Football in the dock as John Terry trial kicks off
Slanging matches and industrial language dominate day one of Ferdinand race case
The Premier League may have established itself as the richest game on earth but yesterday in courtroom one of Westminster magistrates' court it was looking anything like the shiny, engrossing, £3bn sport beloved of sponsors and fans all over the world.
In the dock behind glass was John Terry, the captain of the European champions Chelsea and former captain of the England team. On the witness stand, Anton Ferdinand, the Queen's Park Rangers defender, and two QCs navigating their way through the "industrial language" of football with more utterances of the words "f***" and "c***" than this court will ever have heard.
If the central aspect of the Crown Prosecution Service's case against Terry was not so serious, that he racially abused Ferdinand during the game between their two clubs on 23 October last year, then at times it would have been hard not to suppress a laugh.
The allegation made by the Crown that during the course of the game, Terry, following a row with Ferdinand and a physical clash, turned back towards the brother of Rio Ferdinand and said: "F*** off, f*** off... f****** black c***, f****** nobhead [sic]". Terry strenuously denies using the words as a racial slur but says he did use them in the context of challenging what he says was Ferdinand's original allegation, on the pitch, that he, Terry, had been abusive.
Terry's words, which were examined in depth yesterday by two expert lip-readers who have studied footage of the game at Loftus Road, were uttered, he said, as a "sarcastic exclamation" in "relation to the perceived false accusation", in the opening arguments by the Crown's counsel, Duncan Penny QC.
Giving evidence yesterday, Ferdinand admitted he had goaded Terry by making reference to the latter's alleged extramarital affair with Vanessa Perroncel, the ex-partner of Terry's former team-mate Wayne Bridge. It was this episode, and the fallout that accompanied it, that caused Terry to be stripped of the England captaincy for the first time in his career by Fabio Capello in February 2010.
In giving evidence to the court under questioning from Penny, Ferdinand admitted that he had used the allegations about Terry and Perroncel to wind up his opponent. "I said, 'How can you call me a 'c***'? You shagged your team-mate's missus. That's a c***."
If that sounded like an extraordinary exchange, then it was more than matched on a number of occasions during the day. When Ferdinand was asked to re-enact what he described as the "shagging gesture" which had accompanied his words to Terry – a pumping motion with a clenched fist – it is unlikely that Mr Howard Riddle, the district judge presiding, had witnessed such scenes in his courtroom before.
After the game, Ferdinand said he was ushered into the away dressing room by Chelsea's Ashley Cole. Terry then confronted Ferdinand with the question of whether he believed he had been racially abused. Ferdinand told the court: "He [Terry] said, 'Do you think I racially abused you?' I was like 'No'... then Ashley popped his head around the corner and said, 'Didn't you say that?'"
Ferdinand said that there would have been no question of him going to see Terry if he thought that he had been racially abused. Being sworn at was part of the game he said, but racial abuse was completely unacceptable.
Watched intently by Terry in the dock, Ferdinand said that he had been unaware of any suggestion of racial abuse from his opponent until long after the game when he joined his "girlfriend at the time" in the players' lounge at Loftus Road and she showed him a YouTube clip of the incident on her mobile phone.
George Carter-Stephenson QC, for the defence, said that Ferdinand had left his remarks about Terry and his alleged extramarital affair out of his original statement to the Football Association, given five days after the incident because he knew it would portray him in a negative light. The case continues.