A FOOTBALLER has been cleared of rape allegations.

Blackpool striker Beryly 'Bez' Lubala was accused of grabbing an 18-year-old woman by the hair, telling her to stop making noise and be a good girl before raping her.

But the former Crawley Town player said he was keen to get back to playing football after he was cleared by a jury in Brighton.

He thanked his legal team after a jury took less than two hours to find him not guilty.

Speaking after the verdict, he said: "I am delighted with the verdict, and I would like to thank Jesus Christ my Lord and saviour.

"Thank you to my family and friends for standing by me through what has been an incredibly difficult period of my life.

"I would also like to thank the jury, and the judge Her Honour Shani Barnes for their time.

"Finally, I would like to thank Julia Smart QC, and my solicitor Iqbal Ahmed for their hard work and support.

"Now that a jury has found me to be innocent of all charges, I wish to put this episode behind me and focus on my family, my future, and my career as a footballer."

After the not guilty verdict was announced, there were excited gasps from him friends and family in the public gallery, while others could be heard sobbing.

Her Honour Judge Shani Barnes said: "Thank you all for staying so calm, I know that was hard for you."

The judge told the jury: "This one took on a whole new level of pressure. People's lives were on hold.

"You are free to go back to your lives and Mr Lubala is free to go back to his."

The woman, now 20, previously told police she made it clear she did not want sex with Beryly in several text messages before driving to his home in Horsham.

Beryly was attracting attention from Championship and Premier League scouts after joining Crawley Town from Birmingham City, when the woman said she was attacked in September 2019.

The court previously heard the striker, who joined Blackpool a year later, had sex with the teenager on two occasions before she visited him at his home - once in a hotel on the day he arrived in Crawley and again in a house he was sharing with other players.

She went on to have a relationship with a woman and blocked him on social media. After the relationship ended, he contacted her again by text message.

The jury heard that he told her he only wanted to watch "Netflix and chill" before she agreed to visit him a third time.

Emotional voice messages recorded as the woman drove herself home were played to the jury.

Richard Hearnden, prosecuting, said they could hear the woman saying she felt violated.

Mr Hearnden told the court: "She wasn't raped by a stranger or outdoors or in the street or in an alleyway.

"She was raped by a man she knew, in his house. She wasn't in a relationship with the man, but they had been intimate before."