The two gay men at the centre of the late-night brawl which nearly ended Ben Stokes’s career have called for the cricket hero to be knighted after his thrilling Ashes exploits on Sunday.
Cricket’s man of the moment Stokes was put on trial over the fight in Bristol in 2017 but insisted he had been defending Kai Barry and William O’Connor from homophobic abuse.
Mr Barry and Mr O’Connor thanked Stokes after he was found not guilty and have now paid tribute again, saying: ‘He saved us, now he’s saved the Ashes’.
Speaking to The Sun, Mr Barry said: ‘There’s no question he should get a knighthood’.
Kai Barry (left) and William O’Connor thanked Ben Stokes for protecting them during his late-night brawl in 2017. They have now called for him to be knighted
Stokes soaks up the applause from the Headingley crowd on Sunday after he guided England to a miracle Ashes Test win over Australia
The 28-year-old hairdresser went on: ‘Ben risked his career for us. He’s my hero. He’s showed immense strength of character.’
Stokes has been basking in the afterglow of his heroics on Sunday when he rescued England from what seemed a hopeless position to pull off a miracle victory in the third Ashes Test.
PM Boris Johnson has jokingly promised him a Dukedom, reiterating a tongue-in-cheek pledge he made after the World Cup triumph last month.
But Stokes’s career was in jeopardy just a year ago when he faced charges of affray at Bristol Crown Court over the brawl in September 2017.
Stokes had punched Ryan Hale to the ground and then knocked out Ryan Ali before he was arrested.
He maintained he had heard the two men shouting homophobic abuse at Mr O’Connor and Mr Barry.
When he intervened, telling the pair: ‘You shouldn’t be taking the piss because they are gay,’ Stokes said Ali replied: ‘Shut the f*** up or I’ll bottle you.’
Police body camera footage shows Stokes when he was arrested during the incident in Bristol on September 25, 2017
Just a year ago Stokes was on trial for affray after a brawl outside a Bristol nightclub in 2017. He and his wife Clare are pictured outside Bristol Crown Court in August 2018
The jury at Bristol Crown Court took under three hours to acquit Stokes and co-accused Ali of affray following a seven day trial.
Afterwards, the two gay men said Stokes had indeed protected them.
Mr Barry said Stokes ‘took a risk’ by getting involved, although he said he did not know who he was at the time.
Although he was eventually cleared, the affair still set back Stokes’s career. He lost a deal with sportswear firm New Balance while Greene King brewery pulled a television advert, named the Knockabout, which featured him.
The incident also saw Stokes dropped as England vice-captain and he missed the 2017-18 Ashes series in Australia, which a miserable England lost 4-0.
Stokes was eventually fined £15,000 by the cricket authorities after pleading guilty to a charge of bringing the game into disrepute over the incident.
But he has since rebuilt his career and his two triumphs of recent weeks ensure he will go down as one of England’s all-time greats.
Bedlam: England fans can barely believe their eyes after watching Ben Stokes lead his team to one of their greatest ever Ashes victories, scoring 135 not out and sharing a 76 stand for the final wicket with Jack Leach
On Sunday he pummelled Australia’s bowlers for a thrilling 135 not out, sharing a hair-raising stand of 76 with last man Jack Leach to take England over the line.
His exploits were compared to those of England legend Sir Ian Botham who similarly turned around a Headingley Test match in 1981.
Discussing a possible knighthood, PM Boris Johnson said: ‘I think I’ve already promised that Ben Stokes should get a Dukedom so I can’t go any higher than that’.
During the Tory leadership campaign, Mr Johnson said: ‘I will give dukedoms, whatever – I will go to the maximum, to, what, the Garter King of Arms.’
England’s 2005 Ashes-winners were all given MBEs or OBES, in a move which was widely mocked at the time.
The hubris of those celebrations was later blamed for a downturn in form which led to a 5-0 thumping by Australia in the return series in 2006/07.
Downing Street would not be drawn last month on any honours that this year’s England team might receive, saying the issue would be ‘dealt with in the usual way’.