The fifth entry in our ‘Top Boyos’ series is one of Welsh’s football most volatile characters, yet most committed and passionate to the Welsh cause: Craig Bellamy. Liverpool fan Ste Hoare, writer and podcast regular for top Liverpool fansite ‘The Bib Theorists’, explains why he loved the temperamental Bellamy so much during his two stints at Anfield.
The Nutter with the Putter
Craig Bellamy is a bit of a twat, and that’s probably why I love him so much and why he is my favourite ever Welsh player. To call him that is pretty high praise from a Liverpool fan considering my team has had some truly great Welsh players, such as Joey Jones, Ian Rush and John Toshack.
I’ll be honest, it’s not just his on field performances that make me love Bellamy so much. We are currently living in an era where footballers are micro-managed to the millionth degree and trained to give bland, boring interviews to the press, and quite frankly it’s all a bit boring. Every once in a while it’s refreshing to see a player who does some things out of the ordinary. Whether it be Mario Balotelli setting fireworks off in a hotel room, or Luis Suarez mistaking Branislav Ivanović’s arm for a Subway sandwich, football fans can’t help but find it amusing and entertaining when a player does something a bit stupid. Despite the media outrage that follows these type of players, I can’t help but feel a sense of endearment towards them.
The late, great Sir Bobby Robson described Craig Bellamy as a “great player wrapped round an unusual and volatile character” which seems an apt description for the Welshman. He was just as likely to smash you with a golf club as he was to smash a pile driver into the back of the net.
Controversy seems to follow some players and whether it be throwing a chair at his coach, refusing to take the field because Graeme Souness wanted to play him out of position or clashing with a pitch invader at Old Trafford, it’s fair to say that Craig Bellamy had his fair share of controversial moments. However, there is one moment that sums up the career of Craig Bellamy, and it’s one that I remember very fondly being a Liverpool fan.
It was Wednesday 21st February 2007, and Liverpool had travelled to the Camp Nou to take on the mighty Barcelona in the first leg of a Champions League tie. Barcelona were the reigning European champions, and the side featuring greats like Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho and Xavi where highly fancied to become the first side to retain the European Cup in the modern Champions League era.
If Liverpool’s task wasn’t difficult enough, stories began to emerge on the morning of the game about an incident involving a possible fight between members of the squad. It turned out that a disagreement between Bellamy and Norwegian left back John Arne Riise had resulted in the Welshman trying to attack Riise with a golf club. Rumours were rife that both men wouldn’t play in the game, but Rafa Benitez selected both and that turned out to be an inspired selection, although it didn’t look that way at first!
Barcelona dominated the opening stages and it was no surprise when the Catalan side took the lead after Deco finished coolly after Messi had fed him in. It would have been easy for Liverpool to crumble, after all they were behind, away from home against arguably the best side in the world, and the team was apparently divided. However, what happened next has become almost folklore-like for Liverpool fans and will go down as one of the best European away performances in the club’s history, which is a high honour for a club with such great European memories.
Liverpool defended valiantly and rode their luck at times before being handed a lifeline thanks to Bellamy, plus a pretty big mistake from Barca ‘keeper Victor Valdes. Steve Finnan managed to get enough room on the right hand side to get a cross into the box, where an unmarked Bellamy headed at goal. Valdes should have stopped it, but he only succeeded in carrying the ball over his line and Liverpool were level. A lesser character would have probably just celebrated calmly, but not Bellamy! Oh no, Bellamy took the congratulations of his team mates before swinging an imaginary golf club for the world to see.
In the second half, Bellamy further endeared himself to the Liverpool faithful by setting up Liverpool’s winner for none other than John Arne Riise, the man who he’d allegedly mistaken for a golf ball not so long ago. Liverpool eventually won the game 2-1 and went on to reach the final of that year’s Champions League and that was aided greatly by the superb performance of Craig Bellamy in that game.
Craig has had two spells at Liverpool and on both occasions I’ve been sad to see him leave. He’s a fantastic player, whose pace, power and intelligence make him a nightmare to play against – added to that, he doesn’t shut up and doesn’t mind letting you know what’s on his mind!
He may have his flaws, in fact there’s no doubt about it, the man definitely has his flaws. However, the second he steps across the white line and onto the pitch, he leaves his issues behind him and more often than not puts in a top class performance, and that’s all any fan can ask.
Football is, and footballers as a collective are, in danger of becoming a bit boring. The game needs characters, and as well as being a fantastic player, Craig Bellamy certainly is a character.
Ste Hoare (@stehoare)