Football fan guilty of race abuse at game

A BLACK Scottish footballer was racially abused and threatened as he left the field at the end of a Third Division match, a court heard yesterday.

It was the second time in seven days the Hamilton Academicals striker, Brian McPhee, was subjected to a torrent of jibes from fans.

John Ritchie, 20, was found guilty at Airdrie Sheriff Court yesterday of racial abuse and making threats towards McPhee.

Last night, the Hamilton Accies chairman, Bill Sherry, who sat in court throughout Ritchie’s trial, called on him to be banned from every football ground in Scotland, and described racism as a "cancer" within Scottish football.

The court heard that Ritchie, from Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, pointed at McPhee as he left the pitch at the end of a senior Scottish league match between Albion Rovers and Accies on 7 September.

McPhee, 32, from Rutherglen, Glasgow, told the prosecutor, Pauline Thorburn: "I heard him shouting you f*****g black b*****d you’re getting it after the game.

"I glanced up when I heard the shouts. He was wearing an orange Rangers away top, an Albion Rovers scarf and a hat. I was escorted up the tunnel and the last thing I saw was a steward talking to him."

The former barman said he later gave a statement to police before he left the ground.

PC James Lee, 35, who was one of only two policemen on duty at the match at Cliftonhill Stadium, Coatbridge, said: "As the players left the pitch there was a bit of tension. I saw a male wearing a Rangers away top and an Albion Rovers scarf leaning over the tunnel and pointing towards Brian McPhee.

"We approached him, took hold of his arms and informed him he was under arrest."

When cross-examined by Paul Bellardo, for the defence, the police officer agreed that the sending off of two Rovers players near the end of the match had sparked the ill-feeling.

PC Michael McKeever, who also witnessed the incident, said: "It wasn’t that noisy that you couldn’t distinguish voices."

The police confirmed that they also took a statement from the assistant referee, Michael Monaghan, who was on the side-line during the match which Hamilton won 1-0.

Giving evidence, Ritchie confirmed he had been wearing the Rangers orange away top and a Rovers scarf, but denied the racial abuse of the Accies player.

He said: "I was congratulating the Rovers players, even though they lost 1-0 they had played well. The fans felt Brian McPhee had been involved in getting the two players sent off."

Ritchie was convicted of acting in a racially aggravated manner which caused or was intended to cause alarm and distress to McPhee by shouting threats of a racially motivated nature.

Sheriff Rae Small, after finding Ritchie guilty, told him: "Given the nature of the offence I want to keep all my options open."

The sheriff called for background reports and will sentence Ritchie on November 27. He was released on bail.

It is the second time this season a fan has been convicted of racially abusing McPhee after a match.

Just seven days before the incident at Cliftonhill, the ex-Queen’s Park, Airdrie and Livingston striker was the victim of a volley of racial taunts from a Forfar Athletic fan.

Mr Sherry said: "The game can do without thugs like Ritchie. Racism is becoming a cancer in our society and is becoming rife in football.

"All Brian McPhee was doing was going about his lawful business on a football park and entertaining the fans. He and no other black player should be subjected to the abuse he took.

"I would hope Albion Rovers ban Ritchie from the ground for life and every other club in the country does likewise."

McPhee said: "He’s done wrong and deserves to be punished.

"I have suffered racial abuse about four or five times in my career, but on this occasion it was the second time in a week. It is something that must be stamped out of football.

"I’m an experienced player and knew how to handle the situation, but you can’t have young black players coming into the game and getting abused in this way.

"And that doesn’t just apply to black players coming to Scotland, that includes English, Irish, Welsh and all other nationalities."