May 14, 2012 by Rhi
The climax to the English Premiership yesterday was probably appreciated most by fans of football who didn’t support any of the teams involved. When anything comes down to the wire, it makes it more exciting for neutral supporters, and there’s none of the gut-churning worry of whether your team will win/lose or stay up/go down. So even though I already knew the result before sitting down to Match of the Day last night, I was looking forward to sharing in the thrills of an afternoon of changing fortunes and nip and tuck goal scoring.
Unfortunately, an excellent afternoon of football was marred by one particular incident involving Joey Barton of QPR. After an off the ball tussle with Manchester City’s Carlos Tévez, Barton elbowed him in the throat. After being shown the red card, Barton then kicked out at Sergio Agüero, before being bundled off the pitch by several of his own team-mates. Barton is well known for his violent streak – he has twice been charged with violent conduct by the FA, and was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment for common assault in 2008 for an incident in Liverpool. He left Manchester City under a cloud, after seriously assaulting his then teammate Ousmane Dabo to the extent that he required hospital treatment. Barton is not only no angel, he’s a violent player with a temper who evidently doesn’t know how to control himself either on the pitch or off it.
What is even more disturbing about his behaviour, is that he took to Twitter after the match to explain his actions, and although he apologised to the fans for his sending off, he then appeared to go on to complain that his assault on Tevez was not, in his opinion, a sending off. And that the fact that QPR avoided relegation is “all that matters”.
Understandably, there were a number of people on twitter keen to share their views on his behaviour with Barton last night. Some were fans, some were professional footballers or pundits. All were united in their condemnation of his behaviour. But Barton remained unrepentant. The suggestion that he had lost his temper was met with this:
I’m not sure whether he’s using the fact that someone else suggested it to him as mitigating circumstances. As my Gran would have said, if someone told you to jump in the Clyde would you do it? It was clear that Barton’s second assault was a reaction to his red card. He seems oblivious to the fact that all of this was caused by one person – Barton himself. He is the only person to blame for his actions.
This post-incident attitude is the one I have the most problem with. I think any football fan has a memory of when a footballer suddenly looses it and does something foolish. Often, it’s out of character – like Zidane in the 2006 World Cup Final for example. One of my issues with Celtic manager Neil Lennon last season, was the way in which he let his temper boil over and seemed particularly prone to violent outbursts. When you are involved in football at that level, you need to be aware that you are a role model to millions of young people who watch the sport, some of whom may follow your team. Lennon has always apologised following his outbursts, and this season has seen a calmer Lennon with no water bottles harmed at any point. Barton, on the other hand, seems to think it’s part of his job – although I’m not sure what part of the title team captain confers the right to physically assault other people.
His outburst on twitter continued, attacking Alan Shearer and Gary Linekar after they criticised his behaviour. What I don’t understand is, when the question was raised as to whether Barton would even pull on a QPR shirt again, the reply was “Well, he’s under contract. If they sack him, they’ll have to pay his wages. So I think he’ll be back”.
WHAT? Maybe it’s me being naive, but I’m pretty certain that every other person in the UK who was in paid employment would be sacked on the spot if they were to assault another person during the course of carrying out their job. Or at the very least placed on a warning. In the case of Barton, this isn’t a one off. This is merely the latest in a long line of incidents where Barton decides to let his fists (or whichever other parts of his body happen to be nearest) do the talking. According to the pundits, he’ll get a ban of anything up to 10 matches, a fine, and then he’ll be free to return to club football, potentially to continue as team captain. What kind of message does that send out to younger fans of the game? That punching someone when the game isn’t going your way is acceptable? That physical assault is a legitimate method of gaining an advantage in a match? That being sent off for violent conduct doesn’t matter as long as the result goes your way at the final whistle?
Tonight I’ll probably end up overseeing at least one game of football. Kids in a hall with a soft ball – the way every professional footballer starts off. Behaviour like Barton’s impacts far beyond the confines of one match day. How can I, and the thousands of other volunteers up and down the country who give up their time and energy to coach youth teams, tell these youngsters that physical violence is unacceptable (both on and off the pitch), when Premiership footballers are allowed to behave like that and walk away with a ban of a handful of matches, and a fine that amounts to a few weeks wages? Barton has already been convicted of assault, and has shown no signs of changing his behaviour. And yet he still walked onto that pitch on Sunday wearing a captain’s arm band.
Grass roots football fans have already been priced out of attending top end matches. The larger teams, with their million pound signings and bottomless pots of cash, shouldn’t be condoning this behaviour through inaction. Unless he shows a remarkable change in attitude, I personally would be happy if Barton never played football for any club again.