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John Arne Riise: Craig Bellamy Swung the Golf Club Hard. He Could Have Ended my Career

John Arne Riise: Craig Bellamy Swung the Golf Club Hard. He Could Have Ended my Career

Monday, 11 February, 2019 - 09:00
Craig Bellamy celebrates scoring for Liverpool against Barcelona by swinging an imaginary golf club in reference to his clash with teammate John Arne Riise in the Algarve. (Getty Images)
London - John Arne Riise
In an extract from his new autobiography, John Arne Riise gives his account of the extraordinary bust-up that overshadowed Liverpool’s Champions League visit to Barcelona in 2007.

The team traveled to the Algarve to recharge for our Champions League match against Barcelona. For five days we were going to do some light training, play golf, relax in the sun and socialize. That was the plan.

We stayed at Barringtons Golf and Spa hotel, which was located in an exclusive resort called Vale do Lobo. I shared a room with Daniel Agger. On Thursday, it was decided we should have a team dinner without the trainers and managers. At these dinners the players were allowed to have a beer or two, something I never took advantage of. But a couple of beers wasn’t going to hurt anyone else. If only they had managed to stick to a couple.

Steven Gerrard had called the owner and booked a private room for us at Monty’s Restaurant and Bar. Monty’s was situated in an area near the beach. The interior was black and white, and I remember seeing a karaoke machine in the bar.

A couple of the lads started drinking before the food arrived. Among them was Craig Bellamy. Pretty soon a microphone appeared on the table and Bellamy bellowed into it: “Riise’s gonna sing! Riise’s gonna sing!” He started before the food was served and continued while we ate. He was already quite drunk and I was already quite annoyed.

Pretty soon Bellamy was over by the karaoke machine with the microphone in the hand: “Riise’s gonna sing! Riise’s gonna sing!” Furious, I went over to him: “I’m not singing. Shut up or else I’m gonna smash you!” He screamed back: “I’m gonna kill you!”

Bellamy shut up, and I left with Sami Hyypiä – who was just getting a little tipsy – and got a taxi back to the hotel. Agger hadn’t wanted to leave yet, so I promised to leave the door unlocked. Back in the room I fell asleep almost immediately. It was no later than half twelve.

I woke in the dark to hear someone opening the door. Obviously I thought it was Agger. I turned, but my eyes were half-asleep, and I didn’t see anything in the sudden, bright glare. But something made me realize that it wasn’t Agger. And soon I could see him – Craig Bellamy at the foot of my bed with a golf club in his hands.

Steve Finnan, who shared a room with Bellamy, was there too, but he just stood there. Bellamy raised the club over his head and swung as hard as he could. He tried to hit my shins, which would have ended my career, but I managed to pull my leg away in time.

I jumped out of bed, pulled off the sheet and held it between us like I was some kind of half-awake matador. Bellamy sputtered: “Nobody disrespects me like that in front of the lads!” He was completely gone.

“I don’t care if I go to jail! My kids have enough money for school and everything. I don’t care!” He raised the club and swung again. This time he connected. Full force on my hip. I was so pumped with adrenaline that I didn’t feel the pain, but he hit me hard. It was an iron.

The next blow smashed into my thigh. I tried to hold up the sheet, but he continued to strike. He could seriously injure me. At the same time, I knew I could take Bellamy if I needed to. I was bigger and stronger.

Finnan stood by the door. Maybe he was there to stop Bellamy if it got too bad, but he was short and skinny. He wouldn’t have stood a chance once I made my mind up. However, I knew that if I responded to Bellamy’s attack, my career at Liverpool would be over.

I tried to calm him down: “Put down the club and let’s fight with our fists. Come on! A proper fight!” He just stood and glowered at me. Then he said: “Tomorrow at nine o’clock we’ll meet and finish this.” Then he left.

A lot of things had happened that night; I didn’t know about most of it because I’d gone to bed early, but when I looked out the window to see what all the racket was about I saw the flashing lights of a police car and our keeper, Jerzy Dudek, being bundled into the back in handcuffs. He was singing and pounding on the roof of the car.

I rang the doctor and asked him to take a look at me. Already my hip and thigh were turning black and blue. After taking care of my injuries, the doctor called Rafa Benítez. He hurried upstairs and his shock was palpable when he entered the room. But he didn’t say much. He was the same as always, calm and controlled. He just mentioned everyone involved would meet up the next day for a chat. Then he left, first to demand a report from Gerrard about who had let things spiral out of control that night.

In the morning I got up, showered and examined the injuries in the mirror. At five to nine I left the room. Agger wanted to come with me. I found Bellamy’s door and knocked. No answer. It was nine o’clock. I was ready. I knocked again, but nobody opened.

For 10 minutes, we waited outside. Then Agger and I went to have breakfast. The rumors of what had happened during the night had clearly spread. The lads sat there, laughing amongst themselves. After a while Bellamy showed up. He didn’t even glance at me. He grabbed some food and sat down. Not a sound. Nothing. Dudek arrived with scrapes on his face. The lads laughed even more.

The sniggering continued at the training session. I didn’t like that they just laughed about it. One of our team-mates had attacked me and could have ended my career. Why did nobody challenge him about it? But they must have thought that this was a private matter between Bellamy and me.

I felt like knocking him out. I would have been justified in giving him a pounding but I had too much respect for Benítez and the team. We were about to play an important match. There was enough commotion as it was.

Bellamy apologized but only when he was more or less forced to by the manager. He ended up with an £80,000 fine. I received no punishment, contrary to the reports of some journalists.

Barcelona took the lead at Camp Nou, Deco nodding in a header, triggering cheers from more than 90,000 fans in the stands. They had us under pressure, and there was a feeling everything could unravel. Frank Rijkaard had assembled an impressive team. Not only did he have the world’s best player, Ronaldinho, but also a brilliant young talent named Lionel Messi.

Two minutes before the break Bellamy equalized. He celebrated by running towards the corner flag, where he stopped and made a swinging motion, like he was holding a golf club. I thought it was disrespectful. The celebration also revealed the sincerity of his apology.

Then, deep into the second half, Dirk Kuyt was played through by Gerrard, but his first touch took him too close to Barcelona goalkeeper Víctor Valdés to score. Rafael Márquez tried to head the ball out of danger but only got the ball as far as Bellamy. Instead of shooting, he saw I was wide open and centered the ball across the area. Even with my wrong foot I managed to get the ball in the net. Bellamy ran towards me and jumped up on me to celebrate the goal. We were euphoric, but that’s exactly it – in a moment like that you don’t think.

What Bellamy and myself proved was that we had the ability to use adversity to succeed. We handled the pressure and distinguished ourselves in one of the biggest matches you can play. But we could never be friends.

My decision in the hotel room was sensible. I mean, the two of us were dads. But the feeling has stuck with me. I should have stood up for myself. Gerrard once said to me: “If I’d been in your shoes, I don’t think I would have managed.”

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