A FOOTBALL captain who left an opponent scarred by punching him during a last-minute melee has been jailed.
Corey Darker (24, pictured) was leading AFC Keppel in a Rotherham and District Sunday League fixture against Maltby Miners’ Welfare when he ran 20 yards and floored opposition player Paul Preece with a single punch.
Darker — described by his barrister as “a thoroughly decent man” — was jailed for 13 months at Sheffield Crown Court on Tuesday for the attack.
Mr Mark Pilley, secretary of the league, said the player deserved his sentence.
“Incidents happen on a football field but when they’re over the line they need dealing with, and this must have been over the line,” he added.
“Just because it’s on a football field, why should it be any different?”
Ms Beverley Wright, prosecuting, told the court: “In around the 89th minute, Paul Preece tackled a member of AFC Keppel around the halfway line, and they were awarded a free kick.”
According to a statement by referee Steven Beresford, the players involved — who did not include Darker — had come together and there had been a verbal exchange.
“At this point, the defendant was seen to run 20 yards and punch Mr Preece to the floor,” said Ms Wright. “There was blood gushing. The defendant was immediately sent off.”
Darker told police officers that players had been gathering round him and he had acted in self-defence because he thought he would be hit by Mr Preece or another player.
Mr Preece said in a statement read to the court that the attack was still having an impact on him.
“When I meet people I feel when they see the injury to my head they have a preconceived opinion about me, that they think I’m the thug,” he said.
Darker admitted unlawful and malicious wounding at a previous hearing at the crown court.
Mr Dermot Hughes, mitigating, said: “He knows what he did was wrong, but in my view he is a thoroughly decent man.
“As soon as the referee intervened, the defendant acted entirely appropriately thereafter. There was no further altercation.”
Sentencing Darker, Judge David Dixon said his character references put him in a good light and “people thought well of him”.
He added: “For whatever reason, and you can’t seem to provide one, you ran some distance and threw a punch.
“That punch had led to very bad scarring in a prominent location on the complainant’s face.”
Mr Dixon said only custody could be justified and Darker, of Eskdale Road, Wingfield, would serve up to half of his 13-month sentence in jail for the incident at Muglet Lane, Maltby, on September 10, 2017.
“The message must go out that this sort of behaviour will not be tolerated,” the judge said.
Mr Pilley said the league was losing refs because of violent incidents.
“If you hit a referee, you should be straight in court as well,” he said. “I would welcome more criminal charges for serious assaults like this.”
But Mr Pilley said incidents involving serious violence remained rare.
“We have clamped down on violent players,” he said. “If someone is found guilty of an assault like that, they should be banned from football for life.”
South Yorkshire County FA has been approached for comment.
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