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Football fan who racially abused Rio Ferdinand jailed for six months

Jamie Arnold, 33, of Stone, Staffordshire, has been jailed for racially abusing Rio Ferdinand at a Premier League match. (West Midlands Police/PA)
Jamie Arnold, 33, of Stone, Staffordshire, has been jailed for racially abusing Rio Ferdinand at a Premier League match. (West Midlands Police/PA)

A football fan who racially abused Rio Ferdinand has been jailed for six months and banned from watching live matches for seven years.

Jamie Arnold, of Stone, Staffordshire, hurled racist remarks and made monkey gestures at the former England defender, who was working as a pundit for BT Sport during the match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester United on May 23 2021.

At Wolverhampton Crown Court, Arnold, 33, appeared in the dock wearing a navy checked suit and red tie and looked straight ahead as Judge Rhona Campbell sentenced him for his “deliberately targeted and deeply distressing” actions.

She branded him a “parasite to proper Wolverhampton fans” on a day that should have been “joyful” as home fans were allowed back into Premiership football for the first time after the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a statement read out in court, Mr 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.

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Former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand (Liam McBurney/PA)

He said: “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.”

He said Arnold had shown a “complete lack of respect for me, my family, Wolves FC and everyone associated to football”.

He said: “Behaviour like this is completely unacceptable. The male needs to understand how they made me feel and most importantly take responsibility for their actions.

“I have worked extremely hard in my life to get to where I am in my career and never thought an incident like this would have such an impact on my life and on my career.

“I am pursuing this case to court because I strongly believe something needs to happen to eradicate racism, not only from football but from all forms of society.”

Lynette McClement, defending Arnold, said her client did not target Mr Ferdinand because he was black, but because he was a former Manchester United player and a supporter.

She said: “An attack on Mr Ferdinand because he was black was not the reason for the offence. He 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.

“Mr Ferdinand spoke about this on his social media and said this sort of thing doesn’t benefit from punishment but education, and he is right.

“There appears to have been generations of young and older men who have simply not thought about the words that come out of their mouths and seem to think a football stadium is a place where they can behave in a manner they wouldn’t elsewhere.

“Football is almost tribal and Mr Arnold is a product of that. What he did was inexcusable, he still struggles to understand why.

“He holds Mr Ferdinand up almost as an idol, as someone he admires and looks up to, and someone he reveres, and yet he did what he did.

“Asked directly, ‘did you want to upset him?’, he said no, and it comes from his heart, he didn’t.”

Ms McClement said Arnold, a bricklayer’s labourer, had suffered “significant” harassment in the street and on social media since the incident.

She said: “His family have been doorstepped continuously and he is very aware of the effect this has had on him and his family.

“He has lived with this now for so long that any end to this is a relief.

“Mr Arnold is not a young man gifted with intelligence. He knows what he did is wrong and he needs to be punished for it.”

Sentencing, Judge Campbell said: “You have brought shame on your city and shame to your team.

“Wolverhampton Wanderers do not want a racist on their terraces, they do not want you as a fan and this city does not tolerate racist behaviour in its midst.

“Your behaviour was more than puerile and offensive, it was deliberately targeted and deeply offensive, not just to Mr Ferdinand but to those around you.”

The judge also told the court how Arnold booed when players took the knee in support of Black Lives Matter, shouted homophobic abuse at the referee, “taunted” those on the pitch with actions meant to mock those with disabilities and “doggedly tried to get the attention of, and antagonise” Mr Ferdinand with chants and racist gestures.

She said: “You used abusive and insulting behaviour by directing a monkey gesture at him, intending to emotionally distress him and causing him harassment and distress by your actions.

“When you did so, it was absolutely clear that you were hostile to him because of his mixed black Caribbean heritage.

“It is difficult to think of a grouping in society, Mr Arnold, that you did not want to diminish on that day, apart, of course, from white, able-bodied, straight males just like you.

“It is not the case you were spewing insults without understanding how they would wound.

“You acted not just with ignorance, but with cruelty. You were malevolent. You really wanted to hurt and offend anybody who was different.

“All people deserve equal respect and tolerance. Your behaviour was wholly unacceptable.

“It is not just me saying that Mr Arnold, but the Wolverhampton fans around you that you heard give evidence, the Molineux staff members, the security officers employed by BT and of course Rio Ferdinand himself.

“The footage and evidence showed how people around you recoiled at your behaviour, families, individuals and members of staff.

“This is not simply an offence against one isolated person. This is an offence which impacted many, just as racism offends against all of the society in which it breeds.”

She sentenced him 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 for attending any match at the Molineux or any other football ground for seven years.