Liverpool have welcomed the news of Michael Shields' release from prison after he was pardoned for the attempted murder of a barman in Bulgaria.
Shields, 22, was jailed for 15 years after an incident following Liverpool's Champions League victory in Turkey in 2005 before he was later transferred to a prison in the UK.
But Shields smiled and gave a thumbs up as he was freed from Thorn Cross Young Offender Institution in Warrington, Cheshire, and picked up by his parents, Marie and Michael on Wednesday.
Thumbs up: Michael Shields gestures, following his release from prison by
the British government after being convicted of attempted murder in Bulgaria
A Liverpool club statement said: 'It's great news that Michael has been granted a pardon by the Justice Secretary Jack Straw.
'We know how difficult the last four years have been for Michael and his family and everyone at the club, the staff, the players and the fans have tried to support them during this time.
'We hope now that Michael and his family will be able to move on with their lives and look to the future.'
VIDEO: Shields receives pardon...
He smiled and gestured to waiting journalists at the gate as he was driven away by supporter Joe Anderson.
His pardon by Justice Secretary Jack Straw follows a campaign by his family, MPs, clergymen, Liverpool players and many others, who believe he is innocent.
Mr Straw had met with Shields' parents on August 28, when they presented new evidence which convinced him of Shields's innocence, he said in a statement.
Following that meeting he recommended to the Queen that Shields be pardoned.
Going home: Shields waves goodbye as he leaves the Young Offenders Institute
Shields' solicitor John Wheate said today: 'At first Michael couldn't believe it after all these years and knock backs. But now he is absolutely ecstatic and so are his family.'
Mr Straw said he was told by Shields' parents about a meeting between members of the Shields family and another man accused of the attack on barman Martin Georgiev, who was struck on the head with a rock.
Welcome home: A banner outside the Shields family home awaits Michael Shields
Mr Straw was told the man, Graham Sankey, confessed to the attack on the second day of Shields' trial in Bulgaria.
He said: 'I was told in the course of the visit that the man made an oral confession in front of several other people.
Player support: Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard wearing a T-shirt for Michael Shields
'This episode, I was told, happened on 22 July 2005, a day after the start of Mr Shields' trial in Bulgaria.
'I will not set out in this statement all the evidence that has come to light over the last two weeks but suffice it to say that there is very good reason to believe I was being told the truth.
'This, in my view, profoundly changed the credibility of the various accounts of what actually happened in this case.
'I have concluded, having looked carefully at all the evidence now available, that Michael Shields is telling the truth when he says he is innocent of the attempted murder of which he was convicted in Bulgaria.
'That being so I have recommended to Her Majesty the Queen that he should be granted a free pardon.
'Mr Shields is being released from prison today and will return home to his family a free man.'
Taking a stand: Liverpool supporters with a banner protesting Shields' innocence
Details of the evidence, and of what the police uncovered, has been passed to the Bulgarian authorities.
After he was told of the confession, Mr Straw asked Merseyside Police to make further inquiries.
Convicted: Shields reacts after being sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2005
The alleged confession by Mr Sankey, an electrician from Liverpool, had been ruled inadmissible at Shields' trial.
Mr Sankey's solicitor later suggested it may have been an entirely different fight in which his client took part.
A Downing Street spokesman said Prime Minister Gordon Brown was 'very supportive' of the decision to pardon Shields.