At any point over the last five years or so, Craig Bellamy would have been a shoo-in for any “Most Objectionable Player Of The Year” award, but Craig has had, by his own standards, a quiet year, so there can only be one winner in 2007 – Joey Barton. Now, I don’t know what the demons are that plague Barton’s mind and I’m no amateur psychologist (you’d noticed?), but his behaviour seems to be that of a deeply troubled individual. Manchester City did what they could to help him work out whatever issues he has but he seems almost pathologically unable to control him temper, and the result of this is that Barton is spending the New Year in prison, and could well be spending a lot more time there.
Let’s have a quick look, then, at Barton’s CV (and you’ll note that there isn’t a great deal about his football career on it, because he hasn’t really achieved that much of note). In December 2004, at the Manchester City Christmas party, he stubbed a cigar in the eye of a reserve team player, and was fined a week’s wages for his troubles. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I stubbed a cigar out at my works Christmas party, I’d expect to go to to jail for a while rather than being fined a week’s wages, but no charges were ever brought against him. In the summer of 2005, he assaulted a 15 year-old Everton supporter in Thailand, and in September 2006 bared his backside at Goodison Park after an injury time Manchester City equalizer in a Premier League match. At least it looked as if he’d curbed the worst excesses of his temper, and he even managed to get into the England squad in February of this year, but he managed to upset the established players (albeit in a hilarious way – his comment on Frank Lampard after the 2006 World Cup, “We got beat in the quarter-finals. I played like shit. Here’s my book.”, is probably my favourite football quote of the year), meaning that he will probably never play for the national team again. It’s difficult to see Fabio Capello putting up with Barton’s idiosyncratic take on how to get on with your co-workers.
It was the start of an eventful year for young Joseph. In May, he launched an extraordinary training ground attack on Ousmane Dabo, which resulted in his transfer from Manchester City and a criminal charge for assault for which he is currently on bail, having pleaded not guilty in September. Quite what was going through Sam Allardyce’s mind when he paid £5.8m for Barton will perhaps never be known (I have one theory, though making that public may land me in court on a libel charge), but his transfer to Newcastle was almost poetic. The club of Bellamy, Freddie Sheppard and Douglas Hall. The very epitome of the football club that fleeces its supporters and doesn’t even offer them the bare minimum of what they could reasonably expect (in 2009 in will be forty years since Newcastle United last won a major trophy). This season, he has been injured (though he did manage a pretty awful tackle on Dickson Etuhu in the Tyne-Wear derby), but on Boxing Day he was arrested in Liverpool for common assault and affray (he’s out injured again, in case you were wondering) and was refused bail.
This is a particularly interesting detail. When applying for bail, the judge would normally have to have a specific reason to not grant it. Is Barton likely to abscond? With his profile, unlikely. Would he seek to prejudice any forthcoming trial? Possibly, but this could be done whether he’s in jail or not. Is he a danger to himself or others? Debatable. No specific details have been given as to why his bail has been refused (and it’s possible that the judge read his previous and wanted to make an example of him), but he is in a prison cell at this moment in time, and there’s a chance that he might not be getting out any time soon.
It’s difficult to have much sympathy with Barton. Apart from his parents separating when he was a teenager, he doesn’t appear to have had a particularly traumatic childhood. There doesn’t seem to be any particular reason for his behaviour other than something in his brain that periodically short circuits and makes him go haywire. The fact of the matter is that, ultimately, no-one in “ordinary” society would given the number of chances that he has, whether these were chances of employment or, for the want of a better way of putting it, “chances” to stay out of prison. If spending New Year’s Eve in prison finally forces him to reassess his values, he’ll thank the judge that put him there. If it doesn’t, and I more than suspect that it might not, then he might just prove to be beyond help, and he might just find himself spending more and more time at her majesty’s pleasure in the future.