The former footballer Rio Ferdinand was unaware of being targeted by racist abuse, including a monkey gesture, by a “fixated” football fan during a Premier League match, a court has heard.
Jamie Arnold is accused of causing racially aggravated harassment, alarm or distress to Ferdinand by using “threatening, abusive or insulting” words or behaviour at the Wolverhampton Wanderers v Manchester United match at Molineux on 23 May 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.
Ferdinand had been at the game – the first time fans had returned to grounds since the start of the coronavirus pandemic – working as a television pundit for BT Sport, the court heard.
The former Manchester United and England defender 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.
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.
Ferdinand said he became aware of 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 man, 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].”
Ferdinand was asked under cross-examination by the defence barrister Andrew Baker if he had seen Arnold make a monkey gesture towards him. The ex-footballer replied “no”.
He added that he did not hear the defendant shouting anything abusive towards him.
However, 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.
Opening the prosecution case, Jason Aris said the game was supposed to be “a joyous day for football fans in Wolverhampton”.
He added: “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, 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 lengthier 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 that he knew “as soon as I’d done it” he had been stupid.
“The prosecution say this is important because this is a clear admission of guilt by this defendant, that he had done something offensive, racist and unpleasant.”
Arnold, of Norton Bridge in Staffordshire, denies wrongdoing and the trial, expected to last a week, continues.