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Team-mate disputes and arguments do not come any more spectacular than the extraordinary fracas between former Liverpool duo Craig Bellamy and John Arne Riise in 2007.
With an enormous Champions League round of 16 clash away to Barcelona on the horizon, Reds boss Rafa Benitez thought he would try and banish lingering nerves by taking his squad away to Portugal for a team-bonding break. Unfortunately, the trip descended into a booze laden, rowdy mess.
The most jaw-dropping story to emerge from Portugal took place in Riise’s hotel room, where an enraged Bellamy menacingly stormed into his unlocked room and confronted the Norwegian with a golf club. Daily Star Sport considers both player’s testimonies and the events before and after the incident that led to the explosive confrontation…
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The first planted tee
Various reports stated the two players initially came to blows during a boozy team dinner. However, Bellamy recently claimed Riise was in his bad books long before the two even touched down in Portugal.
“He didn’t go on the Christmas do that year,” Bellamy said to ‘the Tubes and Ange golf life podcast’. “He said he had to fly to Norway and then we found out there were no flights at that time, and he just didn’t go. He got fined for it and was told he had to sing a song as well.”
With this ingrained in his mind like a bunker, Bellamy also said Riise had irked him in Portugal with some sneaky gamesmanship during a round of golf together.
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“We were playing golf, and like I said, I never really played then,” Bellamy added. “It was me, Robbie Fowler, and John Arne Riise.
“And I don’t know, it was hard work all around. You know like, I see a ball splash in the water and then I find it outside of the water, except I hadn’t found it, he had found it.
“It’s difficult, you don’t want to say anything at the time and it just grated on me. Then we went off for the evening, there were songs, people had to sing.”
"Riise's gonna sing!"
Unfortunately for Bellamy, Riise – the master of the power free-kick – firmly decided that a power ballad was not in his locker. The two powerhouses locked horns in a spectacular singing dispute.
But instead of Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh, Dani Minogue, and Cheryl Cole, the Liverpool players were the ones staring wide eyed at the drama unfolding before them. “A couple of the lads started drinking before the food arrived. Among them was Craig Bellamy,” Riise said in an extract of his book ‘Running Man’, via the Guardian.
“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!'”
With the afternoon’s round of golf still rattling around his head like a golf ball dropped on concrete, Bellamy was not willing to end the evening without seeing Riise murmuring awkwardly into a microphone, while reading song lyrics from a screen.
“So me being me, after that day as well, I wasn’t letting him get away with not singing,” Bellamy added. “I could see he didn’t want to do it and now even more I was like ‘you’ve got to sing’.”
Riise’s rage against the karaoke machine
If it was not already, Riise and Bellamy had firmly set their stalls in regards to Riise’s karaoke duties. And just as the Welshman was likely trying to generate a call and response from his Liverpool players in the crowd, the atmosphere became so tense, you could slice it with a firm swing of a wired karaoke microphone.
"Furious, I went over to him,” Riise continued. “‘I’m not singing. Shut the f*** up or else I’m gonna smash you!’. He screamed back: 'I’m gonna f****** kill you, you ginger c***!'"
Many harsh words, but no microphones are believed to have been thrown during this foul mouthed dinner time encounter. However, the angry exchange turned out to be a mere prelude to the madness that was about to rear its ugly head.
An unforgettable wake-up call
If ever there was a lesson to never leave your hotel room door on the latch, this may just be it. Bedraggled by the dinner time drama that ensued, Riise decided to bring down the curtain on a breathless night.
With room-mate Daniel Agger deciding to stay with his team-mates, Riise agreed to keep the door open for the Dane. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? Well, the answer to that question is a very angry team-mate could storm into your room with an eight iron in hand.
“I woke in the dark to hear someone opening the door," Riise said. "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 realise 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.” While Bellamy admitted his eight-iron wielding fracas is not one of his finest moments, his testimony paints a marginally less dramatic picture.
“There’s no good way of it and I’m certainly not proud, it’s not a great moment for me. I went in there, smacked him across the arse. Listen, I know what a golf club can do you know what I mean. Then I just said to him [Riise] ‘don’t ever speak to me like that in front of people’ and he quickly apologised – you probably would do if someone was over your bed with a golf club.”
Benitez is normally a beacon of calm and composure. Coolness personified, he is normally unflappable and tranquil. But even he was unsurprisingly stunned by this encounter. The next day – "I rang the doctor and asked him to take a look at me,” Riise continued. “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.”
A few days later, Benitez warded off an inquisition unlike very few he has faced, by playing down the incident as best as he could. "The problem is not as big as reported in the press, so there really haven't been many players fined,” Benitez said in his pre-match press conference ahead of the Barcelona match.
"They apologised and the atmosphere is good. We are ready for the match. It was a shame it had to happen, but it doesn't matter now. It is over, as I have said. The players' reaction was great and we have put it behind us and are concentrating on the game."
In their respective press conferences, Bellamy also tried to pour cold water over the media fire he had in part created. "I lost control for a few seconds,” the former West Ham ace said before their clash at the Nou Camp. "John's been great about it really. Straight away next morning we were training together. There's no problem."
A Nou Camp masterclass
After many days of derision and unwanted headlines, Liverpool travelled to the Nou Camp with a much needed point to prove. Clashes against Barcelona are difficult at the best of times, let alone with the added pressure of the shenanigans in Portugal.
Incredibly, the events of the match were almost written in the stars – or carved into them by a few good thwacks of an eight iron. Not only did the Reds overcome Barcelona 2-1 at the Nou Camp, both Bellamy and Riise were on the scoresheet – Bellamy even cheered his goal with his now infamous golf swing celebration.
Despite losing the return leg at Anfield 1-0, Liverpool progressed into the quarter-finals courtesy of their two away goals at the Nou Camp. And while Riise admitted he will never be friends with Bellamy, he believes they both showed excellent professionalism to put their quarrels to one side. “Bellamy ran towards me and jumped up on me to celebrate the goal,” Riise added. “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.”
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