Footballer left numb by ‘racist’ fan who suggested he should win ‘Baboon D’or’

A West Bromwich Albion fan who allegedly racially abused midfielder Romaine Sawyers on social media suggested the player should win the “Baboon d’Or”, a court heard.

Walsall Magistrates’ Court was told Simon Silwood posted the message on a “sarcastic” fan zone Whatsapp group titled “Romaine Sawyers – Ballon d’Or” following his team’s 5-0 defeat to Manchester City at the Hawthorns on January 26.

The 50-year-old told police his message on the group was “stupid not racial” and said his post had autocorrected the word “buffoon” to “baboon”.

Simon Silwood court case
Simon Silwood (centre) pleaded not guilty to sending an offensive message to the former West Bromwich Albion midfielder, Romaine Sawyers (Matthew Cooper/PA)

The court heard Sawyers, who is currently on loan at Stoke City and was reporting a separate alleged racist social media post when he was shown Silwood’s message, was left feeling “harassed, alarmed and distressed” after reading it.

Silwood was charged following an investigation carried out by Pc Stuart Ward, who is the UK’s first dedicated hate crime officer within a football unit.

Opening the case against Silwood on Thursday, prosecutor Simon Brownsey said: “The prosecution case is that the message posted by Mr Silwood to the West Bromwich Albion Fan Zone Whatsapp group was intentionally posted and was blatant racism towards black professional footballer Mr Romaine Sawyers.

“On January 26 2021, a post was placed saying ‘Romaine Sawyers – Ballon d’Or’.

“Three posts were placed on that thread. The first one said ‘bellend’. The second was ‘white lives matter when you try and watch’.

“The third post, from Mr Silwood, said ‘Baboon dor’.”

Mr Brownsey continued: “He confirmed that he sent the message on social media but said he did not intend the post to be racist.

“He was upset with how the game went.

“Having seen the message ‘Romaine Sawyers – Ballon d’Or’, he believed he had typed ‘buffoon dor’ not ‘baboon dor’.

“Mr Silwood is aware that referring to Mr Sawyers as a baboon would be racist and deeply offensive.”

In a statement provided to the court, Sawyers said: “On Friday January 29, I attended the Hawthorns to provide a statement to the police regarding a separate incident where I was racially abused on Instagram.

“I was made aware of another incident regarding the colour of my skin.

“I knew what I was about to look at was going to be of an abusive nature.

“As I read it, I felt numb and did not know what to say. Having seen the word baboon I assumed it was referring to the colour of my skin.

“The word has left me feeling harassed, alarmed and distressed and I find the message to be racist based on the colour of my skin.

“The whole incident has left me extremely upset.

“I find it difficult to believe that in 2021 there are still people out in society who believe it is acceptable to behave like this.

“I find it even more disgusting that this comment was made on social media by someone sat behind a computer or a mobile phone.”

Silwood, of Randall Close, Kingswinford, West Midlands, denies sending a message to Sawyers by means of a public electronic communications network that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.

The trial continues.