Liverpool keep silence on Bellamy attack claims

Liverpool striker Craig Bellamy is the subject of stories that he allegedly attacked team-mate John Arne Riise, with a golf club, during the club’s Portuguese getaway.

The story followed on from claims in one Portuguese tabloid that Jermaine Pennant, Robbie Fowler and Jerzy Dudek had all been involved in trouble at a restaurant on the last night of the club’s break, designed to help the player’s get ready for the Champions League clash in Barcelona on Wednesday. This particular story went completely unreported by the British media, until the Mail on Sunday added it to their website early yesterday evening, ahead of running it as a back-page item in the printed paper. It’s also been reported in today’s Sunday People.

At around the same as the Daily Mail was adding the story to their website, the Norwegian television channel TV2 made the first allegations of an attack on Norwegian international Riise by Bellamy.  Their claim was that Riise had been attacked in his hotel room by the former Newcastle and Blackburn player. The story soon became big news in Norway.
Overnight the British tabloid the News of the World decided the Riise story was true and ran it as their main front page item. Despite it being all over the Norwegian press they claimed it as an “exclusive”. They included quotes from “insiders” who, of course, were unnamed. If true, the story itself is quite serious, certainly for Bellamy, but the tabloid makes sure it is beefed up a touch more with some sensationalism.

Despite being its sister newspaper, The News of the World (NOTW) is not part of the “official” boycott by Liverpool fans against The S*n newspaper. The S*n is boycotted by Reds due to its lies in 1989 regarding the Hillsborough disaster. There has still not been an unreserved apology from the paper, despite then-editor Kelvin MacKenzie’s recent admissions that he knew the paper had printed lies. Liverpool FC do not allow their players to be interviewed by The S*n. Many Reds have decided themselves to boycott the NOTW because it is, in effect, “The Sunday S*n”, but the club do allow their players to speak to it. What the club won’t be happy about is that, unless the NOTW has made the quotes up, someone seems to have spoken to that paper without permission from the club, leaking details of what went on in Portugal.

According to the NOTW, Bellamy “waded into team-mate John Arne Riise in a drunken rage” in what they describe as a “sensational bust-up”. The NOTW calls Thursday night’s meal a “marathon boozing session”.

The paper claims that the row began earlier in the evening because Bellamy was unhappy at Riise’s refusal to take part in a Karaoke contest. In giving their sensationalised summary of the incident the NOTW use words like “scream abuse”, “tottered” and “Riise's £5 million legs”. It says “the pair were separated by head coach Rafael Benítez” and adds that “the outrage has massive implications for both players and the club, who have just been taken over by new American owners.”

It’s difficult at this early stage to work out how true this story might be. It wouldn’t be the first time that a Sunday tabloid had made up a story about Liverpool FC. It wouldn’t be the first time a tabloid had bought a story from an “insider” somewhere or other and reported it as fact, without first checking the details from a number of other independent witnesses. It wouldn’t be the first time that a true story was sensationalised to get some extra sales for the newspaper. The difference this time is that the Norwegian media may have got their information straight from those close to Riise.

The paper even claims it knows how new owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks feel about the incident, saying they “were said to be furious that their name has been dragged through the mud”. The paper then refers to their sources in the plural: “Insiders have predicted it could spell the end of 27-year-old bad boy Bellamy's career at Anfield.”

The earlier allegations involving the trio of Fowler, Pennant and Dudek were said to have taken place at “Monty’s” restaurant. The NOTW says that’s where their story kicked off too. Their “inside source” was quoted as saying that the players had been drinking a lot and were enjoying themselves, but it “all went wrong when Craig tried to drag John up for a song”.  The source claimed that Riise wouldn’t get up on stage and that the other players were poking fun at him, but then Riise, “went ballistic because Craig wouldn't take no for an answer. He was screaming at Craig to leave him alone, saying he wouldn't do it and yelling insults.”

The source went on to claim that what happened stunned everyone there, with the two players “standing there toe to toe swearing at each other”.

