Wednesday 7th May 2003


The Russell Latapy story – Part III

The ‘lime’ that soured Latapy’s career

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SOCCER star Russell latapy reveals all about his life of excess and the girlfriend who’s sticking by him. As the man closest to football hell raiser Dwight Yorke, Russell’s booze-fuelled party lifestyle is the stuff of legends.

The caribbean football ace, who has bedded endless beauties in a life of soccer excess, today reveals the truth behind his life outside football.

By Katrina Tweedie Exclusive

Daily Record

Bleary-eyed, with his trademark baseball cap on back to front, Russell Latapy sat shame-faced behind the wheel of his Volkswagen Beetle.

He’d blown it and he knew it. After a night on the town with best friend Dwight Yorke, he was weaving all over the road, three times over the legal limit, when the police stopped his car.

This, however, only marked the beginning of the repercussions of yet another of his infamous wild nights.

And it has cast a shadow over his career ever since, almost losing him the people he loves most.

“I wish things had worked out differently. I still think I let a lot of people down,” admits Russell.

His drink-driving in May 2001 was two days before a crunch match with rivals Hearts and for his boss at Hibs, Alex McLeish, it was the final straw.

McLeish was prepared to tolerate his star player’s bad behaviour so long as he kept scoring outrageous goals like the one which rounded off a previous 6-2 thumping of Hearts — and so, of course, were the fans.

But with the maverick midfielder’s shame captured luridly all over the front pages, he had to go. Even worse, he was denied a place in the Cup Final against Celtic three weeks later and fans are still bitter after losing, blaming Russell who “let them down”.

“It’s not that I went off the rails. Obviously at times you do things you’re not supposed to,” he says now.

“I was with Dwight at a club and at 11 o’clock we were going home. I only lived a quarter-of-a-mile away and I thought I could get away with it, which was very stupid.”

It was Friday night and he wasn’t playing until Sunday. He was caught drink-driving and, to make matters worse, there were two blondes in the back of the car, neither of whom was Russell’s Portuguese girlfriend of eight years,

Paula Castro.

His explanations to Paula and his nine-year-old son Joao were almost as painful as the apologies to dismayed and hurt Hibs fans.

But Russell believes McLeish had other motives for ditching him from the Cup Final.

He says: “It was always going to be difficult to beat Celtic. If we didn’t win, people would say, and they still do, that it was my fault. It was the easy option for Alex. I was like a deflector.”

Instead of lying low, Russell says: “I buggered off to Portugal for a couple of weeks and went back on the bevvy. On the day of the final I was in Portugal with Paula and a few mates, on the piss. I didn’t watch the Cup Final that year. I was in a holiday party mood.

“Hibs fans might find it strange that I could switch off so easily, but you have to. When you represent a club you put all your energy into doing your job, so if you are not going to be involved, it’s hard. To stop yourself being bitter and sad, you have to get into a party mood.”

Other players’ careers could have been in tatters but Russell, credited with having “magic in his boots” had lifted a struggling Hibs team and soon found himself signed to Rangers. At 32, it was a dream come true — until Alex McLeish came along.

He says: “To be fair to Alex, I didn’t make his job easy. I train hard — but there were days when I went into the club after a hard night out with red eyes.”

After several run-ins, the inevitable happened. Russell had been out on Hogmanay and arrived for training with red-rimmed, bleary eyes.

On New Year’s Day, McLeish called Russell into his office and told him his contract would not be renewed. It was an ignominious start to the New Year.

But Russell remains defiant. “I don’t regret that night.You do things that you probably wish you’d done differently, but there’s no point in regrets.”

Once again, he found himself calling agent John Viola to tell him to look for a new club. Yet he remains surprisingly charitable about Alex McLeish He says: “Alex gave me the opportunity to play in Scotland. Whatever he did was done in the best interest of the club. I don’t think he did anything to hurt me on purpose. I wouldn’t pass him on the street, but equally I wouldn’t suggest we go for a drink. But for me there’s no reason to be bitter.”

Despite his apparent nonchalance, Russell, 34, is no fool.

He realised that too many people were getting fed up with his antics and he knew Rangers was his last big pay-day so he jumped at the chance to play for Dundee United, who have signed him until the end of the season.

But back home in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, Russell can do no wrong. As the middle of five brothers brought up by mum Joan, Russell was encouraged to follow his football dreams.

Aged 10, he joined the nation’s youth development programme, where he met Dwight Yorke and Brian Lara.

“I’ve been playing football ever since I can remember, ever since I could walk,” he says.

At 16, he was plucked from Trinidad’s youth team for his nation’s senior squad. Today, a school has been named in Russell’s honour and he funds a sports foundation for children on the Caribbean island.

Mum Joan says: “Russell’s father left when he was two and I encouraged him to follow his ambitions. I’m so glad for him.”

However long he lasts at Dundee Utd, Russell will retire a rich man to Portugal, where he plans to buy a restaurant.

And here, fans will remember his great goals and forgive him for enjoying the perks that came with his talent.

©2003-2004 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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