Talent, self-belief and a history of violence and loutish behaviour

Leeds footballers' verdict: Lee Bowyer

By Ian Herbert,Phil Shaw
Saturday 15 December 2001 01:00

Lee Bowyer's supreme confidence throughout the eight months needed to conclude his case appeared to have been justified yesterday when he was acquitted of affray and assault.

In the hours before the verdicts, he played Monopoly in a side room at Hull Crown Court. It was a reflection of how the hours spent in the dock and his absence from Leeds United's daily training sessions never had a conspicuous effect on him, or his football form. Several times he made a 60-mile dash from the court at the end of the day's proceedings, pulled on his strip and scored vital goals in his club's unexpected push to the Uefa Champions' League quarter-finals last season.

His demeanour at Hull Crown Court – strutting confidently before the jury, wearing no socks, in line with the fashions he said he picked up in London – conveyed the air of a man playing to the gallery. He had to be warned not to speak to the jury after he asked: "Can you see?" His self-belief was played on by Desmond de Silva QC, his barrister.

Mr Bowyer was born and brought up in the East End of London by a mother who works in social services and a father employed by a brewery.

When he was not winning medals for junior teams, he was supporting West Ham. He joined Charlton when no job was forthcoming after two years as an Arsenal schoolboy.

In 1995, he tested positive for marijuana in a random drug test by the Football Association, was dropped from England's under-18 squad and banned for two months.

He came back strongly, transferring to Leeds for £2.8m within 15 months and scoring on his Premiership debut, but by then his violent tendencies had emerged through what, in recent legal argument, has become known as the "Egg McMuffin incident".

This took its name from the only food offered to Mr Bowyer and three friends when they descended on a drive-in McDonald's on the Isle of Dogs at 5am on a Sunday in 1996, to be told that they must choose from the breakfast menu. They went berserk, injuring two waiters, one severely, by hurling chairs at them. Mr Bowyer was fined £4,500 – half a week's wages – and warned that he had narrowly escaped imprisonment. The Leeds United solicitor Peter McCormick provided mitigation for him.

Mr Bowyer, who in a rare burst of candour once revealed his favourite film to be The Krays, has remained abrasive on the field, too – his 15 bookings last season were the division's highest. His explanation of the injuries he sustained on the night of the attack was that he left the club, wandered after his friends, was hit by an unknown attacker and fell over.

He is valued at £12m and earns £20,000 a week. Known as "Bow" to colleagues, he can now expect to stake a claim on a place in the England team, as arguably the country's best uncapped player. He has been denied a place for the past two years because the Football Association said he could not be picked until his case ended.

Mr Bowyer returns to a new range of football chants, included the one coined when he scored against the Italian champions, Lazio, soon after a farcical courtroom episode in which he admitted he was not wearing pants beneath his trousers. The Leeds fans sang: "He's here, he's there, he's got no underwear, Lee Bowyer."

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