Former England defender Rio Ferdinand has told a jury he was unaware he was the target of racial abuse, including a monkey gesture from an ‘obsessed’ football fan during a Premier League game.
Jamie Arnold is accused of causing racially aggravated harassment, alarm or distress to Mr Ferdinand by using ‘threatening, abusive or insulting’ words or behavior during Wolves’ game against Manchester United at Molineux on 23 May of last year.
As the prosecution opened the 32-year-old’s trial at Wolverhampton Crown Court, footage was played to jurors allegedly showing him making a racist gesture.
Mr Ferdinand had attended the match – the first time fans had returned to the ground since the start of the coronavirus pandemic – working as a television pundit for BT Sport, the court heard.
The former United star gave evidence in the witness box on Monday, saying that although he noted the man and his ‘more aggressive body language’ he did not see any monkey gestures or hear any slurs racial.
Mr Ferdinand said the atmosphere on the pitch was “jovial” and he was recognized on the outside broadcast gate by nearby Wolves fans, who indulged in “a bit of a joke”.
He agreed that the banter was “normally” good humored.
Mr Ferdinand said he became aware of a handful – around four or five – of Wolves supporters who were “just a bit more serious about it”, adding that one in particular was “more aggressive”.
“A little more directed at me, firmly. Fixed.
When asked if he had ‘engaged’ with this man, Mr Ferdinand replied: ‘I gave him back a little, jovial like, I nodded to this person, when c was 2-1 (against Manchester United).”
Defense barrister Andrew Baker asked Mr Ferdinand, in cross-examination, if he had seen Arnold monkeying at him, with the former footballer replying ‘No’.
He added that he did not hear the defendant yelling anything offensive at him.
However, Mr Ferdinand ‘presumed’ Arnold had waved the ‘w****r’ sign at him, and when United went 2-1 he recalled ‘pointing his finger at him, standing mocking this person, 100%”.
“I just come back to them to say ‘recall’, just like they probably did to me when it was 1-1 (when Wolves scored).”
Stuart Munden-Edge, one of the expert’s close security team, said he was scanning the crowd and spotted a man, early on, “calling Mr Ferdinand a wanker”.
Continuing to stare at the man, he said: “There was one occasion where he got no reaction from Rio and proceeded to pose as a monkey, hunchbacked, hands under his armpits, pointing towards Mr. Ferdinand.”
He alerted a steward, and the man was then ejected from the stand.
Lifelong Wolves supporter Mark Zammit, who won his ticket to the game in a fan vote, said the atmosphere at the game was exciting.
“It was emotional because it was the first game since the pandemic and the last game for the first team manager in charge,” he said.
He said: “About 15 minutes Manchester United scored to make it 1-0, and as there were no fans outside we could hear most things quite clearly so we could hear Rio on the porch celebrating, because he was a United fan.”
Mr Zammit told jurors the reaction of a male supporter, two rows ahead of him, and said: ‘He was screaming abuse… in Rio and doing a monkey gesture, with his hands, under his arms.
“He shouted ‘Rio you f****** monkey’.”
“I was in complete disbelief, I was shocked, I used to joke around in football stadiums but in my time I have never seen anything like it,” Mr Zammit said, who said he was “ashamed and embarrassed” at the fan’s behavior.
Opening the prosecution’s case, Jason Aris said the match was meant to be “a joyous day for football fans in Wolverhampton”.
He continued: “Unfortunately things went downhill due to the fact, we say, that this defendant, Jamie Arnold, was present.
“He wasn’t there to behave, to watch the football game and enjoy the day.”
Moving on to the alleged offence, Mr Aris said: ‘The accused was in the Billy Wright stand, put his hands under his armpits and started jumping.
“The prosecution says he was clearly trying to impersonate a monkey, clearly, we say, in the direction of Mr. Ferdinand – not only was that offensive, but also racist.”
The jury viewed a 25-second video taken from longer footage showing a man in the gallery, gesturing in the manner described.
He added that Arnold was “unpleasant at the start of the game” and “started throwing homophobic slurs at the referee, Mike Dean”.
When arrested and cautioned by police on the ground, Arnold – who the Crown said was drunk – reportedly replied: “I knew as soon as I did it I had been a c *** dumb.”
“The prosecution says this is important because it is a clear admission of guilt on the part of this defendant – that he did something offensive, racist and distasteful.”
Arnold, of Norton Bridge, near Stone, Staffordshire, denies any wrongdoing and the trial, which is expected to last a week, is continuing.