The source claimed that the players were told to calm down and it wasn’t until 2am that the golf club incident took place. “Craig… was so wound up he couldn't sleep,” claims the NOTW source, and “he suddenly grabbed a golf club and went looking for John. And when he found him he waded in, hacking at his legs with the club. All hell was let loose and John suffered a lot of bruising. Craig was out of control and shouting that John had belittled him in front of the lads.”

Again a section of the story told by the NOTW seems unlikely. Their report suggests that the two players were allowed to keep fighting until “eventually coach Benitez was called to separate the two stars”.  Are we expected to believe that? It doesn’t add up.

The NOTW then talks about those stories in the Portuguese rag from earlier in the day: “Unconfirmed reports in a local newspaper said one footballer had also been handcuffed after allegedly trying to headbutt a policeman. And it was claimed other players smashed electrical equipment in the resort with their golf clubs.”

The Mail on Sunday named those players as Jerzy Dudek, Jermaine Pennant and Robbie Fowler, but they say the incidents took place at the Barringtons complex, which is where the team were staying, rather than in Monty’s restaurant. The Mail on Sunday reports that Dudek was the player alleged to have been handcuffed.

The Mail on Sunday is effectively just repeating verbatim what had been reported in the local paper, including the claim that Steven Gerrard and Peter Crouch had tried to calm things down.

It seems unlikely that all of these tales are complete works of fiction, but too many parts of the stories don’t seem to add up. It’s unlikely that 15 or 20 (depending on which report you read) players are going to be quiet if they are having a drink at a karaoke bar, but that doesn’t mean that anything particularly bad happened. The Mail on Sunday talks of a glass being broken. Yes, one glass. It’s interesting that NOTW decided not to name the trio who had been subject to the earlier allegations.

The person who the NOTW keep quoting from inside the club reportedly told them that “this fight has ruined everything” and that “it has heaped disgrace on the club when all the attention should be focused on what happens on the pitch. The new owners can't understand how grown men can behave like this. They believe the club's reputation is in the gutter and find it incredible that this should happen just before the Barcelona game.”

That’s quite rich really. Someone employed by the club has sold this story to a tabloid newspaper. That person has helped to heap disgrace, as they call it, on the club. Maybe the story would have got out anyway, but this “source” has made sure it has got out, and has made sure the club do look bad. If, as they claim, they know how the new owners feel then it suggests it’s someone quite high up at the club. Noel White was forced to resign last year after telling tales to a national newspaper, including criticism of Rafa Benítez – let’s hope this source is found and dealt with too. As the source says: “If Liverpool lose the match because of this there'll be hell to pay.”

In fact there seems to be more than one person from the club speaking out of turn. The NOTW talks of “Riise's teammates” being shocked at the alleged attack “on a fellow professional and friend” then quotes “a source” as saying: “To smash a golf club into a fellow player's legs is unforgivable. It's the worst place ever to attack a footballer. Damaged legs are no good to anyone in this business and Riise is known for his trademark blockbusting shots. It's like deliberately trying to break someone's leg on the pitch — however cross or angry you are, it's a no-brainer. You just can't do it.”

There hasn’t been any suggestion up until now of any trouble with Bellamy at all since he came to Anfield, but the NOTW says that “one insider” has told them that, “some people feel it's time to ship Bellamy out so he can be someone else's problem.” The implication there is that he’s been causing problems before this, and that “some people” want shut of him.

What’s needed now is a clear statement from the club about what happened, if anything, alongside some quotes from the two players in the NOTW article and the three players from the Mail article. Unfortunately the club are again failing to see how important it is to make statements and set the record straight. In the News of the World a Liverpool spokesman is quoted as saying: “We're not prepared to make any comment.”  In the Mail the spokesman was quoted as saying: “The matter will be dealt with internally.”

Unfortunately the story isn’t internal now, and it’s time for the club to put a stop to the rumours that will build up on top of what has already been reported, and to ensure that the supporters are told the truth. The club also need to find out who’s been speaking to the press and make sure they are dealt with.