THE floodgates opened last night on the footballer accused of turning to the courts to protect his privacy after a Scottish newspaper took the dramatic step of identifying him.

The Herald’s sister paper, the Sunday Herald, was the first major UK publication to openly link the English Premier League player to claims he took out a gagging order to prevent allegations of an affair.

Though legal restrictions prevent English and Welsh publications and news sites from running full details, hundreds of thousands of Twitter users circulated the name and some posted photographs of the Sunday Herald which were viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

The Sunday Herald’s exposure of the player, whose name was already in the public domain through thousands of references on Twitter, prompted an outpouring of support from internet users making a mockery of super-injunctions.

The court gagging orders have been criticised by politicians and lawyers, who warn they have run far beyond their intended purpose of protecting people’s private lives.

Publicist Max Clifford said it was “inevitable” a newspaper would take the step of naming the player.

On the player’s decision to seek a super-injunction, he added: “He is making the whole situation a farce and making the damage to himself increase. He has been very badly advised.”

The Sunday Herald is published by a Scottish company and distributed exclusively in Scotland and as such the super-injunction is not applicable.

Huge numbers of people had been freely naming the man they believe is involved via Twitter, and the footballer has even begun legal action against the social network to suppress the information.

The married star is alleged to have had an affair with Big Brother contestant Imogen Thomas, who has fought in vain to overturn the order preventing her from disclosing his identity.

However, Sunday Herald editor Richard Walker said the details of the alleged affair – which may or may not have taken place – were of no concern in deciding to publish the player’s name yesterday.

“It’s irrelevant to our story, and it’s irrelevant to the point we raised,” he said. “What’s getting lost in this is what we printed: that the guy in question has been named in thousands of tweets. I don’t know whether or not he’s the man taking out the injunction, but I do know we can say in all certainty that he’s the man being named on Twitter.

“It seems odd thousands of people can name him online, but if a newspaper states the truth it’s not allowed.”

Foreign media are baffled by the restrictions in Britain, and international publications have aired the player’s name with scant regard for the English super-injunction.

Privacy laws in the UK are less clear than in some countries, but the response to the footballer’s outing will put pressure on legislators to stem the perceived abuse of super-injunctions by the rich and famous.