Liverpool and England midfielder Steven Gerrard, who will today lead his team out against bitter rivals Everton for the second time in a week, on Friday told a court he would plead not guilty to assaulting a man during a bar brawl.
Gerrard and two co-defendants were released on bail until 20 March, when the case will be heard at the same court in the seaside town of Southport, half an hour from Liverpool.
The hearing will be sandwiched between two high profile matches, against Manchester United at Old Trafford and at home to fourth placed Aston Villa, that could decide the title race.
Gerrard arrived at North Sefton magistrates court, a few hundred meters from the Lounge Inn bar where the alleged incident took place, in a chauffeur-driven BMW, and was greeted by dozens of photographers and camera crews.
But police fears that his appearance would attract a scrum of supporters and rival fans, which led to the court being closed to the public for security reasons, proved unfounded. Only a handful were present behind railings erected by police.
The 28-year-old Liverpool captain, who scored in a 1-1 draw with Everton on Monday night and will again face his team’s Merseyside rivals in an FA Cup tie at Anfield today, spoke only to confirm his name, age and address and to plead not guilty.
He was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm and affray with John Doran, 29, and Ian Smith, 19, both from Huyton, Merseyside. They also pleaded not guilty to both charges.
They are alleged to have assaulted company director and part time DJ Marcus McGee, 34, early on Dec. 29, after Gerrard had played a key role in his team’s 5-1 victory over Newcastle the previous day. He was charged after being held for almost 24 hours.
Wearing a dark blue suit, dark striped tie and light blue shirt, Gerrard stared impassively ahead with his hands clasped during the 25-minute hearing, only occasionally glancing up to the press benches in the court. Following the hearing he jogged down the courtroom steps and briefly acknowledged the massed ranks of photographers before being driven away. His wife, Alex Curran, was not present.
The publicity surrounding the case does not appear to have affected Gerrard’s performances on the field, where he has been credited with keeping Liverpool’s stuttering title challenge on track.
After submissions from the defense, the prosecution failed in an attempt to have the case adjourned for 10 weeks rather than the usual eight.