Rochdale teenager targeted in abusive verbal attack

Date published: 16 May 2018

A Rochdale teenager has spoken of ‘feeling helpless’ during a religiously aggravated attack in Manchester city centre, targeted because his football shirt had strong Irish and Catholic connotations.

Stephen Russell, 19, of Syke, was targeted in the diatribe by four older men outside a pub at St Peter’s Square, because he was wearing a Celtic football shirt.

Stephen, who was out with his 17-year-old girlfriend, said: “I was verbally abused by four men, who were at least in their 30s, because I was wearing my Celtic shirt, indicating my religion as Catholic and my background as Irish. I’m English, and my father is Scottish.

“I was terrified; I thought I was dead. In any other situation I may have felt an element of control but as I was singled out for my football team and my beliefs, I felt helpless. I can’t believe in this day and age, in a city that claims to be for everyone regardless of culture or background, I could be attacked like this.”

The couple were walking into the Waterhouse Pub, when the barrage of derogatory and offensive language was hurled towards them.

Stephen explained: “As we walked in, I hear a chorus of ‘fenian ****’, an extremely derogatory term for Catholics inferred from my football top as it is a club with both strong Irish and Catholic roots. They also told me to ‘**** off home’, presumably in reference to Ireland.

“We couldn’t find a table inside, but to avoid trouble, we left through the far door on the other side of the beer garden, but they saw us and started shouting again. I heard them singing the famine song about Ireland, and the Rangers’ Billy Boys song, which includes the line ‘up to our knees in fenian blood’.

“One man stepped out of the beer garden towards us and shouted, ‘you’re lucky your bird is with you or you’d be dead.’ I turned around and the man was gesturing to me to fight him, pointing to the ground in front of him, shouting ‘come here’.

Stephen and his girlfriend then took refuge inside a nearby Tesco store, where they phoned the police and spoke to the store’s security guard.

Stephen continued: “I briefly explained the situation to the security guard who ensured the men carried on past and then told us when they had gone.

“When we were off the phone to the police we carried on towards the Arndale Centre to get out of the area and as we were crossing a road we saw them again outside a different pub, and they began pointing and shouting again.”

Stephen added: “When we were safe, I did phone my parents to tell them what happened. My mum is now against me wearing my Celtic top outside in case I’m attacked. My girlfriend is shocked that this sort of thing actually happens regarding football and the Catholic/Protestant divide in Scottish football.

“I've never felt so helpless in my life. We’re both still quite shaken up. I hated endangering my girlfriend because of my religion, I hated being targeted for my beliefs, my possible background and my football team and I hated four grown men scaring my 17-year-old girlfriend.”

A spokesman for Greater Manchester Police said: “At around 4.50pm on Saturday 12 May, police were called to Princess Street to reports that a man had been verbally abused.

“Enquiries are ongoing and the incident is being treated as a religiously aggravated offence.

“Anyone with any information should call police on 101 quoting incident 1571 of 12 May.”

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