Craig Bellamy and John Arne Riise’s contrasting take on the Liverpool Golf Club incident
The sight of a Champions League knockout stage without Barcelona is unfamiliar, with the Catalan club often a lock for the quarter-finals at a minimum.
However, as we watch the competition unfold without Xavi’s side, it’s hard not to think back to their surprise elimination some 15 years ago.
At the time, Barca were the reigning European champions after late goals from Samuel Eto’o and Juliano Belletti saw them break through Arsenal’s resistance in the 2006 final.
After finishing second in their group behind Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, a round of 16 encounter with Group C winners Liverpool was on the menu.
The task couldn’t have been more difficult, with Rafa Benitez’s 2005 Champions League winners well adrift at the top of the Premier League at game time, and events off the pitch raised questions over the Reds unit.
However, when Craig Bellamy beat Victor Valdes and celebrated with a golf swing, it was clear that these off-court events would not be hastily forgotten.
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Liverpool weren’t in their best form ahead of their first leg at Camp Nou.
After a goalless draw in the Merseyside Derby, they had squandered an early lead to lose to Newcastle and fell 16 points behind league leaders Manchester United.
An early FA Cup exit was used to the Reds’ advantage, with manager Benitez taking his side through a five-day training camp to prepare for what was beginning to look like their only hope for silverware.
Things don’t always go to plan, however, and the trip to Portugal ended up being marred by an incident involving Bellamy and John Arne Riise that quickly made its way to the final pages.
There are two sides to every story, however, and the bottom line comes down to which of the two teammates you ask.
“That night in Vale do Lobo, I was sitting with Steve Finnan, who was my roommate, Sami Hyypia and Ginge [Riise]“, recalls Bellamy in his autobiography.
“I told Ginge he had to sing a song. I may have said it many times. He said he didn’t want to.
“I mentioned it again and he snapped. He got s**** about it. He got up and started screaming. ‘Listen,’ he shouted, ‘I’m not singing and I’ve had enough of you banging on about it.’
“Sami told me to ignore it and Ginge left soon after. But as the night went on and I had more to drink, it started eating at me.”
Bellamy admitted he was “one of the worst drinkers”, and it was revealed later that night, despite Finnan’s best efforts to talk his teammate out of it.
He admitted to giving Riise “just a hit” in the back with a golf club, saying “If I had taken a good swing, I would have hit the ceiling with my backlift”.
“‘You never talked to me like that in front of people again,’ I said [Riise]’I’ll wrap this around your head,'” he wrote.
“I think back to what I’ve done now and cringe.
“It was pathetic. It was stupidity at the highest level. It was drunken and bullying behavior.”
The Welshman was then called in for a meeting with Benitez and assistant manager Pako Ayesteran and given a disguise, but your opinion on his role in the incident could depend on whether you believe in Bellamy’s version of events or the one told years ago. later by Riise. .
There seems to be some agreement on the singing feud, but Riise’s own autobiography – an excerpt of which was published in the Guardian – deflects regarding the golf club incident.
“I woke up in the dark to hear someone open the door,” the Norwegian wrote.
“Obviously I thought it was [roommate Daniel] ager. I turned around, but my eyes were half asleep and I saw nothing in the sudden, bright glare. But something made me realize 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 lifted the club above his head and swung as hard as he could. He tried to hit me shins, which would have ended my career, but I managed to get my leg out in time.”
According to Riise, the argument continued after that first swing, and it was only then that Bellamy hit him.
“He lifted the club and swung again. This time he connected. Full force on my hip. I was so full of adrenaline I didn’t feel the pain, but he got me hit hard. It was an iron,” he wrote.
“The next blow hit me in the thigh. I tried to hold the sheet, but he kept hitting. He could hurt me badly. At the same time, I knew I could take Bellamy if I had any. needed. I was bigger and stronger.”
The bad blood didn’t go away when the Reds squad traveled to Catalonia, and memories of the clash were still front and center in the players’ minds, but that didn’t matter when Liverpool entered the pitch with the two men named in Benitez. from XI.
When Deco put the hosts ahead with one of many early chances, a third game without a win was entirely on the cards, but it was Bellamy who found a way through when Victor Valdes made a hash from his head.
Would he party with restraint? Of course not.
Out came a mock golf swing, at a time that has allowed us to still talk about the hotel incident 15 years later.
“I thought that was fucking disrespect,” Riise mused.
“The celebration also revealed the sincerity of his apology.”
Yet even though the animosity remained, the pair were still teammates with the same goal in mind, and it was Bellamy who provided Riise to blast the game-winning goal with less than 20 minutes remaining.
Barca scored one of the two goals they needed in the second leg at Anfield but the damage was done.
Two men who could easily have come to blows a few days earlier had hunted the European champions.
The Camp Nou events almost pushed Liverpool to more European glory.
PSV Eindhoven were knocked out in the quarter-finals, while Chelsea also tasted defeat after a penalty shoot-out at Anfield in the semi-finals.
This time however, that was not the case. AC Milan tried their luck in a way Barca couldn’t in the round of 16, and Pippo Inzaghi’s brace gave the Italians avenging their 2005 defeat in Istanbul.
As for Bellamy and Riise? Well, both men are gone in 18 months – Bellamy to West Ham and Riise to Fulham.
However, 15 years after the events, we have a precise idea of what happened… even if we still have two competing versions.