A football fan who racially abused the former England international Rio Ferdinand has been jailed for six months and banned from watching live matches for seven years.
Jamie Arnold, 33, uttered racist remarks and made monkey gestures at the former Manchester United defender, who was working as a pundit for BT Sport, a court heard.
The judge, Rhona Campbell, described him as a “parasite to proper Wolverhampton fans” on a day that should have been joyful as home fans were allowed back into Premier League football for the first time after the Covid-19 crisis.
The incident took place at Wolves’ Molineux Stadium as they played Manchester United on 23 May 2021.
In a statement read out at Wolverhampton crown court, Ferdinand said he had been left “extremely distressed, distraught and devastated” by the incident, and while he had “learned to deal with racist comments” during his time as a footballer, he had never experienced racist gestures or comments while working as a pundit.
He added: “Still to this day I do not know why I was abused … This abuse was unprovoked and completely unacceptable.
“I accept as an ex-professional football player there will be supporters who will voice opinions about me or whilst I am working on TV. What I don’t accept is that the opinions or gestures made about me or towards me should be abusive and racist where comments are made regarding the colour of my skin and my background.”
Ferdinand added that Arnold had shown a “complete lack of respect for me, my family, Wolves FC and everyone associated to football”.
Lynette McClement, defending Arnold, said her client did not target Ferdinand because he was black, but because he was a former Manchester United player and a supporter.
She said: “He (Arnold) is an uneducated man, a product of his background.
“It is clear matches were seen as a place where drinking, violence and abuse were common.
“He has described attending football matches as a vent for frustration and anxiety. You could go and stand in a crowd, shout, scream, celebrate and abuse.
“I don’t think this is unusual, I don’t think it is isolated, it is inherent in the culture.”
McClement added that her client, a bricklayer’s labourer, had suffered “significant” harassment in the street and on social media since the incident.
Arnold, of Stone, Staffordshire, was sentenced to five months for intentionally causing racially aggravated harassment, alarm or distress and activated part of a suspended sentence he had been subject to at the time of the offence, making the total six months.
He must serve half of that term in custody before being released on licence and then subject to supervision for 12 months.
Arnold is also banned from attending any match at Molineux or any other football ground for seven years.