And so we arrive at the enigma that is Joey Barton: thoughtful insight into the game and an appearance on Question Time at one end of the scale, unsavoury behaviour and a custodial term for assault at the other. Curiously, Barton is the only manager in League One to have his own website. Far from being an embarrassing morass of illiteracy and lunacy, it is often a treasure trove of intelligent rationale and information. Some will be surprised to learn that in 2014 he visited the Oxford Union and commenced a part-time degree in philosophy at the University of Roehampton. He is clearly an intelligent individual, yet far too often a contradiction, a parody. Will the real Joey Barton please stand up?
Most people know he comes from a tough estate in Huyton, and some have used that as a sociological reason for the life he has led off the field. However, Barton refutes the association and often cites his father and grandmother’s influence in teaching him the right way to do things. Far from becoming a school dropout, he passed all of his GCSEs and could have gone much further in education had football not been the overriding obsession. Therein lies a conundrum: an intelligent individual immersed in a sport not often praised for intellect. Journalist Henry Winter tells an amusing story of an incident that occurred when Barton was believed to be leaving Newcastle. Knowing Barton’s affinity with George Orwell, Winter tweeted him to wish him luck on the road to Wigan Pier; Barton understood the reference, but others tweeted Barton to ask him why he was joining Wigan Athletic. Interesting.
Football mad from an early age, Barton decided he was going to be a footballer when he was seven and linked up with Everton a year or so later. Barton says that Liverpool legend Steve Heighway tried to pinch him for the Liverpool Academy during that period but was rejected because the Barton household was staunch Evertonian. Unfortunately the dream of playing for the club he supported ended in his mid-teens when Everton decided he was too small to make a footballer. There was an unsuccessful trial with Nottingham Forest, who also had concerns over his size.
He was then picked up by Manchester City, courtesy of a former Everton academy coach who had moved there, and was soon earning £72.50 per week including a daily commute from Liverpool. He found life at the academy tough, but eventually graduated to the reserves in 2001. Having signed his first professional contract that summer at the age of eighteen, he was promoted to the first-team squad in 2002 and made his full debut for City in a 2-0 Premier League defeat at Bolton on 5 April 2003. Far from being unimpressed, City kept him in the side for the remainder of the season and he scored his first goal in a win at Spurs in his third game. Although they only finished ninth, City qualified for the UEFA Cup through the fair play rules.
Lincoln fans may remember him appearing in a pre-season friendly at Sincil Bank on 29 July 2003. Lincoln led 2-0 after thirteen minutes before Nicolas Anelka and a last-minute goal by Paulo Wanchope gave Manchester City a 2-2 draw in front of 6,572. Barton started the season proper as a fixture in the side and made his European debut in the first game against Welsh side TNS. That game was of great significance, being the first competitive game at the club’s new home at the City of Manchester Stadium. It was to be a disappointing season for Manchester City, who sat in fifth place at the start of November before a run of fourteen games without a win saw a late scramble for safety in sixteenth.
It was a good season for Barton personally. On 5 September 2003 he made his England U21 debut in a European U21 Championship qualifier against Macedonia in Skopje. He won his second cap four days later against Portugal at Goodison Park of all places, scoring England’s goal in a damaging 2-1 defeat. Surprisingly, he never appeared for the side again. In May 2004 he was named Manchester City’s Young Player of the Season. Everything was looking set fair for a great career in the game, but unfortunately, it is at this point that we must digress.
Simply being a talented footballer is seldom enough, especially in the intense glare of today’s media spotlight. For a wide variety of reasons, controversy has never been far away throughout Joey Barton’s career. It is not the intention to dwell on these aspects because we would prefer to read about football. However, we cannot ignore them either because they are part of the fabric of the man we are discussing, and they have undoubtedly had a significant impact on his career. Rather than sprinkle them throughout the article, it may be a good idea to address them all right now.
Things started to go wrong on 25 July 2004 when a reckless challenge from Barton sparked a mass brawl during a pre-season game at Doncaster. Also in 2004, he was found guilty of a driving offence when his car crashed through the window of a car showroom in Wigan, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. In December 2004 he was fined £60,000 by Manchester City after he stubbed a cigar out in the eye of team mate Jamie Tandy, who successfully sued him for £65,000 in 2009. A few months later he was questioned by police after an accident involving a Liverpool supporter in the city centre. In July 2005 there were allegations that he hit a young Everton fan after getting involved in heated discussions at the Radisson Hotel in Bangkok, which resulted in him being sent home and made to attend drink and anger management counselling. In March 2007 he was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a taxi driver (later found not guilty). In May 2007 he was involved in a training ground altercation with team mate Ousmane Dabo which resulted in a four-month suspended prison sentence. In May 2008 he was jailed for six months for an assault outside a McDonald’s the previous December.
