Sheffield Wednesday footballer Fernando Forestieri has been found not guilty of racially abusing an opposition player before a mass brawl.
The 29-year-old striker was alleged to have called Mansfield Town defender Krystian Pearce “a n*****” during a pre-season friendly at the One Call Stadium on July 24 last year because he was “frustrated”.
A district judge at Mansfield Magistrates’ Court ruled it was possible the Mansfield captain may have misheard Forestieri, who claimed he was only insulting him in Spanish.
In a prepared statement made to police, Forestieri said he “swore on his son’s life” he did not racially abuse the Barbados international, claiming he must have been mistaken.
The game, which ended in a 2-1 win for home side Mansfield, ended in a “40-man brawl” after Forestieri was booked for a scissor tackle on defender Hayden White just after the 80th minute.
Pearce confronted Forestieri about the alleged incident after the match but he denied being racist, and apologised if the defender had “misheard”.
Forestieri, of Chambers Grove, Sheffield, denied racially aggravated harassment and using threatening words or behaviour and heard the verdict announced through a Spanish interpreter.
Recording a not guilty verdict on Thursday, District Judge Jonathan Taffe said: “It is clear that the conclusion to the game was anything but friendly, with a mass brawl breaking out which could have led to a wide scale public disorder amongst spectators.
“I do understand why Mr Forestieri wishes to make the point that he is not a racist – his personal and professional reputation is at stake.
“There were thousands of fans, rival fans, players and staff all shouting. This is relevant for, in my judgment, it possibly accounts for the fact that no other person, even those in close proximity, heard what was said.”
The judge added: “I have to accept that it is possible, albeit in my judgement unlikely, that Mr Pearce was mistaken and therefore I cannot be satisfied to a criminal standard that the word ‘n****r’ was used and I therefore find Mr Forestieri not guilty as charged.”
Leaving court after his trial, Forestieri declined to comment on the not guilty verdict.