The first thing I notice about Craig Bellamy isn't the mass of tattoos which populate his arms, nor is it the slightly maniacal leer in his eyes or the way his head looks slightly squashed, as though some school prank involving heads and vices almost went horribly wrong. It's not the fact that I see him arriving on a BMX either (Christ knows,
its not exactly rare for a footballer to be sans wheels in this day and age, although
there is no suggestion that Bells has been at the Bells). It's not even the fact that, as he
stalks across the chequerboard black and white tiles of the floor towards my window table, he appears to be clicking his fingers, Fonzie-style, in time with some music in his head which only he can hear. No: the first thing I notice about Craig Bellamy, the ex-Manchester City, ex-Liverpool, ex-West Ham, ex-Coventry, ex-Norwich, ex-Blackburn, ex-Newcastle and ex-Celtic striking tyro is the fact he appears to be bedecked in the robes of a monk.
As he approaches the table, he proffers a hand, for once leaving off with the clicking, and I make my first mistake as I reach out to shake it. 'Nuh-uh,' says Craig, wagging his finger (I'll later come to find the Bellmeister talks almost as much with his hands as a Frenchman). He hold out his hand again and this time I see what he wants me to do. He wants me to kiss the rather large emerald ring which adorns his pinkie, much as one would kiss the ring of a bishop. Having interviewed a great deal of footballers over the years, I realise that many of them have their strange foibles, and to draw attention to them so early in an interview is a mistake, so I lavish upon his ring a kiss of such lip-smacking tenderness, the Bellster cannot help but be moved. Finally, when we can both bear it no more, he pulls away, draws up the chair opposite me, spins it around, and sits with his bare arms (the sleeves of his monk's robes are drawn up) wrapped around it, American Top Gun style).
'So,' I say, nervously leafing through the jottings in my reporter-style notebook.
'So,' says the Bell-man.
'Thanks for agreeing to do this interview, Craig... Can I call you Craig?'
A slight incline of the Bell-end's head. He dances his fingers across the top of the chair,
'You can, like, call me Father, if you, like, like,' he says finally. 'And there's no, like,
need to thank me or whatever because, like, I knowwhatImean couldn't even remember I
was supposed to be doing an interview thingy. I just, like, came here because it says so
on my arm.'
I try not to look confused.
'I have this, like, condition,' says Bells, quietly, as though talking is a real effort. 'You see, I can't make new memories. I have to write everything down, like, tattoo it on my body so I can remember where I'm supposed to be going...What club I'm supposed to
Like a light-bulb clicking on in my head, I suddenly realise why Bello the Wisp has accumulated so many clubs in his career. He literally cannot remember who he plays for... I feel my first twinge of sympathy for the much maligned wing-man. 'That must be... terrible,' I 'That's why I do the, like, clicking or whatever,' he says, miming another Fonzie-style click. 'So I remember to, like, keep on walking and whatever... Otherwise.' He mimes having his head chopped off and I wonder whether he fears this will really happen. Again, I desperately seek solace in my notes. There is nothing about his condition to be found there, only your common or garden stuff. You know: plays for Wales, born 1979, invented the paper-clip; the sort of flotsam and jetsam even a cursory surf through the Wikipedia archives can throw up. And what of his monkish get-up, his cassock, or gown or whatever you call it?
'What about the clothes, uh, Father? Did you...' I lower my voice before continuing: 'Did you forget you were a
footballer all together? Did someone tell you you were a monk? As a joke?'
Craig lists me one of his famous beacon smiles, throws out his hands: 'Oh, this old thing,' he says,
self-depreciatingly. 'I look how I, like, feel, chief. I feel holy, I feel the glory all around me... Ever since the
feller out of that, like, Big Brother thing came out – the Welsh one, Dave, he was called, like me dad – and
he, like, converted me on the pitch at half-time during my debut for Cardiff. Very, like, emotional and
'So you're really a monk, Father?'
He gives me the old spectacles, testicles cross thing and nods, sagely. 'I have shunned all worldly possessions now, chief. All I own is the Bellamy Mobile (that's what I call my, like, BMX.) All me wages go straight into, like, the Church or something, to pay for a new roof and whatever. They always need new roofs, Churches, like. Ever noticed that?'
As the sun cuts through the window by our table, it glitters around the Bell-Unit's head, almost giving him the aspect of a halo. He looks part stained-glass in this light, and it is wondrous to behold. Without a moment's thought I fold away my reporter-style notebook, with all my musings about his striking John Arne Riise with a golf club because he refused to do karaoke on a Liverpool FC jolly to Spain, and my queries about why he felt the need to plague the saintly Alan of Shearer with pest-text messages mocking him for his baldness and his too-tight kecks on MOTD. These are questions for another footballer, not he, not this brilliant Bellamy, a man who's overcome everything life has thrown at him in the form of his more famous father, David, and his not being able to think straight. A man who's been gobbled up and come out the other end, like shit, an example to all. And in these dark days of tawdry tabloid allegations about Wayne Rooney, John Terry et al, Father Craig Bellamy is a kind of Second Coming (but of course, I can't tell him that).
Wordlessly, I raise my hand in the air and click my fingers, Fonzie-style, to attract the attention of a waitress. I will buy him wine, the blood of Christ, and together we shalt sup until eternity, or until Craig has to go home to watch Emmerdale Farm because Wikipedia says he never misses an episode.
The waitress finally comes over with a reporter-style notebook of her own in which to jot her musings, or
perhaps list our order.
'What do youse want,' she says, in a voice clogged with Scousery.
And Craig looks up, fully be-haloed, and he looks confused, lost. A lost soul. 'Who are you? Where
am I? Where's me BMX?'
And I swear my heart breaks in stages, in instalments, like a Steven Gerrard dive.