It goes on. In 2009 he was found not guilty of failing to supply the identity of a driver in a speeding case when he claimed that he had never received the citation. In 2010 he was cleared of a speeding charge – despite admitting the offence – after he claimed that…he had never received the citation. In May 2012 he was banned for twelve matches for elbowing Carlos Tevez and assaulting two other players as he walked off, and in June 2012 he was arrested after another violent incident on a night out in Liverpool. In September 2016 he was sent from Glasgow Rangers’ training ground after an incident involving team mate Andy Halliday which resulted in a six-week ban from the club. In April 2017 he was banned from the game for eighteen months for 1,260 historical gambling offences which effectively ended his playing career. In April 2019 he was allegedly involved in an incident that left Barnsley manager Daniel Stendel injured, which he denies, and on 1 May he was banned from driving for six months for two speeding offences. Four weeks later he was alleged to have been involved in a brawl on a Newquay beach while on his stag weekend with friends, which he denies. A night out with Joey Barton must be a riot of fun. Or just a riot.
In addition, there have been numerous onfield flash points relating to violent tackles, off the ball incidents, alleged racial slurs and exaggerated reactions to contact from opponents. We could also add some Twitter spats with various players, managers, journalists, fans, and – of course – frequent conflict with the Football Association. He refers to these incidents as ‘bumps in the road’; others beg to differ.
Right, let’s return to football and to the start of the 2004-05 season. Manchester City won just three of their first thirteen games, leaving them in the bottom half. An eight-game unbeaten run at the end of the season almost snatched a European place but they finished three points short in eighth place. City were in the top three at the start of the 2005-06 season, and a European place was very much in their sights as late as the beginning of March. Then an inexplicable run of nine defeats from their final ten games saw them plummet to finish fifteenth, a run to the FA Cup quarter-final being scant consolation. Barton had handed in a transfer request in January 2006 but later withdrew it and agreed a new four-year contract in July. However, another poor season followed in 2006-07 with a League Cup defeat to third-tier Chesterfield a low point. City scored just ten goals at home all season, and none after New Year’s Day. With that record, they were lucky to finish fourteenth. Incredibly, Barton finished top goalscorer with just six.
The high point was a full England debut on 7 February 2007 as a 78th-minute substitute for Frank Lampard in a 1-0 friendly defeat to Spain at Old Trafford. Ironically, Lampard had been one of the players criticised by Barton for releasing autobiographies in the wake of England’s failure in the 2006 World Cup. However, within a couple of months, he had been arrested for the incident involving the taxi driver and then the assault on Ousmane Dabo. The Football Association could not have been impressed, and he never played for England again.
The incident with Dabo on 1 May 2007 resulted in him being fined £100,000 by Manchester City and being suspended pending an investigation. With Dabo also insisting on pressing charges, it was clear that his time at the club was at an end. Having made 153 appearances for City (scoring 17 goals), Barton was sold to Newcastle for £5.8 million on 14 June 2007. Not only was that the only transfer fee of his career, it was also rumoured to have been inflated by £300,000 to cover money allegedly due to Barton from Manchester City.
His Newcastle debut was delayed by an injury picked up during pre-season, which meant he was not part of the side that became the only team to lose to Derby County that season. Newcastle had a good start to the season which unfortunately tailed away by the time Barton made his debut in October. Manager Sam Allardyce was sacked in the middle of a run of thirteen games without a win and was ultimately replaced by Barton’s former manager from Manchester City, Kevin Keegan. Newcastle rallied to finish twelfth, but Barton’s season ended with his prison sentence in May. He was released at the end of July but was to make very few appearances in 2008-09 as Newcastle slid to relegation in ignominious fashion. Three managers came and went – Keegan, Joe Kinnear and finally Alan Shearer, interspersed by two caretaker spells from Chris Hughton – but Newcastle never looked likely to stay up. Barton hit the headlines again for a spicy exchange of insults with Shearer.
Newcastle appointed Chris Hughton on a permanent basis for 2009-10, and Newcastle strolled to the Championship title with only four defeats. Barton featured very rarely once again, this time through injury. He was back as a first-team regular at the start of 2010-11 as Newcastle enjoyed a reasonable start to life back in the Premier League. Five games without a win led to the unpopular decision to sack manager Hughton in December 2010, and things were no better under new manager Alan Pardew. Newcastle managed a mid-table finish in twelfth, although traditional Newcastle embarrassment came with a 3-1 FA Cup defeat at League Two newcomers Stevenage. There then arose a protracted contract dispute, at the end of which Newcastle gave Barton a free transfer. His time in the north-east had not been a success, making only made 84 appearances in four seasons.
