Rugby footballer from Webb Ellis FC in court after attacking Barley Mow player during a match

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A RUGBY Sunday league footballer who broke an opponent’s jaw has walked free from court despite a previous conviction for an on-pitch assault.

Steven Oldham had denied inflicting grievous bodily harm during the game at Clifton park, Rugby, in April last year.

But a jury at Warwick Crown Court found the Webb Ellis FC player guilty by a unanimous verdict.

Oldham, 31, of Potton Close, Coventry, was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison suspended for 18 months and was ordered to do 180 hours on unpaid work and to payhis victim £4,800 compensation at £200 a month.

Prosecutor Scott Coughtrie said the incident took place with about 20 minutes to go in the Rugby and District Sunday League game between Webb Ellis FC and the Barley Mow team at Clifton Park.

Oldham was late into a tackle for a 50-50 ball with the defender, and they both went to the ground.

There was a verbal exchange between the two players as they got to their feet, and the defender pushed Oldham to the face with his open palm.

That was seen by the referee, who sent the defender off. Oldham was given a yellow card for the late tackle and was substituted five minutes later.

“It is at this stage he approached the victim, who was on the side line, and came from his blind side and punched him once to the left side of his face, fracturing his jaw in two places,” said Mr Coughtrie.

Oldham then fled as he was chased by other Barley Mow players, and took refuge with his own team mates.

The Barley Mow player was taken to hospital where he had to undergo an operation in which metal plates were secured to his jaw to repair his injury. They will remain there permanently.

Oldham claimed in court that on the pitch he had put his hands up to acknowledge that he had mistimed his tackle, and claimed the Barley Mow player had then punched him rather than pushed him with an open hand.

He claimed that when he was substituted he had been making his way to where his team’s supporters were standing and walked over to the defender, who was sitting on the ground near them.

“He stood up. I put my hand out to shake his hand to say ‘fair enough, a heat of the moment thing,’ but he lunged towards me and caught me in the same area as before.

“I feared for myself. I swung my right arm, catching him, but not knowing the damage caused until afterwards,” he added, claiming he was acting in self defence.

But the jury rejected his story, and the court heard Oldham had two previous convictions for assault, including one as a result of an incident during a football match in 2007.

Judge Richard Griffith Jones told Oldham’s barrister: “I don’t like seeing a young man go to prison. If he could have given me an ounce of help by demonstrating regret and pleading guilty, it would have helped.

“But what he has done is chance his arm to see whether he could get away with it. He went up and walloped him and broke his jaw. He knows he did that.”

But after adjourning for a probation officer to speak to Oldham, the judge decided he could suspend the sentence.

He told Oldham: “If you had pleaded guilty it would have been much easier because it could be said you had shown some remorse, but you chanced your arm.

“As a result of that, you really went over the edge but just came back. That is how close it was.”