Ronnie Wallwork is not a name that many young football fans would recognise but it’s one that could have easily been mentioned in the same breath as David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs had things turned out differently for the Englishman.

However, his career could have been ended but it had even really begun.

During a loan spell at Royal Antwerp in 1999, he was handed a lifetime ban from professional football for grabbing a referee, Amand Ancion, by the throat after a play-off loss to La Louviere.

United’s legendary manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, was enraged by the ruling, though, and vowed to fight the suspension.

“You would expect such a verdict in Russia– not in Belgium,” the Scot fumed at the time. “We will appeal and will probably also take this to a civil court.”

Fellow United loanee Danny Higginbotham had also been hit with a one-year ban for his role in the attack and Antwerp acknowledged that both players had been guilty of gross misconduct.

However, club secretary Paul Bistiaux concurred with Ferguson that the punishment did not fit the crime.

“We don’t want these players to be cleared; they did something that was unacceptable,” he said.

“But they should have put the incident in the right context and someone should not be robbed of his income for the rest of his playing career for a mistake that lasted just 15 seconds.”

Six four months later, a Belgian court reduced Wallwork’s ban to three years, two of which were probational. It was also ruled that the final year of the suspension would only apply to Belgium,clearing Wallwork to return to United and participate in the 1999-2000 season.

He made five Premier League appearances and added a further 12 during the 2000-01 title-winning campaign, thus earning himself a winners’ medal.

Despite that success, Wallwork was unable to establish himself as a first-team regular, a victim of his versatility, and he was allowed to join West Bromwich Albion in 2002.

“Ronnie is the best Bosman transfer of the summer,” Ferguson enthused. “He was a marvellous player at Old Trafford but he was unfortunate that he never had a set position.

“He came here as a promising young centre-half, we farmed him out to get him some experience, and ended up playing him in a variety of positions, all of which he did well in.

“For a club like West Brom, who don’t have a big budget, it is very handy to have a player like that.”

Wallwork played regularly during his first year at the Hawthorns but, after the club’s relegation, he was sent on loan to Bradford City during the 2003-04 season.

He returned the following season, though, and was named West Brom’s player of the year.

However, he then lost his regular starting berth underTony Mowbray before then suffering a horrific attack that very nearly claimed his life.

On November 30, 2006, Wallwork was at the Sugar Club nightclub with his girlfriend, Amy Broadbent, when he was stabbed seven times with a fish knife by Broadbent’s former boyfriend, Robert Rimmer.

Wallwork spent 10 days in hospital being treated for wounds to his hand, back and stomach but was sidelined for a further 10 weeks by his injuries.

“I was lucky to be alive…there’s scar tissue on my stomach where they operated, which is still a bit sore,” Wallwork told BBC Radio Five Live in early 2007.

“When it happened, I wasn’t thinking about football. I was just lucky to be alive.The doctors said I was fortunate not to have punctured a lung or something more serious.”

Despite making a full recovery, making his return to action in a reserve game on February 21, 2007, but he would never play for the West Brom senior squad again.

He joined League One outfit Huddersfield at the start of the 2007-08 season but the former England Under-20 international soon found himself without a club after failing to secure a long-term contract following a short spell at Sheffield Wednesday.

“I was Player of the Year one minute at West Brom, the next I was out of the team and then out of the club,” Wallwork later lamented. “Things can change very quickly in football; it comes with the territory.”

In 2011, Wallwork found himself in the headlines again when he was charged with three counts of handling stolen cars. Hepleaded guilty and was handed a 15-month jail sentence.

According to his lawyer at the time, Wallwork had struggled with life after football and noted that the former midfield star’s career had been “tragically cut short” by his stabbing.

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