On 26 July 2011 Barton signed a four-year contract with Queens Park Rangers, just promoted to the Premier League as champions. If hopes were high of a successful new start, they were soon dashed as another season of struggle emerged. Ironically, his QPR debut came in a 0-0 draw with Newcastle as Rangers won three and drew three of their first nine games. Things became harder, and the side plunged into the bottom three over the new year. Incredibly, their final eleven games followed a lost-won-lost-won pattern which resulted in survival by a single point. But the final day against former employers Manchester City will be remembered for the incidents involving Carlos Tevez, Sergio Agüero and Vincent Kompany as Barton was sent off. It resulted in a record twelve-match ban, and was hardly the conduct QPR expected of their captain. The captaincy was taken off him and he was fined a rumoured £500,000 in wages; Barton was also given a final warning as to his conduct.
Amid rumours of a permanent transfer away from Loftus Road, he joined French side Marseille on a season-long loan on 31 August 2012. His twelve-match suspension was considered valid in France too, so he missed the first four months of the domestic season for his new club. Barton caused more antagonism by claiming he had only joined QPR for the money and did not want to go back at the end of his loan. Unfortunately for him, Marseille decided not to make the move permanent at the end of the season. Despite winning the French League Cup, they had finished only tenth in the league table. Rumours of a move to Everton came to nothing and he had no option but to return to QPR.
During his absence, QPR had turned in a dreadful season, winning only four games and finishing bottom of the Premier League. Therefore Barton kicked off the 2013-14 season back in the Championship, and despite the antagonism of the previous two seasons, he went straight back into the side. It would prove to be a successful season for team and player as a 90th-minute Bobby Zamora winner against Derby in the play-off final saw Rangers bounce straight back to the Premier League. The yo-yo existence continued unabated in 2014-15 as a 6-0 defeat at Manchester City relegated them in bottom place with two games remaining. But there was another negative: in March 2015 Barton set an unwelcome Premier League record with a yellow card in seven successive games. He was not booked in the eighth game away to Hull: he received a straight red instead. At the end of the season, he was released at the end of his contract.
On 27 August 2015 Barton signed for another Premier League yo-yo club, Burnley. Recently relegated to the Championship after one season in the top flight, it was Burnley’s turn to bounce straight back. Sitting in fifth place at Christmas, they embarked on a fantastic unbeaten run of sixteen wins and seven draws to take the title by four points. Having survived a whole season without a red card, Barton was named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year as well as collecting Burnley’s Player of the Season award.
To everyone’s surprise, Barton rejected Burnley’s offer of a new contract and joined Glasgow Rangers on a two-year deal on 24 May 2016. Things did not go well, resulting in that training ground altercation with Andy Halliday which resulted in a six-week suspension from the club. His contract was cancelled by mutual consent in November, and despite the commencement of the FA investigation into betting infringements, he rejoined Burnley on 2 January 2017. He scored on his Premier League debut against Southampton but his career was fizzling out. Unfortunately, there was to be an embarrassing incident in which Barton appeared to run deliberately into the outstretched arm of Lincoln striker Matt Rhead during Burnley’s shock FA Cup fifth-round defeat. It contributed to a disappointing swansong to his playing career, and he would make just nine more appearances before the betting ban finally brought the curtain down.
In July 2017 the ban was reduced by five months on appeal, meaning that it would expire in June 2018. That opened up the possibility of returning to football in some capacity for the 2018-19 season, but at 35 it was unlikely it would be as a player. That was confirmed in April 2018 when he was appointed manager of League One side Fleetwood Town and officially retired from playing. He immediately acknowledged that doubts would exist over his appointment and realised the need to repay the faith shown in him. Fleetwood had a good first season under his management, finishing very comfortably in mid-table. Unfortunately, the Stendel incident saw Barton hit the headlines for the wrong reasons again, and the driving ban and the Newquay allegations finished off a poor end to the season.
Quite how many more chances football is willing to give Joey Barton is a moot point. He is a complex and contradictory character whose works for charity, for example, are almost never mentioned. Many were surprised when Fleetwood gave him an opportunity in management, and an exemplary character was expected and certainly required. It has been a controversial first season, and it remains to be seen whether there will be any repercussions from the Stendel and Newquay incidents. Barton was undoubtedly a talented footballer whose ability was all too often obliterated by thick clouds of red mist. The question is: can he now adopt the mantle of responsibility expected of a role model and prevent a career in management from being similarly blighted?
P = Promoted; R = Relegated; SF = Lost in play-off semi-final; F = Lost in play-off final; PO = Won play-off final; D = Demoted.
Figures are league games only; cup matches and play-offs are not included.
League position shown is either the position at the end of the season or the position at the time of departure
— Vital Lincoln City (@VitalLincoln) July 20, 2019