A disgraced Southland Sharks basketball team returned to Invercargill yesterday afternoon following an alleged "all-in brawl" outside a New Plymouth bar early yesterday.
The incident has resulted in three Southland players being arrested and a suggestion from one witness that someone could have died as a result of a "king hit" from one of the Sharks players.
The three Southland players have been arrested and charged with assault with intent to injure.
They are aged 19, 21 and 28, and have been granted police bail but must appear in the New Plymouth District Court on Wednesday.
The incident took place at the Crowded House bar just hours after the Southland Sharks had defeated the Taranaki Mountain Airs with a last-second basket in the National Basketball League match.
Although only three players have been charged, Crowded House duty manager Max O'Leary alleged "virtually the whole team" got involved.
The incident occurred about 2.30am yesterday, before the Southland team flew out of New Plymouth at 8am.
O'Leary said three security staff suffered a variety of injuries in the attack.
"It would be the most scariest thing I've seen in six and a half years working at Crowded House," O'Leary said.
The attack is believed to have started after the players were denied entry into the bar because one of the group could not provide identification.
"It was an all-in brawl at the front of the bar," O'Leary said. "We had five of our staff involved in it, plus a few others were trying to help. It was a cowardly attack, basically."
He said one bouncer was "king hit" and knocked unconscious, another was kicked repeatedly in the head, and another suffered cuts to his face.
O'Leary was also attacked and punched in the chest.
It took police only a few minutes to arrive at the scene, by which time the players had fled.
"By the time they [police] arrived, most of them had run off," O'Leary said.
"A few of them were trying to hide in car parks. They were picked up because people knew who they were."
Crowded House staff had been alerted to the fact that the Southland players had been denied entry to several other bars in the city.
A witness to the incident, who did not want to be named, described the king hit outside Crowded House as "a cowardly vicious, nasty attack".
"It was 100 per cent unprovoked. It made me angry."
The man, who said he was the sober driver on the night, said he first saw two of the basketballers, some of whom were wearing the team T-shirts, being denied entry to Our Place because they had no identification.
Coach Paul Henare was with the team at Our Place and was said to be acting responsibly but the witness did not see him at Crowded House.
The Our Place bouncers were polite and doing their job, checking IDs, he said.
Their response was "we're going to smash you guys to the ground".
When the two were again rejected at Crowded House, one of the team king-hit the staff member then stomped on him on the ground.
"That guy could be dead today."
The security staff were outnumbered.
"It was 10 or 11 against three to four security staff and one was female. They need to be held accountable."
Southland Sharks general manager Jill Bolger sounded deflated yesterday when contacted about the incident.
She had been in Wellington for NBL meetings and said she had limited information about the situation.
Bolger said she would wait until she was back in Invercargill today to talk with everyone involved before making any decisions as to how the Sharks organisation would respond to the off-court nightmare.
"Clearly it's very disappointing from our perspective that something like this would happen, and it is in the hands of the court system."
"There will obviously be some very sorry people around the place at the moment.
"No matter what the result of the court hearing is, it is disappointing."
Bolger said she did not believe the Sharks were a troubled team off the court or that they had a booze culture.
"I would have to say I have been very comfortable with the culture within the team," she said.
Henare could not be contacted for comment.
- The Southland Times