Sunday 15 December 2019

Firmino exonerated following FA 'racist abuse' probe into Holgate clash

Everton's Mason Holgate (L) squares up with Liverpool's Roberto Firmino Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Everton's Mason Holgate (L) squares up with Liverpool's Roberto Firmino Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Chris Bascombe

Liverpool say striker Roberto Firmino has been "exonerated" after the Football Association decided not to pursue a charge of racially abusing Everton's Mason Holgate.

After a six-week investigation involving players from both clubs, the FA said there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations. Everton accepted the decision. A separate investigation into alleged homophobic tweets posted by Holgate several years ago is ongoing.

Liverpool said Firmino - who spent several hours being questioned at Wembley Stadium during the investigation - had found the process "hurtful" and "difficult". In their statement, the FA said no players from either club, nor referee Bobby Madley or his match officials, heard any racial slur. Independent linguistic experts supported Firmino.

"We are satisfied that the outcome of the process has exonerated the player of using any racist or discriminatory language," Liverpool wrote in a statement. "We thank Roberto for the manner in which he has conducted himself during this difficult process, acknowledging that being subjected to such a serious allegation for this length of time has been hurtful to him and his family.

"Both the club and player were in full agreement from the beginning that if an investigation was required it should be a thorough and robust one. Roberto has cooperated fully with the process and shown a willingness to engage and assist throughout, with the only objective being to discover the truth."

The FA explained their decision in a detailed statement, but were eager not to question the integrity of Holgate's complaint.

"We are completely satisfied that the allegation was made in absolute good faith by Holgate and that there is no suggestion of this being an intentionally false or malicious allegation," said the FA.

"We take all allegations of discrimination extremely seriously and would encourage all participants who believe that they have been the subject of or witness to discriminatory abuse to report this through the appropriate channels. Holgate and Everton followed the proper process by reporting the matter to the match officials at the time and subsequently to the FA.

"We took statements from a total of 12 players and officials from both teams, the referee and the fourth official. None of these individuals directly heard the words alleged to have been said by Firmino.

"Firmino was formally interviewed by the FA and provided an alternative account to the words alleged by Holgate. Firmino stated that he had insulted Holgate in Portuguese, but denied categorically using any discriminatory language towards him.

"The FA sought the assistance of a Brazilian/Portuguese linguistic specialist on the words alleged. In addition to this, we also obtained multiple angles of video footage, including broadcast and unseen footage, which was assessed by two independent Portuguese-speaking lip-reading experts. The evidence from the experts did not support the allegation."

Everton issued a dignified response accepting the FA's finding.

"The club welcomes the FA's expression of complete satisfaction that the allegation made by our player, Mason Holgate, was done so in absolute good faith, that proper process was followed and that there is no suggestion of malice or dishonesty on Mason's part."

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