Sheffield United: Report reveals the evidence which saw women’s star banned
The Football Association has published the written report of an investigation into the incident which prompted Sophie Jones, the former Sheffield United Women striker, to announce her retirement from the game after being found guilty of racially abusing an opponent.
The document explains Jones, who denied making monkey noises at Renee Hector during a game against Tottenham Hotspur in January, was handed a five match suspension and fined £200 after a Independent Regulatory Commission decided "there was no reason" for either the defender or team mate Ashleigh Neville "to have concocted" what they heard.
It also reveals several of Jones' colleagues, including one of "mixed heritage" and another who "describes her ethnic origin as Black British" provided positive character references on the 27-year-old's behalf.
Jones, whose contract with United was subsequently terminated by mutual agreement, later claimed she had been the victim of a "kangaroo court" before insisting she "was unable to continue within football and play under an organisation I do not have any confidence in."
"I would like to state on record that I do not condone racism in any form and I will continue to stand by this statement," Jones added at the time.The panel, chaired by Aisling Byrnes, "unanimously found the charge proved to the requisite standard" after considering testimonies from a number of parties, including both Jones and Hector, during a hearing at Wembley Stadium on March 19. It was told how Hector "heard noises which were, to her, clearly monkey noises", come from "directly behind her" as she contested a corner shortly before the interval of January's fixture at the Olympic Legacy Park.
Neville is then reported to have complained to Emily Carney, the match referee: “why are they allowed to make animal noises at our player?” The report details how Carney replied that she did not hear what had happened but, after being informed by Neville that the person responsible had claimed she had been coughing, said: "oh I heard that bit." In her evidence, the report confirms Neville insisted "she was quite sure about what she heard" and that Jones was the culprit.
Carney told the commission she was approached by Hector during half-time and, after being informed by her that United's number eight had made monkey noises, checked the team sheet and discovered that was Jones. Under cross examination by Martin Budworth, Jones' counsel, Carney repeated that she did not recall speaking to Neville about the complaint or saying that she had heard the United player's comment about having a cough.
Five members of United's squad, including Danielle Cox, said they had not been aware of any monkey noises being made while Juan Amoros, Spurs' head coach, confirmed he was made aware of the matter in the changing room as his side began preparing for the second-half. Cox acknowledged she did hear a member of the visiting team twice ask Carney "since when are you allowed to make animal noises?"
Jones agreed she was immediately behind Hector when she went to head the ball but denied making "any monkey noise or any noise that could be interpreted as a monkey noise" according to the commission's report. It also details how Jones said "that in any game of football, with its varying stages of fatigue, involuntary noises can be made but nothing of the nature of what was alleged here."
"She likened these to those made during tennis matches," it goes on to note.Although Jones said she first learned of the accusation after reading a Tweet posted by Hector following the final whistle, the commission said it did not accept this version of events.
Referencing how Jones had also denied having a cough during her FA interview, it "concluded that the only reason for it was that SJ was again attempting to distance herself from what she knew to have been wrongdoing."
The commission found Jones had broken the governing body's Rule E1 - using abusive and/or insulting words - and that her behaviour constituted an aggravated breach of Rule E3(2) because it included a reference to ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race.
After the verdict was announced, Hector issued a statement saying: "There is no place for racism in our game. zero tolerance policy is imperative in stamping this out, therefore I welcome this verdict."