Wolves fan Jamie Arnold has been sentenced to six months in prison after being found guilty of racially abusing former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand.
Arnold, 32, from Norton Bridge in Staffordshire, had been charged with causing racially aggravated harassment, alarm or distress and last month a jury unanimously found him guilty of racially abusing Ferdinand at Wolverhampton Crown Court.
Five months of his sentence are for this offence, and a further month is for breaching a previous conviction, which also had a racist element.
He has also been given a seven-year football banning order from all matches in the UK and abroad.
The sentence is by far the toughest ever handed out to a football fan found guilty of racist abuse at a football match.
“You have brought shame on your city and shame to your team,” said judge Her Honour Rhona Campbell in her statement. “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.”
Ferdinand: I was extremely distressed, distraught and devastated
Ahead of the sentencing, the prosecution read a victim impact statement on behalf of Ferdinand, which said: “I was extremely distressed, distraught and devastated by this.”
“As an ex-professional football player who has played all over the world representing my club and country I have unfortunately experienced racist comments and gestures whilst playing, however I have learnt to deal with these and have always been supported.
“However working on TV this is something I have never experienced as a pundit, to be inside a football stadium which was live on TV broadcast around the world makes me sad and angry that someone felt the need to do this to me, which is something I will never ever forget.
“I am constantly thinking about the incident, this is mainly because I was abused inside a football stadium during a live football game that I was involved in providing media coverage.
“Still to this day I do not know why I was abused at Molineux on 23 May 2021, 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.
“The male who abused me has showed a complete lack of respect for me, my family, Wolves FC and everyone associated to football. The male needs to understand how they made me feel and most importantly take responsibility for their actions. It is now 2021 and behaviour like this is completely unacceptable.
“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 and therefore put my faith in the criminal justice system to ensure this happens.”
Ferdinand was working as a pundit for BT Sport covering Manchester United’s game with Wolves at Molineux on May 23 2021, the first game with fans back in the stadium after coronavirus restrictions had been lifted.
Ferdinand celebrated when United scored and Arnold responded by directing an overtly racist gesture at the pundit, followed by the use of a racist word that he shouted at the former United and England defender.
Ferdinand did not hear or see the abuse himself, but told the court he was left feeling “sick” and “distressed” when he was told what had happened.
Five separate witnesses gave evidence to say they had seen Mr Arnold making the gesture, while CCTV footage also showed him making the gesture again some minutes later in what the prosecution said was him telling his father what he had just done.
Body cam footage from the arresting police officer heard Arnold admit to what he had done, saying “I knew as soon as I had done it, I’d been a stupid ****.”
In a statement in November, Ferdinand said: “Racism will only be eradicated when we all work together as a society!
“The prosecution wouldn’t have been possible without all the help and support from the witnesses, Wolves fans and staff that came forward to testify in court.
“Special thank you to Police Constable Stuart Ward (Football Hate Crime Officer), my family and my team at New Era!”
Senior Crown Prosecutor for CPS West Midlands, Alistair Redford, said: “Arnold made despicable racist gestures towards a victim who was just trying to do his job.
“I would like to thank the stewards whose quick-thinking actions ensured they could identify and remove Arnold from the stadium that day, and for Mr Ferdinand and witnesses who came forward to help us build as strong a case as possible.”
Douglas Mackay, CPS sports lead, added: “It is hugely disappointing to see a so-called football fan’s behaviour devolve into a derogatory hate crime and spoil what should have been a triumphant return of football following the pandemic.
“There’s no place for hate in the beautiful game and the perpetrators of such crimes can expect to be prosecuted.”
And PC Stuart Ward of the West Midlands Police – who was appointed the UK’s first dedicated hate crime officer within a football unit – said: “Abusing anyone for the colour of their skin is disgusting and can never, ever be condoned.
“Arnold is old enough to know such appalling behaviour is inexcusable and certainly won’t be tolerated.
“I know from personal experience how being a victim of racism hurts while offenders risk their own aspirations through getting a criminal record.
“I would like to thank Rio for his assistance in this investigation. Through his support we’ve ensured a man has this conviction to his name.”
Warning: Some readers may be offended by some of the content in this piece. We have removed repeated references to racist gestures and language, to try to minimise offence, while remaining true to the court proceedings