Paul Riley, who appears in the BBC comedy show Still Game, had denied Ian Duffy, 55, shouted to Marcello Crolla and Franco Cortellessa that they were “dirty Italian b*******” in an executive suite during the club’s 3-0 defeat to Juventus in the Champions League.
Mr Riley, who plays Winston in the show and is a friend of the businessman, told Glasgow Sheriff Court he intervened when one of the men angrily pointed his finger in Mr Duffy’s face and threatened to have him put in police cells.
Mr Duffy, managing director of Railway Projects Ltd, denied making racist remarks but admitted saying “Juventus are cheating b*******” during the game at Celtic Park on February 12 last year.
Clearing Mr Duffy, Sheriff Anthony Deutsch said: “On this occasion I am not satisfied the Crown have proved this beyond a reasonable doubt. I therefore find the charge against you not proven.”
Mr Riley said he had known Mr Duffy for seven or eight years and was a friend. He described the businessman as “one of the nicest guys you are ever likely to meet”.
The actor said he had gone to the game with Mr Duffy and some others on the day of the alleged incident and sat in the Billy McNeill Suite. With Celtic 1-0 down in a “contentious” match, the guests returned for half-time refreshments.
In earlier evidence Mr Crolla, an Edinburgh restaurateur, claimed he was sitting having a coffee when he heard Mr Duffy say: “Look at them sitting there, so smug … dirty Italian bastards.”
Defence lawyer Aamer Anwar put the suggestion to Mr Riley his friend had made a racist comment. Mr Riley replied: “Never happened.”
Mr Anwar asked if Mr Duffy had used such language what his reaction would be.
Mr Riley replied: “A, who’s this guy? and B, why on earth would Ian start behaving like this? It would be completely out of character for him to say anything like that.”
Mr Riley said there was a discussion about the history of Juventus and the previous match-fixing they were involved in. He told the court Mr Duffy was explaining this to an American client of his he had brought to the match.
He claimed that at the end of half-time, Mr Duffy left the lounge seconds before him to take his seat to watch the match when he saw, through the glass, Mr Cortellessa with a finger in Mr Duffy’s face and he looked as though he was shouting at him.
In earlier evidence Mr Duffy, of Bridgeton, said he had been unaware of any Italians in the suite until Mr Cortellessa gave him “mega verbals” when the match restarted.
Mr Riley told the court: “To put you in the picture, it’s the beginning of the second half, I have just seen this fella with his finger in my friend’s face, where he is standing is in my seat.
“What was handy, I was able to step in and say to this guy, ‘Look mate you’re in my seat’ and try and defuse the situation that way.
“He was quite angry and shouting. When I stepped in the middle I heard Ian say to him, ‘Look I didn’t say that or anything like that but Juventus are cheats’.”
Mr Anwar asked: “What did the other man do at that point?”
The witness replied: “He got even angrier and said ‘I’m going to get you a night in the cells’. He said something about a section 14 will do the trick.”
The court heard the actor asked his friend what had happened and found it “ridiculous” when he heard what Mr Cortellessa had alleged.
Mr Riley said that when Celtic fans later began chanting “Same old Juve, always cheating” that his friend sarcastically said to Mr Cortellessa “Are you going to have all them ejected as well?”