Hammam's guard revealed to be convicted hooligan

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The Independent Online

The controversial owner of Cardiff City football club, whose fans invaded a pitch and threw missiles at a match five days ago, admitted last night to employing a convicted football hooligan as a bodyguard.

But Sam Hammam defended Neil MacNamara, 37, saying it was useful to have a "poacher turned gamekeeper". He said he had known about Mr MacNamara's criminal record for "a couple of months".

Mr Hammam also wants Mr MacNamara to remain his personal guard even though he was sacked last night by the club's official security firm.

The shaven-headed bodyguard has only recently completed a 12-month ban from every football ground in the country. He accompanied Mr Hammam on his controversial walk around the pitch during the FA cup match between Cardiff and Leeds United at Ninian Park last Sunday, a game that was marred by spectator violence. Cardiff won by two goals to one.

Mr Hammam said last night: "I was unaware that he had been banned from soccer grounds but when I found out it made no difference.

"Sometimes in the security business you need to employ someone who is a poacher turned gamekeeper ... They know how they (hooligans) think, they know who they are and they know how to deal with these situations effectively."

Mr Hammam said he believed "Macca to be a decent man". "I want him to continue to be at my side at Cardiff City," he said. "I believe in rehabilitation and forgiveness. If someone has done something wrong, we should not shun them forever."

Mr Hammam said that when he had first arrived in Cardiff he had not known anyone, but that Mr MacNamara had "become a close friend".

But Mr Hammam's decision is bound to be criticised by some as giving encouragement to football hooligans.

Less than two years ago Mr MacNamara was just one of the many soccer fans who follow Cardiff City to away games. He was arrested at Cardiff's match at Blackpool on Saturday 11 March 2000 and appeared before magistrates three days later, admitting a charge of threatening and abusive behaviour. He was fined £100 with £60 costs.

The court also imposed a domestic football-banning order for 12 months – excluding Mr MacNamara from every soccer ground in the country.

Mr MacNamara also appeared before Cardiff Crown Court in September 1999 charged with violent disorder following a match between Cardiff City and Millwall. The case against him was discharged due to a lack of evidence.

Mr Hammam, the former Wimbledon owner who took over at Cardiff City in September 2000, has been accused of inflaming fans with his touchline walkabouts during matches. He has now promised to discontinue the walks.

Sunday's game was saved from severe violence only by robust policing. Even so, hundreds of Cardiff supporters confronted their Leeds counterparts at the final whistle, and bottles and coins were thrown throughout the game.

Mr MacNamara is listed at Companies House as company secretary at Unisec Security Services, based in Pontypridd, South Wales. Unisec are the approved security company used by Cardiff City for their home matches. The security firm's director, Gary Coombes, said last night that Mr MacNamara would no longer be employed by the company. "Acting on this previously unknown information, I have issued a termination of employment, effective immediately," he said.

The company said it is employed by Cardiff City to provide security staff to the bars and entry gates. Mr Coombes said it was "in no way responsible" for crowd stewarding or the pitch perimeter. "The company does not and has never provided personal security services to the Director of Cardiff City or any other individual," he said.

Mr MacNamara, from Nantgarw, South Wales, was unavailable for comment yesterday.