Footballers' party ends in traditional style – a night in the cells

Ian Herbert,North
Thursday 19 December 2002 01:00

The explosive realities of crossing Glasgow Celtic footballers with a Christmas night out were demonstrated for the second year running yesterday when three of the team's players spent the night under arrest in custody.

Last year's club bash, at the Sizzlers steakhouse in Glasgow, rendered the team's Northern Ireland striker Neil Lennon prostrate on a pavement after he smashed his head on a kerb. This year's celebrations, held in Newcastle upon Tyne in an attempt to avoid attention, delivered Lennon and three team-mates to the confines of the nearby Gateshead constabulary.

Lennon was quickly released but the Dutch winger Bobby Petta, the Swedish star Johan Mjallby and the £3.8m Belgian international Joos Valgaeren spent the night in custody as police investigated the alleged robbery of a press photographer's camera.

The players were leaving Buffalo Joe's, a bar on the Gateshead bank of the river Tyne that features bikini-clad waitresses, when a fracas occurred. The three were released late last night on police bail. They had spent almost 18 hours in police custody at Gateshead East station.

The camera allegedly belonged to a Daily Record photographer who, according to witnesses, photographed the dispute outside the bar and was chased. He called the police and the players were later arrested outside the Sea nightspot on the Newcastle side of the river where, coincidentally, Newcastle United held their party on Monday.

Not that that event had passed off entirely without incident. The Chilean international Clarence Acuna was breathalysed and charged with drink-driving as he made his way to the party to team up with fellow players.

As the fog on the Tyne cleared yesterday morning, Celtic's players – who stayed at a luxury hotel on Newcastle's quayside – ignored all questions as they slipped out of the city. But Celtic's manager, Martin O'Neill, who was not with the party, would have been left to reflect on the considerable wisdom of Leeds United, who cancelled their Christmas party after last year's event came to a similar end involving England striker Robbie Fowler.

Leeds gave up a planned "Wild West" themed event this year aftera Christmas party fracas involving Yorkshire neighbours Sheffield Wednesday served as a reminder of how celebrity Christmas functions can go badly wrong. The Sheffield defenders Ian Hendon and Phil Scott have both been arrested on suspicion of assault and suspended following the incident outside the Bondi Beach Bar in Leeds.

As well as the Fowler incident, Ipswich Town's players were accused of behaving "like animals" after relieving a stripper of her nurse's uniform, while the former Leicester City players Dennis Wise and Robbie Savage came close to blows after Wise was reported to have given his team-mate a teddy bear impaled on a sex toy. Bizarrely, Manchester City players were also denied entry to a club for being dressed as "the Scousers" from Harry Enfield's television show. This year, the club has said it has "too many Christmas games" to stage a party.

The smarter clubs have toned down celebrations this year. West Bromwich Albion's manager, Gary Megson, has organised a party for his players' children; Aston Villa are restricted to a night of ten-pin bowling; Everton had a low-key affair at a restaurant last Saturday; and Blackburn Rovers are doing nothing, along with Fulham, "because the manager does not encourage it".

Celtic may be about to follow suit. Embarrassed last week when fans were accused of rioting on a flight back from a Uefa Cup game, it confirmed its players had been on Tyneside for a Christmas party "in an effort to avoid attention". The club said it was investigating the incident yesterday.

Why managers hate Christmas


The club's memories of the England international Jamie Carragher at their 1998 Christmas do may have contributed to manager Gérard Houllier's ban on parties this year. Dressed as the Hunchback of Notre Dame, he reached for the whipped cream when the stripper arrived. As Carragher pirouetted with her, Michael Owen went to stand in the corner while an aghast Paul Ince (then team captain) was said to have seized the microphone and ordered Carragher to "put her down".

Manchester United

Sir Alex Ferguson's legendary control over his stars' wayward instincts has kept United well out of the festive limelight. For this year's do, the youth team was allowed to choose the dress code and was said to have asked Roy Keane, David Beckham and co to dress up as the cult band Village People. But the young players were reportedly forced to perform a Nativity play for the first team.

The players wisely decided to keep the jamboree in one location and not venture out.

West Ham United

Manager Glenn Roeder sent minders along with his team and alerted the local police last year but it didn't stop Hayden Foxe urinating on the bar in the VIP area of the Sugar Reef club in London. It cost him a fine of two weeks' wages. The players were asked to leave but not before an unnamed player vomited over a table and chairs.

This year, the team are said to be returning to "a bar in London".

Leeds United

Criticised last year for allowing players to go on a seasonal jolly dressed in military fatigues during the trial of Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate. Robbie Fowler was arrested after an altercation with a photographer and the judge advised the jury not to let the incident colour their impressions of the players. The Wild West dress code for this year looked ominous but the players cancelled to avoid embarrassing their manager, Terry Venables.

And the less distinguished...

Those less used to glory seem to be setting an example in abstemiousness. Mark Wright, manager of non-league Chester City, has warned his players they will be weighed and breath-tested. Walsall manager Colin Lee said much the same. Port Vale, in Division Two, have been told that the club cannot afford a bash.

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