Crowd control barriers kept back the banks of photographers; an excited fan waited kerbside in his Chelsea shirt. The latest, long-awaited clash between titans of the Premiership saw an impatient queue stretch down the road. Then, inside Westminster magistrates' court, it was kick-off, as two well-dressed and well-paid young men relived an on-pitch confrontation viewed by an estimated two million people around the world.
"You shagged your team-mate's missus, you're the c***," a court heard one told the other. "F**ing black c***, f***ing knobhead," the second replied.
In a case liberally sprinkled with profanities said to be part of the lingua franca of the modern game, John Terry, 31 – England player and captain of Chelsea – was in the dock accused of racially abusing a player who goaded him over an affair with a teammate's partner.
The case stemmed from a disputed penalty claim that led Mr Terry and Anton Ferdinand, of Queen's Park Rangers, to trade insults in the closing minutes of their Premiership match last October. Mr Ferdinand pursued the Chelsea player up the pitch making an arm gesture to indicate sex and "shouting his head off" about Mr Terry's affair with the partner of Chelsea team-mate, Wayne Bridge, the court heard.
The court was then showed footage of the incident from a series of camera positions in which an initially smiling Mr Terry appears to say: "f*** off, f*** off… you f***ing black c***. F***ing knobhead".
Mr Terry does not deny using the series of expletives but claims that it was a "sarcastic exclamation" to deny that he had racially abused Mr Ferdinand earlier in their confrontation. Mr Terry, who denies the racially aggravated public order offence, faces a fine of up to £2,500 if found guilty.
The court heard that "industrial language" was part-and-parcel of the football field. "If someone calls you a c*** that's fine," Mr Ferdinand told the court yesterday. "If someone puts colour into it, it takes it to a new level. That's very hurtful."
Mr Ferdinand said he did not learn of the words uttered by Mr Terry until he saw television footage via YouTube sent to his girlfriend's mobile phone after the game that QPR won 1-0.
Mr Ferdinand told the court that the incident started and escalated after the players barged into each other and Mr Terry made to cover his face to indicate that the QPR defender's breath smelled.
In an interview with the Football Association given within five days of the incident, Mr Terry said goading about his affair with Vanessa Perroncel was "not the first time that I've heard it so it's with a pinch of salt a little bit now".
The court heard that Mr Ferdinand was in the changing room when he received a message via the team's kitman to meet Mr Terry. He said that Mr Terry asked him what happened and if the QPR defender believed that he had been racially abused. Mr Terry suggested that the dispute was "handbags" and they shook hands. Mr Terry's legal team claimed that the pair had a discussion about their shared property interests in Surrey before they went their separate ways.
Mr Ferdinand told the court that it would have been "an altercation not a conversation" if he was aware of the language used by Mr Terry. "It would have been a fight. I wouldn't have taken kindly to being racially abused," he said.
In cross-examination, George Carter-Stephenson, QC, suggested that he tried to get Mr Terry prosecuted after speaking with an agent, Justin Rigby. Mr Rigby, a PR agent for Mr Ferdinand, said he had learned through a Sunday tabloid newspaper that police were to take no further action. This would have ramifications for black players as it would be "perceived as a white man's word against a black man's word", Mr Carter-Stephenson told the court.
"You added a racial element into it to provoke Mr Terry when all other attempts had failed, is that right?" Mr Carter-Stephenson said. Mr Ferdinand denied the suggestion.
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