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Gers yob called him a Fenian b*****d ..then it got nasty; Nacho's night of clubbing mayhem.

Byline: SIMON HOUSTON and THOMAS SMITH

RANGERS star Nacho Novo was the victim of a sectarian attack from his OWN FANS in a shameful night of drink-fuelled mayhem.

The Spanish striker, wearing his official club tie, was caught-up in THREE brawls at one nightclub in the same night. At one point, he was attacked by a crazed Rangers fan - who abused him as a "Fenian b*****d" for apparently wearing a crucifix.

It was a hat-trick of incidents the free-scoring hitman would rather forget.

ONE: Novo has to be held back by bouncers when another couple hurl abuse at his girlfriend - before the couple are thrown out.

TWO: The pounds 10,000-a-week star grapples with a Celtic supporter next to a packed dancefloor after an angry exchange.

THREE: He is struck by a drunken Gers fan outside the bar who took exception to Novo's religion as he tried to hail a cab home.

The final fracas began when a bunch of Rangers fans spotted Nacho in the street and asked for his autograph.

But then one boozed-up fan pointed at what he thought was a crucifix under the Ibrox man's shirt. The idiot yelled: "You shouldn't be playing for us, you should be playing for Celtic, you Fenian b*****d" before lunging at Novo.

As a scuffle broke out, the shaken player and his fiancee were bundled into a car and driven home by bouncers..

The mayhem - in the early hours of last Sunday morning - ended a night which began with Novo celebrating Rangers SPL win against Hibs.

Novo set off for a bash at the Rangers' supporters club in Greenock, near his Renfrewshire home. But it all turned ugly when he and lover Donna Clark left later to carry on partying at a local nightclub.

The revelations come ahead of this afternoon's potentially explosive Old Firm derby - and in the week First Minister Jack McConnell called Celtic and Rangers officials to a summit to stamp out sectarianism.

Last night, one punter who witnessed the madness said the 25-year-old player was asking for trouble. He said: "An Old Firm star going out clubbing in a town like Greenock, which has a big mix of Celtic and Rangers fans, is like a red rag to a bull. But to hit the town in a Rangers tie is almost beyond belief.

"As a Spaniard he obviously doesn't realise just how provocative and inflammatory that's going to be."

Just weeks ago, Novo insisted in a Spanish newspaper that he lives the "quiet life" and hates venturing out in case he is targeted. He said: "The rivalry with Celtic is immense. There will always be someone I meet who wants to have a go at me. For this reason, it is better to stay in."

But he became a target for abuse the moment he set foot in the Word Up nightclub last Saturday night.

Novo and his lover, who were escorted by around five security men, made their way to a small elevated bar area near the back of the club after arriving around 11pm.

Inevitably, Novo's presence sparked massive interest and clubbers flocked over asking autographs. Initially the mood was friendly.

But when a Celtic fan began throwing jibes at Ms Clark, Novo became visbily annoyed and tempers boiled over when she was described as a "cow". Bouncers quickly moved in and, amid a bout of pushing and shoving, the Celtic fan was bundled out the door. There was more trouble ahead when Novo himself became embroiled in a scuffle as "all hell broke loose" just before the club closed at 3am.

A 23-year-old drinker stormed up to Novo and said: "Who the f*** do you think you are, sitting around the place like royalty?'

The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, admits starting the bust-up and having had "a few drinks." Last night he claimed: "Novo jumped up to his feet and started goading me to come over and have a go at him. "He had his hands out in front of him, beckoning me over. By that point I'd had enough and made a lunge for him.

"I was trying to grab him, but we were separated by the team of bouncers in between us.

"No actual blows were struck, it was just a case of a lot of shoving and grabbing."

Eyewitness Francis Duffy and his girlfriend Lisa Bonnar, 21, had been chatting to Novo and Donna throughout the night. The 28-year-old barber from Greenock, said: "Nacho was getting plenty of stick from the Celtic fans in the club, but nothing nasty. "It was all good banter and just a bit of a wind-up really. But he didn't see it that way. When someone made a joke about Celtic and Rangers, he reacted in a vicious manner.

"He walked into a club full of Celtic and Rangers fans and has to expect some stick.

"But as the night went on he began shouting back and swearing and making gestures towards the Celtic fans." Francis was standing next to Novo when the fight broke out. He added: "One minute I was standing talking to him, the next there was a wrestling match going on right in front of me. I had a full pint of lager knocked out of my hand which crashed on the floor. The bouncers then moved in and grabbed me and threw me out of the club"

Francis, who was arrested and charged with breach of the peace added: "If I'm guilty of anything, it's reacting angrily to being thrown out of a club for something I didn't do."

Another eye-witness, a 21-year-old Greenock man was dragged into the melee. He said: "I saw Novo running at a guy and there was a scuffle. The guy he pushed fell back into me." He too has been charged with breach of the peace after police arrested him for banging on the club doors Later on Novo and Ms Clark were taken by bouncers to shelter in am adjoining pub called Text, which had closed earlier.

They stayed another 20 minutes - but once out on the pavement, trouble flared again. That's when they were approached by the fan who thought he spotted a crucifix. An onlooker said: "The guy who went for Novo was so drunk it's hard to say whether Novo was wearing a crucifix or not - but the guy convinced himself that Novo was."

It's not the first time Novo, 25, has been at the centre of controversy since his move to Ibrox. Sick yobs daubed "Novo RIP" on to a fence outside the home he shares with Miss Clark in Inverkip, Renfrewshire. His black BMW M3 convertible has been vandalised and the tyres were slashed in another attack.

Novo moved in with Miss Clark in August last year. She was then the girlfriend of former team-mate Ross Matheson, 26, when the pair played for Raith Rovers.

The pair started an affair - to the fury of Matheson who was last month convicted of breach of the peace after threatening to hurl a brick at Ms Clark's car.

At his home on Friday night, Novo insisted there had been no trouble.

He said: "I really don't want to talk about this. Nothing happened. I just went there for a few drinks, there was no trouble with anyone."

CAPTION(S):

Novo with his girlfriend Donna Clark at their home where he likes to live'the quiet life'; Rangers star Nacho Novo was caught up in three brawls; The moment Novo set foot in Greenock's Word Up nightclub he became a target for abuse; Francis Duffy found star's reaction 'vicious'; Ross Matheson, Donna's former boyfriend
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 20, 2005
Words:1277
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