Hangover from Man Utd party that turned into a night of shame
It was supposed to be a fitting end to a great year for the superstars at Manchester United Football Club: a lavish Christmas party to celebrate not only the beginning of the festive season, but the end of a year in which they beat their arch rivals Chelsea to the Premiership title in the summer and now stand just one point behind Arsenal at the head of the Premier League.
But a party that started for the players with an extravagant meal and an afternoon of gambling at a casino, and which reached its climax in one of Manchester's plushest hotels surrounded by scores of beautiful women, came to a bitter end with allegations of rape and the arrest of one of the club's most promising youngsters.
Yesterday, United's Northern Ireland defender, Jonny Evans, returned home after a night in police custody, where he was questioned by officers over the alleged rape of a 26-year-old party-goer.
He was also alleged to have been involved in a scuffle with her boyfriend, who was at the party and called the police when the woman complained of being sexually assaulted in one of the hotel's bedrooms.
The Belfast-born 19-year-old was arrested on Tuesday evening when he went to a police station in the city after hearing of the allegation. Evans came forward after being contacted by officers and has now been bailed until 23 February, pending further inquiries.
The full scale of the debauchery which provided the backdrop to the allegations has now emerged in lurid detail.
The players' final destination, the Great John Street Hotel, was the scene of raucous drinking and dancing until the early hours. Every room in the 30-bedroom hotel, where prices range from 235 to 395 per night, was booked out by the squad. It was the second time the team had held their Christmas party at the hotel; last year their bar bill is said to have totalled 43,000.
This time around, a free bar had again been laid on for the players and their guests, who included 100 young women reportedly "hand-picked" for the players. In attendance were a number of former stars of the television soap Hollyoaks and an ex-Miss Manchester, Louise Cliffe.
Each player was allocated a set number of guests and eight security men were hired to stop any unwanted intruders gaining entry and to confiscate all mobile phones, which were banned from being taken into the building.
The hotel leg of the party started in high spirits with the Wales winger Ryan Giggs amazing onlookers with an uncanny Elvis Presley impression and the England striker Wayne Rooney leading his team-mates in a karaoke sing-a-long of "Mustang Sally".
However, events are said to have quickly spun out of control. The Daily Mirror claimed that one player spent much of his time propping up the bar, drinking beer and champagne and lifting the skirts of passing girls. The same newspaper carried allegations of a fight between another Manchester United player and a reveller. The footballer in question was said to have been dragged from the dancefloor by a security guard and ordered to stay outside until he had calmed down.
It was also reported that Rooney, who cost United 30m, chatted up two female university students by asking them if they had ever had a threesome. He reportedly asked them: "I bet you two were naughty together at uni. Did you do threesomes? You know, two girls and a lad?"
Another woman had claimed she was repeatedly harassed by one of United's stars, saying he tried to drag her away from her friends before being stopped by a security guard. She told the paper: "I kept telling him no, but he just wouldn't take it. He was really drunk, as were the rest of them.
"Then he just grabbed me and started to drag me away from the main area towards the toilets. Thankfully, the security man spotted what was going on and came to my help. I was so relieved to see him. I was in tears.
"The players were treating girls like pieces of meat. It was like a horrendous cattle market."
The party started to empty shortly after 3am, before the rape allegation was made to police via a 999 call just an hour later.
The alleged victim was examined at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester and later interviewed by officers before Evans' arrest late on Tuesday night. In the morning, more than 20 forensic investigators arrived at the hotel. It was not the finale the players had envisaged to their end-of-year party.
The bash, organised by the club captain, Gary Neville, had kicked off at midday at Manchester 235, an exclusive city centre casino of which many of United's first-team stars are said to be members. The players arrived in the club's team bus and dined on a 19.50 set menu. The modestly-priced menu barely made a dent in the reported 4,000 the England defender Rio Ferdinand had collected from the players to fund the evening's festivities. After the entertainment, provided by two drag queens and five burlesque dancers not to mention a few hours of gambling the party, from which the players' wives and girlfriends were reportedly banned, moved on to The Old Grapes pub owned by the Coronation Street star Liz Dawn.
There, the group, which included all of Manchester United's first-team stars with the exception of Cristiano Ronaldo, who was at an awards ceremony in Zurich and several reserve team players, drank and chanted football songs before leaving at about 9.30pm.
Star players, including Rooney, Ferdinand, Wes Brown, Anderson, John O'Shea and Danny Simpson, left together in a black people carrier. They were taken to Long Legs, a supposedly upmarket lap dancing bar, but stayed just a short while before moving on to the main event.
The Great John Street Hotel, set in Manchester's trendy Castlefield district, is a converted Victorian schoolhouse which opened as a hotel two years ago. A popular celebrity hang-out, it boasts a roof garden complete with a hot tub and has been visited by the rocker Pete Doherty, the boxer Mike Tyson and the Glazers Manchester United's American owners.