Alpay claims Beckham spat on Turkish badge

Defender given week off by Aston Villa but makes fresh allegations against England captain following tunnel brawl in Istanbul
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The Independent Football

Alpay, the Turkey defender, claimed yesterday that David Beckham spat on the badge of his national team shirt during the ill-tempered Euro 2004 qualifier in Istanbul.

The Aston Villa player has come under fire from England players and the media since returning to the country after he goaded Beckham when the Real Madrid midfielder missed a first-half penalty. The England captain then appeared to catch Alpay in the chin with his head. That was followed by the Alpay poking Beckham in the face as the players made their way off the pitch at half-time.

However, he insisted Beckham had provoked him and said: "Number one, Beckham headbutted me, and number two, he spat at me. If the spit had hit me on the head I wouldn't have been annoyed but it hit the crescent and the star on my Turkey shirt. I really wanted to retaliate but I didn't, and that's the only reason why I was annoyed."

Despite the Blackburn midfielder Tugay claiming he did foul Liverpool's Steven Gerrard for the penalty, Alpay feels the award was incorrect. More controversially, the centre-back now claims he did not say anything to Beckham after the former Manchester United midfielder had skied the ball over the bar after his left foot gave way just as he was about to strike with his right.

"We've never been able to beat England before, that's why we were so determined and stressed on the day," Alpay added through an interpreter. "I don't think the penalty should have been given and when Beckham missed it I felt the urge to go over and say that even if he tried a thousand times he would still miss it, but I didn't say anything."

Despite Alpay clearly taunting Beckham, he then went back for a second bite of the cherry after the half-time whistle had sounded, poking a finger in the face of his opponent as they trudged off the pitch at the Surku Saracoglu Stadium. Beckham was then seen running after Alpay, which resulted in an England security officer, Ray Whitworth, chasing after the feuding duo.

Soon afterwards, an unseemly mêlée followed involving players and officials from both sides, with each nation accusing the other of starting the fight.

Alpay claims he was not involved, stating: "I wasn't in the fight in the tunnel and I didn't see anything. Maybe they started fighting in the tunnel because of what happened in the penalty area between me and Beckham. But how things have got to this stage, I can't believe it."

Alpay and Beckham were called to the changing-room of the referee, Pierluigi Collina, during the interval.

"The only thing the referee said to me and Beckham was, 'You are both professional players, don't make it hard on me, play like gentlemen'," Alpay said. "But I'm sad at the way things have turned out. I can't leave my house because the press are outside all the time."

Alpay will play no part in this Sunday's derby with Birmingham after Villa gave him the rest of the week off. He has been allowed time away with his family, and he is grateful to the Villa manager, David O'Leary, for his understanding and insistent he still has a future at the club upon his return.

"The coach of Aston Villa took me to one side and said to me, 'I know you're stressed with everything that's been going on, but more importantly how's your family coping?' My family's morale is pretty low. He said to me he was going to give me three days' leave to be with my family for those three days," Alpay said. "After that I'll come back and we'll pick up where we left off. I am very grateful to O'Leary."

Alpay could not resist one final dig at Beckham: "The world worships Beckham, but 20 Beckhams wouldn't make one Emre or Hakan Sukur."

A Turkish Football Association official said there was no racist element to the tunnel dispute, but that players on both sides were spitting and punching. Metin Kazacioglu said: "The incident in the tunnel is not something to do with racism and there are some other players who were spitting and punching, etc." Asked whether he meant English or Turkish players, he answered: "Both, both."

* England will play a friendly against Denmark on 16 November at Old Trafford as part of their Euro 2004 preparations.