How Do You Solve A Problem Like Joey?

14 Nov

Much of my working week is spent thinking about and working out the narrative for Sunday’s Dispatch. This obviously has a detrimental effect on my career path and bores my closest ones intensely as I probe for and mull over ideas ad nauseum but such is the proverbial albatross for a football obsessive.

I’d been assembling a piece on the nature of redemption. There seems to be a lot of it in the zeitgeist at present. There’s Anne Widdecombe worming her way into the nation’s affections with her erstwhile attempts to execute a Charleston or a Foxtrot on Strictly. As she gets dragged heftily across the dancefloor and escapes the public elimination on a weekly basis, it would seem that we all have undergone a collective bout of amnesia with regard to her heinous views on issues such as homosexuality and immigration. Then there’s George W Bush’s cringeworthy attempts to redefine the pages of history with the publication of his memoirs in which he somehow claims that the angry taunts of a rapper were by far the lowest points of his presidency whilst standing steadfastly in favour of the US’ torture of terror suspects. Even Take That and Robbie Williams are at it, with a new documentary exposing Robbie’s long-awaited and emotional reunion with his bandmates after years of public feuding and recriminations.

Everybody it would seem is after a second chance.

And then there’s Joey Barton. I was planning to write a positive piece about Newcastle’s volatile midfielder and how he seemed to have gone a long way to rebuilding his tattered reputation this season, playing as he does for a club that in itself has undergone a redemption of sorts under the stewardship of the modestly unassuming Chris Hughton.

But sadly Joey’s dark side went and manifested itself. Again. Barton took it upon himself to dispense justice and administered Blackburn’s Morten Gamst Pederson with a punch to the ribs on Wednesday night, resulting in a three game ban.The media was understandably filled with condemnation for a player who had seemingly put his past behind him and finally managed to concentrate on the positive aspects of his play that have always been evident. At the beginning of the week, he came to his team-mate Andy Carroll’s defence with regard to the troubled striker’s impending and deserved England call-up saying:

“Sometimes you need the players who don’t always toe the line. Hopefully they will stop worrying about [the] Goody Two Shoes image which the sponsors want for England. They need to start picking players to win matches.”

I was inclined to agree and was already working out the Dispatch. But after Wednesday night, you had to wonder if some individuals are beyond redemption. Maybe the weight of history, of personal incidences, of the circus surrounding those in the most glaring of industries, limits the chances for personal well-being. Especially when one lives on the fragile line between emotional stability and thuggery as Barton does.

Barton’s role-call of dishonour makes shameful reading. There have been attacks on fans, Nazi salutes, horror tackles and police arrests. It is a portrait of a man who if he wasn’t coseted by the bubble of Premier League opulence, would more than likely be in out and out of prison with regularity. This is a man who grew up in a broken home on a Liverpool estate and has admitted that if it wasn’t for football, he would have become embroiled in both drugs and crime. His half-brother, Michael was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in the racially motivated murder of Anthony Walker in 2005. He has had to deal with his demons and the obvious distresses caused by his personal situation in the public glare. But the Daily Mail’s Patrick Collins dispensed characteristic intolerance for Barton by dismissing his anger issues as “pretentious”. While Barton does not do himself any favours by fuelling the media witch-hunt against him, having compared himself to ‘the anti-Christ, Chairman Mao and Hitler’, in light of his footballing ability, Joey Barton is certainly not the incarnation of Satan on Earth and pretention is no way an adequate description of his negative character traits. Dangerous, misguided or even tragic would be far more appropriate terminology to use.

Which leads me to the crux of the argument. As a culture, as a society, do we choose our heroes and our villains? I have written extensively about Paul Gascoigne’s turmoils on this blog and it would appear to an outsider, that Gazza by virtue of his personality and his prodigious talent is viewed more favourably than Barton is. Joey Barton, is not as beloved a character and consequently his misdemeanours, sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly are scrutinised with ever more intensity. Whatever you might think of him, there have been teams that have been clearly out to goad and provoke a reaction from him throughout this season. It’s a wonder that he hasn’t exploded sooner.

Barton has always been a technically gifted footballer. He may not be a particularly likeable person and he clearly carries a lot of baggage with him. I cannot in any way condone his actions on Wednesday night but at the same time, to dismiss him as a thug and a wastrel shows little or no compassion. Yes, there are both players and people out there who have to deal with their own set of problems on a daily basis and don’t resort to violence but does such public vilification really have any kind of positive effect on this man or does it merely entrench his own attitudes and frailties?

Intolerance is the world-view promoted by the likes of Widdecombe and Bush and there are thousands of people willing to overlook what they have done politically because they dance badly and overcame a drink problem respectively. According to our Prime Minister, even the Chinese government’s propensity for human rights abuses can be overlooked. Has Joey Barton run out of chances? Is he is beyond help? Maybe. But if Take That can exercise some of that much-vaunted patience with Robbie, is it possible that we can extend some of that to a ravaged soul like Joey Barton? Or are we a society that turns its back willingly?

Next time Joey, count to ten. You’ll make my Dispatches a lot easier to write.

Further Reading: Schoolboys Own Stuff: Dispatch – 17th October

Dispatches on the Net: Local derbies: pointless, sterile, anachronistic?

One Response to “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Joey?”

  1. Michael November 16, 2010 at 19:25 #

    I think he’s actually pretty likeable off the pitch (certain incidents excepted). Articulate too. He got wound up too easily last week and deserved the three match ban. His continued villification gets on my tits, though. Tony Adams is just one example of someone who got up to far worse without hysterical public disapprobation.

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