A man who racially abused Brentford striker Ivan Toney has been banned from every football ground in England for three years – the first time such a punishment has been handed out.
A law change in 2022 created a new set of regulations – the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act – which makes it possible for offenders on social media to be penalised criminally.
Antonio Neill, a 24-year-old from Blyth, pleaded guilty to sending Toney an offensive message on Instagram. As well as being banned from all professional football grounds in England, he is prohibited from watching the English national team and travelling abroad to watch them play. Neill has also been handed a four-month prison sentence (suspended for two years).
Toney had shared the message he received after scoring twice in Brentford’s 2-0 win over Brighton last October, which had Neill’s account details displayed. The striker admitted he ‘wasn’t even going to post this but I woke up angry.’
A statement from Brentford at the time called upon the police and Instagram parent company Meta to act against Neill, and he has become the first to receive such a punishment under the new legislation designed to crack down on online hate crimes.
“Discrimination has absolutely no place in any society, whether out in our communities or online,” said the hate crime lead for Northumbria Police, Scott Cowie.
“I hope this reinforces our commitment to taking action against anybody who commits a hate crime – it will not be tolerated and we will do all we can to put perpetrators before the courts.”
Neill apologised in court directly to Toney, stating:
“I’m sorry for what I said to Ivan. I’m disgusted and ashamed and want to become a better person.”
He’ll have plenty of time to work on himself on Saturdays in the years ahead….
Abuse on social media has been a crime without much in the way of penalty in recent years, and with Elon Musk’s furtive defence of free speech that was unlikely to change any time soon.
And so the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act could not have come along at a more opportune time. Although a wide ranging set of rules, in a football context they are designed to extend the available punishments for online hate crimes, with their scope including the possibility of banning orders in conjunction with traditional criminal convictions, as seen in Toney’s case.
It’s a move which has been met with overwhelming positivity, and the hope is that it makes trolls think twice before posting their vile hate on Twitter and the like.
A statement from Brentford FC confirmed this is not the first time that Toney has been abused racially online, and they hope that this case presents a ‘strong precedent’ against similar episodes in the future.
“Brentford FC is pleased to see the Antonio Neill case resolved and that Northumbria Police pursued this to a conclusion,” it read.
“Court appearances set a strong precedent for anyone else who commits hate crimes, and it is our hope that sentences increase in severity until this sort of crime is eradicated.”