Emre Belozoglu, Newcastle United's Turkish midfielder, yesterday became the first Premiership footballer to be charged by the Football Association with using racist language towards a fellow player. Emre has been charged after an incident during Newcastle's match at Goodison Park last month. The Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard, and defenders Joleon Lescott and Joseph Yobo, reacted furiously towards Emre after the visitors received a penalty in what proved a 3-0 defeat on 30 December.
The charge comes after both Howard and Lescott told the FA in written statements that Emre racially abused them. Yobo said that he did not hear the exact nature of the words Emre used. Dermot Gallacher, the referee, said he did not hear anything but reported that the Everton players had told him they were racially abused when he broke up the subsequent mêlée.
Emre, who has been charged with "using racially-aggravated abusive and/or insulting words", has until 29 January to respond.
In a statement Newcastle indicated Emre would deny the offence.
Anti-racism campaigners hailed the charge. "The case is still to be heard but the very fact Emre has been charged reflects the growing confidence among players to make a complaint," Leon Mann, of Kick It Out, said. "When you talk to players of the past, like Cyrille Regis or Luther Blissett, they will tell you they were abused but would not dream of making a complaint because nothing would happen. This shows the success of campaigns like ours, and by the Professional Footballers' Association, and the growing awareness within clubs.
"I hope this gives confidence to players involved at grass-roots level to take action as well as in the professional game."
Emre could face a fine and suspension if found guilty, though it is not likely to be as long as the six months Glenn Roeder, the Newcastle manager, advocated for players found guilty of racial abuse. Roeder was speaking after insisting Emre had "no charge to be answered". He had added: "I would not tolerate anyone that showed any sign of any racism. All my life I have been surrounded by all sorts of races. As far as I am concerned, we are all exactly the same."
The player's agent, Ahmet Bulut, said: "I spoke with Emre and he said that he never said anything racist to the player."
There have been previous high-profile instances of alleged racist abuse, notably involving Duncan Ferguson and Luis Boa Morte, Peter Schmeichel and Ian Wright, and Steve Harkness and Stan Collymore, but they have never concluded in a charge being laid as insufficient evidence was forthcoming. Pending is a charge of using racially-aggravated abusive language levelled against Stuart Elliott, of non-League Northwich Victoria, in relation to an incident concerning Halifax's Tyrone Thompson in November. Elliott denies the charge and will have a personal hearing.Reuse content