AN Irishman found guilty of shouting abuse at former England footballer Andy Cole on a flight to Manchester has denied being a racist.
Ex-Manchester United striker star Cole (42) was travelling on an Aer Lingus flight from Dublin when he was subjected to the abuse.
Drunk passengers Gregory Horan (26) and Lee Byrne (28) both from Dublin, were arrested by police when the aircraft touched down.
They were due to be sentenced at Manchester's Minshull Street Crown Court but the prosecution claimed they had problems obtaining the men's previous convictions.
Lisa Boocock, prosecuting, told the court she had attempted to get the information from the gardai - without success.
"The Crown was told by the Irish police that they have previous convictions but the police would not tell us what they are," she said.
She added that the gardai "were not prepared to verbally disclose" details and the "earliest" date they could disclose them in writing was January 29.
Byrne, of Corduff Court, Blanchardstown, pleaded guilty to a racially aggravated public order offence and being drunk on an aircraft at Trafford Magistrates' Court last month. After the hearing, Byrne said: "It was a drunken moment on a plane. I'm not a racist."
Horan, of Sycamore View, Castleknock, admitted being drunk on an aircraft.
A witness statement read out on behalf of Mr Cole during the hearing spoke of his "disgust" at the abuse he suffered.
It read: "I was targeted because of the colour of my skin and I felt terrible afterwards. I was harassed by both of these males throughout the flight. I was disgusted by their language and by one of the individuals racially abusing me.
"I was shocked to see these two males were allowed to fly despite being clearly intoxicated. I will not tolerate this abuse and hope we see a change so the next generation, including my children, will not have to go through this."
Mr Cole also took to Twitter after the incident - on December 29 - to thank his followers for their backing.
Police said they were called to Manchester Airport following reports a man had been "subjected to racial abuse while on the plane and that two passengers were drunk and would not co-operate with cabin staff".
The judge adjourned the case and the men were bailed to appear for sentencing at the same court on March 3. The court heard that each had paid €1,000 before being bailed previously.
Mr Cole, who lives in Chesire and is now an ambassador for Manchester United, spent eight seasons with the Old Trafford club, winning five Premier League titles, two FA Cups and one Champions League trophy.
He suffered racial abuse during his career and is involved with the Kick It Out anti-racism campaign.
Speaking in 2011, Mr Cole said he'd been put off going into football coaching and management because of the dearth of opportunities for black ex-players. He claimed English football was facing a "lost" generation of potential managers because black former players would "walk away" from the game.