoring in the seventh minute, but replays clearly showed it struck his shoulder before going over the line. Villa responded to that let-off, with Trezeguet’s two goals breathing fresh hope into their survival mission. Palace forward Christian Benteke was sent off after the final whistle for kicking out at Ezri Konsa.
With three games of this truncated season left, Dean Smith, the Villa manager, will need more performances like this from Grealish.
Even before the season was paused, Grealish was struggling to impose himself on games, yet this was his best display since the restart to offer Villa some room for optimism.
Playing on the left of a front three, and frequently floating into the middle, he was a shimmering menace for much of the afternoon.
He was also the central figure in another Var controversy in the second half, when he was fouled by Patrick van Aanholt in the penalty area, but the decision was again overturned.
The huge positive for Villa was that Grealish appeared far more involved and influential than at any time since the season resumed.
Smith said: “This was a much more mature performance from Jack, he got on the ball and made things happen.
“Jack doesn’t get overawed or nervous about anything. That’s just the way he’s made. It’s not just happened [for him].
“This was our first semi-final and we needed to win it, we can only put scoreboard pressure on the teams above us. We can’t control what happens around us.”
Grealish’s association with Villa began at the age of six, so there will be few other players in that dressing room who will be feeling so keenly the pain of this difficult campaign.
As a boy, he used to jump into the bushes of the family garden, pretending he had just scored the winning goal in front of the towering Holte End.
Grealish has been on the radar of Manchester United this season, but the full focus for the 24-year-old has to be on dragging his beloved club out of danger.
He played his part in a deserved victory, and Trezeguet’s goal deep into first-half injury time was the first from an attacking Villa player for more than 14 hours in the league. That alarming statistic only underlines why Smith’s side are involved in a relegation scrap.
Villa’s last league win was in the dying stages of their home game against Watford on a cold night in January and they remain deep in trouble, but at least this was a positive sign.
Palace are safe from relegation, 12 points ahead of Villa, but this was a fifth successive defeat for Roy Hodgson, who described the defeat as “incredibly frustrating”.
The bewildering decision to disallow Sakho’s goal set the tone and Benteke will miss the remainder of the season following his dismissal for violent conduct.
Hodgson, the Palace manager, said: “This is a bad spell in terms of results and all we can do is keep playing. We’ve got Manchester United next and we will need to take the game to them.”
Targeted: Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha received a string of racist messages from an alleged Aston Villa supporter
Referee Martin Atkinson definitely got this one wrong and was saved by Var. Jack Grealish’s dramatic fall was a clear act of simulation. The Villa player was guilty of exaggeration and should have been booked. I was surprised that Martin gave the penalty as he has been Mr Reliable this season and I thought he had a clear view of the incident. Grealish appeared to step on the defender’s foot and then threw himself to the floor. A yellow card would have been deserved.
Why did Var get involved? Why are we ruling out a perfectly good goal? This was not a clear and obvious error. The goal should have stood. Mamadou Sakho rose to head the ball and it went in off the top of his shoulder. The rule on accidental handball at the moment is an ass. Next season it will be clearer. The ball was nearer to the top of the head rather than the shoulder. Crystal Palace should have been 1-0 up after seven minutes. It was a goal.