England footballer Steven Gerrard spoke of his relief today after he was cleared of unjustly attacking a man in a bar.
The Liverpool captain admitted hitting Marcus McGee, 34, in a Southport bar last December and a jury at Liverpool Crown Court accepted his explanation that it was in self-defence.
The 29-year-old was the only one of seven defendants to be cleared over the "explosion of violence" at the Lounge Inn during which Mr McGee lost a tooth and suffered facial cuts.
Gerrard left Liverpool Crown Court to applause from fans and shouts of "come on Rocky".
Speaking to reporters, he said: "Can I just say how pleased I am with today's verdict.
"I'd like to put this case behind me. I'm really looking forward to the season ahead and concentrating on football.
"I'd like to say a big thank you to my legal team, my friends and family and to everyone at Liverpool Football Club for supporting me."
His comments were met with a further round of applause from onlookers before he was ushered away.
The trial heard that Gerrard was at the Lounge Inn in Southport, Merseyside, on December 29 to celebrate Liverpool's 5-1 demolition of Newcastle United hours earlier.
The Reds' captain, who scored twice in the game, was enjoying a night out with a party of friends including Anfield legend Kenny Dalglish, 58.
CCTV footage from the bar showed Gerrard and his friends drinking beer, downing shots and dancing round while chanting football songs.
But trouble flared at around 2am when the father-of-two wanted to change the music on the CD player.
Prosecutor David Turner QC told the jury of seven women and five men that Gerrard lost his cool after Mr McGee refused his request to change the music.
He said the millionaire footballer stormed off in a huff and then confronted Mr McGee at the bar seven minutes later, talking to him for 23 seconds before swinging three upper-cut punches at him.
However, Gerrard's version of events differed. The footballer, who denied affray, told the jury yesterday that he was "shocked" by Mr McGee's attitude.
He said the businessman told him: "You are not putting no f****** music on in here" and swore at him.
Gerrard said they argued for a few seconds before he walked away.
The footballer said that minutes later he decided to smooth things over, against the advice of his friends, because he did not want the row to ruin his night.
He told the court: "I asked Marcus what was the problem with the music machine and why he treated me like that.
"Very quickly he came off the bar stool and was in my face right by me."
He told his defence counsel, John Kelsey-Fry, that he hit out at Mr McGee in self-defence.
He said: "I firmly believed Marcus came towards me to hit me."
Gerrard described raising his left arm to grab the back of Mr McGee's jumper.
He said: "I grabbed the back of his jumper as he moved forward to me. When I had hold of Marcus, I remember swinging my right hand two or three times."
He said the incident took about four or five seconds before he was "pushed and pulled" away from Mr McGee.
Gerrard apologised for what happened, telling the jury: "I am sorry about the whole incident."
CCTV footage showed that Gerrard's friend, John Doran, actually struck the first blow.
Five of Gerrard's friends who accompanied him that night admitted affray.
They are Ian Smith, 19, of Hilary Avenue, John Doran, 29, of Woodlands Road, and Paul McGrattan, 31, of Linden Drive, all Huyton, and Accrington Stanley footballers Robert Grant, 19, of Enstone Avenue, Litherland, and Ian Dunbavin, 28, of Guildford Road, Southport.
Another friend, John McGrattan, 34, of Rimmer Avenue, Huyton, admitted threatening behaviour.