A happy ending – for the red half of Liverpool

Affray trial that could have derailed player's glittering career ends in acquittal

Over the four days of his trial the prosecution sought to paint a picture of Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard as a spoilt millionaire. He was, it was claimed, a petulant celebrity unable to cope when an ordinary man dared stand up to him in a trivial row over the choice of music he and his partying friends should dance to.

CCTV footage shown in the court in Gerrard's home city where he is worshiped as a hero by tens of thousands of fans, showed the star lashing out in what looked like a drunken rage. But in the end it took just 70 minutes for the jury to reject this claim and instead unanimously accept Gerrard's version of events that he was acting – albeit mistakenly – in self defence.

Having anxiously awaited a verdict which could have resulted in jail and spelt ruin for both his professional career and his reputation, the 29-year-old father of two showed no emotion as he was found not guilty of affray at the Lounge Inn in Southport last December where he had been celebrating another pinnacle moment in the famous red shirt.

Stepping out into the precincts of Liverpool Crown Court the spectre of a possible three year jail term receding behind him, Gerrard displayed typical understatement as he was greeted by supporters cheering his name and chanting "Rocky". The quietly spoken and fiercely introspective sportsman declared himself satisfied with the outcome. "I'd like to put this case behind me. I'm really looking forward to the season ahead and concentrating on football," was all he would say after thanking his legal team, friends and club. The blandness of his statement masked what can only have been feelings of intense relief.

When news of the verdict reached Singapore, where his team mates were training during a pre-season tour without him, the squad linked arms and cheered, to the delight of watching fans there. Liverpool FC manager Rafa Benitez, who had stuck loyally by his captain since being told he had spent two nights in the cells following the late night fracas with Marcus McGee, said he too was relieved. "We are all pleased at the club and over here at the training camp. We have been supporting him all the time and were just waiting for the decision," he said.

During the trial the jury heard Gerrard had admitted striking Mr McGee, a 34-year-old owner of a double glazing firm, after the pair argued about who should select the music being played at the bar. Five of Gerrard's party, including one of his oldest friends John Doran who issued the first blow by violently elbowing Mr McGee in the face, had earlier admitted affray while another man admitted threatening behaviour. They are due to be sentenced later next month.

But the Recorder of Liverpool, Judge Henry Globe QC told Gerrard that what had appeared to be a "clear-cut case against you of unlawful violence" was nowhere near as straightforward after listening to the evidence. In an unusual move, as judges do not normally comment after not guilty verdicts, Judge Globe said Gerrard, Mr McGee, who lost a tooth and suffered cuts in the fight, and his partner all believed the footballer had struck first but that this version of events was contradicted by the CCTV footage.

"At all times you insisted that you only ever acted in what you believed was reasonable self-defence to what you understandably, albeit you accept mistakenly, believed was an attempted attack upon you by Marcus McGee," the judge said. "The verdict is a credible verdict on the full facts of this case, and you walk away from this court with your reputation intact."

The proceedings shone an unwelcome spotlight into the ferociously-guarded private life of Steven Gerrard not least his penchant for the music of Phil Collins. On his arrest many close to the star could not believe such a devoted professional had allowed himself to become involved in a bar room brawl. Apart from a conviction for drink driving a decade ago, the star has channelled all his energy into his game.

The recipient of an MBE and an Honorary Fellowship from John Moores University, Gerrard grew up on a tough estate in Huyton which gained later notoriety as the place where black teenager Anthony Walker was murdered. He has cited the experience of losing a cousin in the Hillsborough disaster as the propeller for his success. Football has delivered rich rewards – a mansion in Formby; a glamourous "uber-Wag" wife, the fashion journalist Alex Curran; a fleet of luxury cars and a telephone-number salary readily paid by Anfield. But his sensitivity, at times painful to observe, had led some to doubt if he could cut it at the highest level.

The jury was asked repeatedly throughout the trial to put aside any club loyalties they had. At one stage, even the prosecutor paid tribute to "Stevie G"– as a "great player" who had delivered many proud moments to the people of the city.