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Queens Park Rangers’ Joey Barton – One of Our Own?

Joey Barton – One of Our Own?

The vultures appear to be circling again around the coiffured corpse of poor old Joey Barton. As if the prospect of a ten-game suspension wasn’t enough, even Twitter, his most faithful source of allies, appears to have turned on him, with the emergence of what surely must be a previously unheralded army of 140-character assassins ranging from a former England captain to a fictional character from Brookside. So much so that he is seemingly having to re-define the goalposts of triumph, having decided that being absent from the field of play whilst one of the Premier League’s most expensively assembled teams struggled to 17th in the final table by virtue of a dubious penalty elsewhere, as being a feather in his personal quiff.  

Barton’s relationship with the rank-and-file at Loftus Road has already been somewhat tetchy. In March, he was sarcastically applauded from the field as his display of misguided passing precipitated an equally misguided smartphone rant. Despite his apparent appreciation of the subject matter, Nietsche’s “superman” he most certainly was not. It remains to be seen if Barton’s standing at QPR will recover from the image of him showered and suited in the dressing room, presumably with iPad in hand, whilst the likes of Shaun Derry and Jamie Mackie commendably strove for survival of their team for a cumulative wage of less than Barton’s alone.

Barton has the misfortune, self-inflicted or otherwise, to tick many of the usual boxes of accusation to which professional footballers are seen as being culpable in the Premier League era, those of wasted talent, club-hopping mercenary and all-round wrong-un, neatly topped off with a silly moustache and slightly too much hair wax.

Barton’s charge sheet is, to say the least, damning and hardly needs re-examination. It is the sort of thing that Arsene Wenger would actually see, and probably even refuse to defend if he were a lawyer. Of course, despite Barton having apparently plumbed new depths at the Etihad this weekend, his unpopularity is no longer newsworthy in itself. However, does the current vilification of Barton reflect a more fundamental horror amongst our national game, the personification of an emerging acceptance that our English footballers are now as dastardly as those to be found anywhere else in the world?

Although many will argue that any notion of the Corinthian footballing spirit vanished from English football at about the same time as the football rattle, it has been plain to see in the subtext of how we, as supporters, see the game and as our national media report on the game. The overriding notion is still that the game’s ills are diseases brought in from foreign shores. Diving was invented by Jurgen Klinsmann and brought to us by David Ginola and Cristiano Ronaldo surely? Alan Shearer’s papal condemnation of such exponents on Match of the Day apparently belies any memory of his shameful booking for diving against Germany in Euro 2000. He did score the winning goal that day after all. The art of buggering off and deserting your team-mates for months on end will forever be associated with the swarthy likes of Carlos Tevez, presumably because our very own Stan Collymore at least had the decency to look a bit sheepish when he came back from doing something similar in 1999.

Not that English football has ever been for the prudish. We just like our thuggery with a certain social conscience, or a dash of the debonair.

Liverpool’s Tommy Smith was a dirty bastard of the highest order during his playing years, and might be considered to be something even worse on account of his unfortunate comments about his black team-mates in Dave Hill’s excellent analysis of the career of John Barnes. Yet Smith is afforded legendary status at his home-town club which he served diligently for 16 consecutive seasons without ever being tempted by a signing-on fee elsewhere. Unlike Barton, neither can he be tarred with the brush of financial gluttony, as his subsequent years in the decidedly mainstream taxi driving trade would attest. 

Vinnie Jones was sent off twelve times in his career, but only once for violent conduct, and that for a virtually invisible headbutt on Everton’s Kevin Ratcliffe, and his misdemeanours are generally excused as being part of his enthusiasm for the game, rather than anything more sinister. Indeed, he has even made aHollywoodcareer out of such a notion, with the glorious irony that he is now much less convincing as a psychopath than when he was trying to mark Gazza.

Even those who remember “Mad” Mark Dennis of 1980’s Southampton, would tend to temper their denigration of his propensity for foul play with a certain begrudging admiration for a man who managed top forge a career of over 100 top-flight games despite little discernible ability. The same could not be said of Barton who could probably actually be quite good if only he stopped messing around.

Barton therefore appears to have morphed into a creature that is seen as embodying all that is wrong with “our” national game. A man so far from his working-class roots in Huyton that he wouldn’t even go there to run someone over now. A man who cares not about the cumulative disgrace of being expelled from two of our finest football clubs, as there is always another misguided millionaire willing to offer him some egotistical solace. He even gives his children silly names. Worse still, he is entirely of our own making. A monster bred not in a faraway unscrupulous cauldron, but in English football, the home of Bobby Moore, of Bovril, and of the game itself. A national disgrace about which that we have no-one else to blame but ourselves, like Mad Cow’s Disease or the Sinclair C5 and a source of international ridicule matched only by Prime Minister’s Questions.

Barton will no doubt survive. Even if his anticipated redundancy runs beyond the first ten games of next season, as surely it must, then he will re-emerge somewhere else suitably bescarfed in new colours by another excitedly edgy new owner, speaking no doubt of “new chapters” and pleading for “a chance.” There will be not a sign of a blemish. If the same can be said of our game remains to be seen.

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