Aidan Smith: Is Joey Barton’s football missionary work over?

Joey Barton's appearance for Rangers in the Old Firm derby defeat at Celtic Park earlier this month may have been his last for the Ibrox club. Picture: John Devlin

Joey Barton's appearance for Rangers in the Old Firm derby defeat at Celtic Park earlier this month may have been his last for the Ibrox club. Picture: John Devlin

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The next big date in Joey Barton’s diary looks like being the Cheltenham Literature Festival on 16 October when he’ll be plugging his memoir, No Nonsense. Beyond that, who knows?

His three-week suspension by Rangers will have run its course by then and the club’s game that weekend away to Inverness Caley Thistle has been moved to a Friday, 48 hours before his book turn, so he could play. That is, if he still fancies it. That is, if Rangers still fancy him. But already the idea that he could wear the light blue again is being written up as far-fetched fantastical fiction which nobody should believe.

On his website the bold Joey introduces himself thus: “Footballer. Question Time guest. Philosophy student. Future coach. Fluent French speaker.” Expect “Published author” to be added to his calling-card, possibly today when his tome hits the shops. Or “Man of letters”, perhaps, or “Pen-is-mightier dude”.

This is what Barton said earlier this week, on the day Rangers were facing a potentially tricky cup-tie against Queen of the South without him: “It’s not as if someone is holding a sword to my throat and I’ve got no way out. F****** hell, this is tiddlywinks compared to what I’ve been through in life.”

By “what I’ve been through” Barton means the assaults on other players, the assaults on fans, the six-month prison sentence. You can read about all that and more in his book. But will he return from his promotional duties – which have prompted an additional layer of cynicism, beyond the general Barton cynicism, given that the book-puffing coincides with him having all this spare time on his hands – and play any more tiddlywinks in our numpty backward league?

What he means by “sword to my throat” is that he could just walk away, if he’s not shown the door first that is. And that would be a shame, wouldn’t it? The man obviously fancies himself as a missionary, too.

“It’s difficult when I’m playing at a level which, clearly, I’ve not played at before,” he says. “It’s a much lower level and I’m trying to help people get to a higher level.” Bless you and your pith helmet, Joey, trying to save us from ourselves and our rubbishy football.

“This is a country of five million people and pretty much all anyone cares about is Rangers and Celtic,” he continues. “Of course there is a small periphery who don’t. In England that’s diluted by 20 clubs.”

Er, really? South of the border there are the Manchester teams, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and … that’s about it. Everyone turns off Match of the Day after the big five have played. Even West Brom fans don’t stay up for West Brom. The big fat lie about the English Premier League is perpetuated by many but I thought Barton – from his sparring with David Dimbleby and other top talking-heads on the news of the moment – might have had a different view. He purports to be a different, deeper-thinking footballer, after all.

The news of the moment when he appeared on Question Time was the General Election. Barton opined that the options available to the electorate come polling day amounted to a choice “between four really ugly girls”. There’s deeper-thinking for you.

If it is indeed over then his Scottish experience – his grand tour through the swamplands, educating and enlightening – actually started out by hinting at something more promising. Like everyone else Barton tuned in to Scotland’s Game, the big BBC investigation into the state of the game. Actually, he was probably in the minority of players who watched. I don’t think Niko Kranjcar did.

And Barton was certainly one of the very few who tweeted about the first episode, saying: “[Graeme] Souness impact on the game up here was unique. Great to learn about the other characters at the other clubs as well. Great doc. Well done.”

You see? He is a thinker. Or at least that tweet suggested he was ready to immerse himself in the game, to learn about it – and then show us we’re going so hopelessly wrong.

“The tallest trees catch the most wind,” is one of Barton’s favourite profundities. But in his short, unhappy stay in Scotland he’s been unable to see the wood for the trees. He’s got hopelessly caught up in the Old Firm stramash, like so many before him. But it’s not “pretty much all anyone cares about”. There are other clubs, other games, other rivalries, a lively scene loyally supported despite hardships. You’d have thought as an ex-Burnley and QPR player he might have acknowledged that.

Right now, as Barton flogs his book, he could be leaving Scotland as an Old Firm tourist. He’s knocked off the fixture but that’s all. He’s got strong claims to figure among four really overhyped Rangers players. Does he really want that to be our lasting impression of him?

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