Former England defender Rio Ferdinand has told a trial jury he was unaware of being targeted by racist abuse including a monkey gesture by a “fixated” football fan during a Premier League match.
Jamie Arnold is accused of causing racially aggravated harassment, alarm or distress to Mr Ferdinand by using “threatening, abusive or insulting” words or behaviour at the Wolverhampton Wanderers v Manchester United match at Molineux on May 23 last year.
During the prosecution’s opening of 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 been at the game – the first time fans had returned to 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 from the witness box on Monday, saying that although he noted the man and his “more aggressive body language”, he did not see a monkey gesture or hear any racial abuse.
Mr Ferdinand said the atmosphere at the ground was “jovial”, and that he was recognised on the outside broadcast gantry by nearby Wolves fans, who engaged “in a little bit of banter”.
He agreed the banter was “normally” in good humour.
Mr Ferdinand said he became aware of a handful – about four or five – Wolves supporters who were “just a little bit more kind of serious about it”, adding one in particular was “more aggressive”.
“A bit more directed at me, firmly. Fixated.”
Asked if he “engaged” with that male, Mr Ferdinand said: “I gave him a little bit back, jovial like, I gave that person a knowing nod, when it was 2-1 (to Manchester United).”
Mr Ferdinand was asked under cross examination by defence barrister Andrew Baker if he had seen Arnold make a monkey gesture towards him, with the ex footballer replying “No.”
He added that he did not hear the defendant shouting anything abusive towards him.
However, Mr Ferdinand “presumed” Arnold had made the “wanker” sign at him, and when United went 2-1 up, recalled “pointing at him, laughing at that person, 100%”.
“I just go back at them to say ‘reminder’, just as they probably did to me when it went 1-1 (when Wolverhampton scored).”
Stuart Munden-Edge, one of the pundit’s close security team, said he was scanning the crowd and spotted a male, early on, “calling Mr Ferdinand a wanker”.
Continuing to watch the man, he said: “There was an occasion where he was getting no reaction from Rio, and proceeded to pose as a monkey, hunchback, his hands under his armpits, pointing towards Mr Ferdinand.”
He alerted a steward, and the man was later ejected from the stand.
Lifelong Wolves supporter Mark Zammit, who won his ticket for the match in a fans’ ballot, said the game’s atmosphere was exciting.
“It was emotional because it was the first game back since the pandemic, and the first team manager’s last game in charge,” he said.
He said: “About 15 minutes in, Manchester United scored to make it 1-0, and because there was no away fans, we could hear most things quite clearly, so we could hear Rio on the gantry celebrating, because he was a United fan.”
Mr Zammit told jurors about the reaction of a male supporter, two rows in front of him, and said: “He was shouting the abuse… at Rio and doing a monkey gesture, with his hands, under his arms.
“He shouted ‘Rio you f****** monkey’.”
“I was in total disbelief, I was shocked, I’m used to banter at football stadiums but in my time going, I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Mr Zammit, who said he was “ashamed and embarrassed” at the fan’s behaviour.
Opening the prosecution case, Jason Aris said the game was supposed to be “a joyous day for football fans in Wolverhampton”.
He went on: “Unfortunately, things became soured by virtue of the fact, we say, this defendant, Jamie Arnold, was in attendance.
“He was not there to behave, to watch the football match and enjoy the day.”
Turning to the alleged offence, Mr Aris said: “The defendant was in the Billy Wright Stand, and put his hands underneath his armpits and started to jump around.
“The prosecution say he was clearly trying to imitate a monkey, clearly, we say, in the direction of Mr Ferdinand – not only was it offensive, but also racist.”
The jury was played a 25-second video taken from a lengthier piece of footage showing a male in the stand, gesturing in the way described.
He added Arnold had been “unpleasant early into the match”, and had “started to hurl homophobic abuse at the referee, Mike Dean”.
When arrested and cautioned by police at the ground, Arnold – who the Crown claims was drunk – allegedly replied: “I knew as soon as I’d done it, I’d been a stupid c***.”
“The prosecution say this is important because this is a clear admission of guilt by this defendant – that he’d done something offensive, racist and unpleasant.”
Arnold, of Norton Bridge, near Stone, Staffordshire, denies wrongdoing and the trial, expected to last a week, continues.