Chelsea captain John Terry told police that he used a racial insult during a soccer game with Queens Park Rangers, although he said he was only sarcastically repeating an accusation from opposing player Anton Ferdinand.
Terry, the former skipper of the England national team, said he heard Ferdinand “say something which ended with the words ‘Calling me a black c---,’” prosecutor Duncan Penny told the court yesterday on the first day of a trial in London. The defender said he was reacting to Ferdinand’s allegation that he was calling him a “black c---” and he repeated the phrase back sarcastically, according to prosecutors.
Terry, 31, whose team two months ago won its first European Cup title, and who earns as much as 150,000 pounds ($233,000) a week, appeared in court wearing a gray suit and pink tie. His lawyer, George Carter-Stephenson, accused Ferdinand of making up the allegations after earlier attempts to “wind up” Terry by referring to an extramarital affair he had with the ex-girlfriend of former teammate Wayne Bridge failed.
The trial, which highlights interaction between players in the world’s richest soccer league, comes after the incident created turmoil in the English game. National team coach Fabio Capello quit after the Football Association stripped Terry of the England captaincy for the second time when Chelsea asked to delay the trial, arguing the case would disrupt its season.
Ferdinand, 27, was the first witness called to give evidence against Terry, who is accused of a racially-aggravated public order offense for using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior against the QPR player. If convicted, Terry could be fined as much as 2,500 pounds and may face sanctions from English soccer’s governing body.
Testimony from Ferdinand and lip-reading experts and several video replays were used to illustrate the confrontation, which took place late in the Oct. 23 game at QPR’s Loftus Road.
“The behavior was intended to be abusive and insulting,” Penny said. The comment was “demonstrating hostility to Mr. Ferdinand’s membership of a racial group.”
Terry called Ferdinand a “f---ing black c---” in response to provocative comments and gestures made by the QPR player, prosecutors said.
The exchange followed the two players barging into each other going for the ball, and turned into an argument after Ferdinand felt Terry had tried to cheat to win a penalty. The men exchanged profanities and then Ferdinand said he gestured at Terry, cursed again, and referenced the affair.
“You shagged your teammate’s missus,” Ferdinand recounted as saying while a video replays showing him and Terry exchanging words were shown to the court several times at different speeds and from several angles.
Ferdinand said he hadn’t realized Terry had racially abused him during the game or when Chelsea defender Ashley Cole called him to speak with Terry in the away locker room after the match. He said he’d agreed with Terry that a racial epithet wasn’t directed at him because he hadn’t heard or seen it until a former girlfriend showed it to him on her Blackberry mobile phone after the match, and after he’d spoken with Terry.
Lip-reading expert Susan Whitewood agreed bad language had been used before conceding under questioning that lip-reading couldn’t always be accurate.
In more than an hour of cross examination, Carter-Stephenson and Ferdinand raised their voices, with Ferdinand frequently glancing at family members in the public gallery.
Ferdinand didn’t make the initial complaint about racial abuse to the police. He made a statement to the police after deciding he wouldn’t, thinking the matter would be dealt with by soccer authorities. Carter-Stephenson said Ferdinand only did so after being made to by his public relations agent.
“I changed my mind,” Ferdinand said. “Nobody can change my mind.”
Ferdinand said had he actually heard the words Terry is alleged to have spoken there would have been an “altercation.” Asked to clarify what he meant, he said a “fight.”
Cursing is just banter, but “when someone puts your color into it, it takes it to another level,” Ferdinand said.
Terry lost the England captaincy in February. He missed Chelsea’s Champions League final against Bayern Munich in May after being sent off in the semifinal, although he joined teammate Frank Lampard in collecting the trophy at the end of the game. He played every minute of England’s run to the quarterfinal of the European Championship.
Terry had been stripped of the captaincy by Capello in February 2010 over the allegations of marital infidelity. He was reinstated in March 2011 during Euro 2012 qualifying.