WHETHER they like it or not, the lives of Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer will always be intertwined. They played together in a Leeds United side that threatened to sweep all before them as they finished second in the Premier League and reached a Champions League semi-final, but that is only part of their shared story. The rest relates to the events of January 12, 2000.

Twenty years ago next month, Safraz Najeib, an Asian student, was chased from Leeds’ Majestyk nightclub and brutally beaten by a drunken mob.

Woodgate and Bowyer were arrested in the wake of the attack, sparking a legal process that lasted nearly two years and encompassed two trials at Hull Crown Court.

At the end of the second trial, Woodgate was cleared of GBH and convicted of a lesser charge of affray, while Bowyer was acquitted of all charges, albeit with the judge branding him a ‘liar’. Paul Clifford, one of Woodgate’s friends who had been drinking with him prior to the incident, was sentenced to six years in prison after being found guilty of affray and GBH in an attack that left Najeib with severe injuries including a broken nose and cheekbone, a fractured leg and a bite on the cheek.

While they were tried alongside each other in the courtroom in Hull, Woodgate and Bowyer’s reaction to the events could hardly have been more different. Bowyer, seemingly immune to the emotional turmoil of what was going on around him, played some of the best football of his career. Woodgate, more obviously unsettled by the legal proceedings, lost three stone in weight and effectively went missing for the best part of year.

Within two years of the verdict, both players had left Leeds and moved on. Woodgate became one of the world’s most expensive centre-halves, playing for Newcastle, Tottenham and Real Madrid. Bowyer also played for Newcastle, as well as West Ham, Birmingham and Ipswich, but never really recaptured the form he had displayed at Leeds.

Different lives, different journeys, yet here we are today, with the pair sitting alongside each other on the touchline at the Riverside Stadium as they embark on the formative stages of their respective managerial careers. What happened almost 20 years ago is past history, and should have no bearing on how they are perceived now. Yet it will always be there in the background, helping to define a period in their lives when Woodgate admits mistakes were made.

“We had some times together as footballers, and we learnt a lot of lessons in those times,” said Woodgate, when his relationship with Bowyer was raised at yesterday’s press conference. “You get on with it, you move on and you look to the future.”

Are they still friends today? “Yeah, I speak to him regularly.” Is he the fiery, emotionally-unstable character he is sometimes portrayed as? “Lee’s actually really calm. When you know him, he’s calm. Okay, on the sidelines, when you see him, he can lose it at times, but can’t we all? He is really, really calm off the pitch when you speak to him. He’s a good lad.”

And what about those times together at Leeds? Peter Ridsdale, who was chairman at the time, claims the club never really recovered from the trauma of that night on Boar Lane, and the fallout from David O’Leary’s decision to publish an autobiography entitled “Leeds United On Trial”. That Leeds side was one of the most exciting and vibrant in the Premier League era, yet its achievements are often overlooked.

“We didn’t win anything at the end of it,” said Woodgate. “That’s the truth. We had thirds, seconds, fourths, a Champions League semi-final, a UEFA Cup semi-final, but we didn’t win a trophy. It’s a shame, but that’s how it goes.”