A 73-year-old fan who was hit with a football banning order for making a monkey gesture at a match has won an appeal after showing it was commonly used in the steel industry.
Middlesbrough fan Ernest Goult made a one-arm under the other gesture at the final whistle after his side conceded an extra time equaliser against Blackburn Rovers last November.
He was convicted of a racially-aggravated public order offence at Teesside Magistrates’ Court in July.
The great-grandfather won his appeal before Teesside Crown Court’s most senior judge Simon Bourne-Arton and two magistrates.
The panel was shown CCTV pictures of Mr Goult in a scarf and anorak gesticulating as the celebrating Blackburn players moved towards their joyful fans.
Blackburn players Lee Williamson, who was captain that day, striker Rudy Gestede, who has since joined Premier League Aston Villa, and Markus Olsson gave evidence.
Mr Williamson, 33, said he noticed the fan as he was walking over to the Blackburn supporters.
“I thought it’s pathetic, really, there’s no need,” he said.
He said Mr Gestede, who had just scored the goal in which the home goalkeeper was upset at the gesture.
“On the day I was captain, I did my best to take control. I went over to a steward, to alert him, who basically told me to go away,” Mr Williamson said.
The player told his team boss afterwards about the incident.
Mr Williamson said he had seen the gesture “as a kid, growing up”.
Mr Gestede, in a blue suit, white shirt and no tie, recalled asking Mr Williamson about the gesture.
“I am from France, (I thought) maybe it’s something that is different,” the 6ft 4in player said. “He says ‘No, that’s it, it’s a monkey gesture’.
“I was shocked to see it in a football stadium.”
Mr Olsson said Mr Gestede was usually “a very calm guy” but he got angry that day.
“He only reacts when there is something up,” the Swedish footballer said.
Giles Grant, for the appellant, suggested the one-armed gesture meant “the pits” and was derogatory meaning “crap” or “smelly”.
Pc Tim Swales, who has been going to Middlesbrough games for more than 40 years, said he had never heard of that before.
Mr Grant said usually a monkey gesture would be accompanied by facial expressions and an “oo-oo” noise.
He played a brief clip from the 1990s ITV sitcom Watching in which two characters made similar “pits” gestures.
Mr Goult took to the witness box to firmly deny he was a racist.
The retired steel worker said the gesture made meant “under the arm” or “the pits” and was used in the industry to express displeasure, often in a noisy environment.
The fan from Redcar said the crowd around him were shouting and upset at the end of the game.
He said: “I felt we had been cheated.”
He said he had never used it at a football match before, denied it was a monkey gesture and said it had no racist meaning.
Mr Grant asked: “Did you have negative or poor views of those footballers because they are black?”
He replied: “No, definitely not.”
He showed the court photos from a post-retirement two week holiday to Kenya he took his family on, featuring snaps of a Maasai chief, the driver they gave gifts and the orphanage they decided to help.
A retired steelworker and one aged 53 gave evidence to confirm to the court the use of “the pits” one-armed gesture, meaning something was rubbish.
Judge Bourne-Arton said: “That gesture was seen by all three players and all three immediately took it to be a racist gesture, a monkey gesture.”
He added: “It caused them great upset and that can be demonstrated by their reaction to it.”
The judge said the Crown had proved that Mr Goult caused alarm and distress, but not the racially-aggravated element of the charge.
Supported by the evidence of the witnesses, the judge said the appellant had proved the gesture was used in the steel industry.
He said it was not the typical “utterly objectionable” monkey gesture, where both arms were used along with the “whooping sound of a baboon”.
Mr Goult, who was banned from football matches for three years after his conviction, blew his cheeks out in relief when he won his appeal.
Afterwards, his family thanked fellow Middlesbrough fans for helping him in his legal battle.