Rio Ferdinand said he had been left “extremely distressed, distraught and devastated” after a football fan made monkey gestures at him.
The football pundit and former England defender said while he had “learnt to deal with racist comments” during his time as a footballer he had never previously experienced them while working in his broadcasting role.
Jamie Arnold, of Stone, Staffordshire, was jailed for six months and banned from watching live matches for seven years after making the remarks and gestures at Ferdinand.
At Wolverhampton Crown Court, Arnold, 33, looked straight ahead as Judge Rhona Campbell sentenced him for his “deliberately targeted and deeply distressing” actions.
She branded him a “parasite to proper Wolverhampton fans” on a day that should have been “joyful” as home fans were allowed back into Premier League football grounds for the first time after the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘Abuse was unprovoked and completely unacceptable’
In a statement read out in court, Mr Ferdinand said: “Still to this day I do not know why I was abused... this abuse was unprovoked and completely unacceptable.
“I have worked extremely hard in my life to get to where I am in my career and never thought an incident like this would have such an impact on my life and on my career.
“I am pursuing this case to court because I strongly believe something needs to happen to eradicate racism, not only from football but from all forms of society.”
Lynette McClement, defending Arnold, said her client did not target Mr Ferdinand because he was black, but because he was a former Manchester United player and a supporter.
She said: “An attack on Mr Ferdinand because he was black was not the reason for the offence. He is an uneducated man, a product of his background.
“He has described attending football matches as a vent for frustration and anxiety. You could go and stand in a crowd, shout, scream, celebrate and abuse.
“He holds Mr Ferdinand up almost as an idol, as someone he admires and looks up to, and someone he reveres, and yet he did what he did.”
Ms McClement said Arnold, a bricklayer’s labourer, had suffered “significant” harassment in the street and on social media since the incident.
Arnold was sentenced to five months for intentionally causing racially aggravated harassment, alarm or distress and activated part of a suspended sentence he had been subject to at the time of the offence, making the total six months.
He must serve half of that term before being released on licence and then subject to supervision for 12 months.
Arnold is also banned from attending any match at Molineux – Wolverhampton Wanderers’ stadium – or any other football ground for seven years.