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Should players with criminal convictions like Joey Barton and Luke McCormick be allowed back into the game?

This past week, there has been some serious debate regarding what action, if any, Queens Park Rangers will take over Joey Barton’s actions in the final game of this season at the Etihad Stadium. The FA have slapped a twelve match ban on the Rangers captain following his disgracefully aggressive behaviour mid way through the second half.

Trouble has seemed to follow Barton throughout his career, from the moment he stubbed out a lit cigar in the eye of  then Manchester City team mate Jamie Tandy, to the scuffle in Bangkok whilst on a pre season tour, and the 6 months in prison he served for assault, yet because of his undeniable skill on the pitch, he always seems to find somebody to give him a contract.

Now, after this latest incident, some are calling for a life ban, others are calling for the Loftus Road club to terminate Mr Barton’s employment, and a few lunatics are calling for Mr Barton himself to be terminated.

However, down the M4 in Swindon, a different debate is taking place, this time regarding former Plymouth Argyle goalkeeper Luke McCormick.

In June 2008, following the wedding of former team mate David Norris, McCormick made a stupid, tragic and ultimately fatal mistake.

After a heavy night of drinking, the goalkeeper got into his Range Rover and attempted to drive home, but it was on the M6 in Staffordshire, that tragedy struck. Travelling well over the speed limit, the Ranger Rover collided with a Toyota Previa. Inside the car two children, brothers Aaron and Ben Peak, aged just 8 and 10, were killed and their father Phillip, was left with permanent and life altering injuries.

Luke McCormick was then handed a 7 year jail sentence, eligible for early release after three and a half years.  (I won’t go in to my thoughts about the English legal system and if the punishment handed out was fair or unfair, that is something for somebody else to discuss somewhere else)

In June, McCormick will be released from jail and there is much debate as to whether or not it is morally right for him to be allowed to return to his profession.

Swindon Town Football Club have come in for a lot of criticism for allowing McCormick to join them for training. I believe that the criticism levelled at the club is unfair, purely because it was the club who were approached by the prison authorities back in January if they would allow the former Argyle shot stopper to train with them whilst on day release as part of his reintegration programme.

I listen to a lot of radio phone ins and when this subject has come up this week opinions have been varied, some callers have been saying that Swindon would be wrong to employ a player who has committed an awful and terrible crime that cut short the lives of two innocent young lads. Others have called for the FA to bring in some sort of rules that prevents players who do such shameful things to play again.

How would you feel if you found out that your club’s new signing was a man who, through actions that were stupid, thoughtless, and reckless in the extreme, tore the heart out of a family?

There is also an argument that one a person has done his time in prison, he should be able to get on with his life, forever burdened by guilt.

Many things can be said about McCormick and there are many words that can be used to describe his actions, however, I believe in second chances and think that McCormick should be given one.

His crime was awful, yes. It was stupid and entirely preventable, but it was also an accident.

Whatever line of work the former Plymouth man chooses to pursue when his sentence ends, this will hang over his head forever. He will wake up and think about the tragedy he caused for the rest of his life and has apparently shown a lot of remorse since the incident. However serious and tragic the outcome of somebody’s actions are, I feel that a second chance can still be granted to people who have acted with stupidity, providing they show genuine remorse and meant no malice in the first instance.

McCormick, according to Swindon chairman Jeremy Wray, wants to “give something back to society”.

This appears to be a stark contrast to the man employed by Queens Park Rangers.

At the start of this piece I listed a few of the key flashpoints in the troubled career of Joey Barton. Every single incident involving him has an element of malice and general nastiness about it.

What kind of person stubs out a cigar in another man’s eye?

Barton has been given chance after chance to change his behaviour, so many chances in fact, that the PFA are now getting sick and tired of trying to help him.

I have not even mentioned in this article the then Newcastle midfielder punching Morten Gamst Pedersen in the chest during a Premier League game at St James’ Park, nor have I mentioned the way he conducts himself on Twitter, or the way he treated Neil Warnock, the man who took a chance on Barton when nobody else would.

I have never been a big fan of Neil Warnock, (or “Colin”, as he is known to some within the game) but he was let down by Barton in a big way.

First of all, following Rangers’ promotion to the Premiership last season, Warnock decided to take a massive gamble and bring Barton to West London, a risk made even bigger by making him captain. Given the players track record, it is hard to imagine that there were many clubs willing to take such a player, even on a free transfer, so you would guess that the new Rangers captain would of kept his head down and look to re pay his managers faith.

You would guess wrong. Mid way through the season and with QPR struggling to find form, Barton turned on Warnock, allegedly making comments about his manager that would contribute to the managers sacking.

There is no way you can directly compare the actions of Luke McCormick and Joey Barton. McCormick made one fatal, mindless mistake and Joey Barton continuously commits offences that show a lot of spite and malice within his character.

It’s true to be said that Joey Barton has never killed anybody, but I think it is time that he is removed from the game on a permanent basis. His violent outbursts are embarrassing to watch and show football in a bad light. As I have mentioned, the guy has had plenty of chances. He is not a young kid any more, and actually shows he is not a stupid person through his comments in the media and some of his more tasteful “tweets”, yet he still has not learned his lesson and continues to pick fights.

On the other hand there is Luke McCormick, who did something unbelievably reckless and will have to live with the death of two children on his conscience for the rest of his days.  There have been many people from all walks of life who have committed all sorts of terrible crimes and come out of prison a reformed character, or at least having learned a lesson in life from the experience.

I really hope that McCormick seizes his chance to “give something back” if somebody does eventually sign him on a permanent deal.

Unfortunately, nobody can change the past nor bring back the Peak brothers. If  Luke McCormick does return to professional football then he should use his experience of jail to help other players stay on the straight and narrow or use his relatively high profile to help charity. If somebody has that mentality and that focus then they can still be of benefit to the greater good game despite a chequered past.

However, Barton’s time for second, third, fourth and fifth chances has been and gone, and I feel that football would be better without players like him.




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