Joey Barton has collected a lot of karma in this life. From drunken 5am brawls to fist fights with 15-year-old fans to hitting pedestrians with his car, his story is one of an exceptionally bothered and angry man. Dubbed the “baddest man in British football” his rise to the top has left a trail of serious destruction in its wake. In one incident, he even stubbed a cigar out in the eye of a fellow team-mate.
Yet Barton is undoubtedly a product of his environment. Raised in the notoriously tough make-you-or-break-you town of Huyton, Merseyside, the famous footballer had to fight his way to the top. Literally. The fact that he collected an audience for all of his mishaps along the way is a simple side-effect of celebrity. Unlike so many others living lives just as — or far more — tumultuous, his miscreant behaviour remains subject to the scrutiny of the masses. And it is always easier to judge from a distance.
In a recent interview with The Times, Barton appears to be turning things around. Yet this is a common theme for those with such painful pasts– there is a turning point, one that finds them either completely self-destructing or putting the pieces together and setting forward on a new path. Is Barton the real deal, or, as some have speculated, simply an intelligent sociopath? Though words of course remain a very weak indicator of truth, here are some from the man himself.
Your upbringing and background shape who you are. That is inevitable. When you take a step back, it is incredible the extent to which you are moulded by your past, the experiences you had growing up and the assumptions that were rammed into you in your neighbourhood. Where I came from, violence was the norm. It was respected. It showed that you were tough and would not allow yourself to get walked all over. . . Where I grew up, it was the law of the jungle.
Football has not just been a way of earning a living. It has also given me an opportunity to move on from my past. . . Where I grew up, homophobia was normal. There was a lot of racism, too. People were threatened by anyone who was a little bit different. But I have played alongside black players. I have got to know people who are gay. Football has broken down the barriers for me. It helped me to see that the ideas I grew up with were not, like, the absolute truth. There are other ways of thinking about the world. Football, if you like, has been the universal barrier-breaker in my life.
People see you on television, know what you earn: life must be perfect. But behind that façade is an emotionally vulnerable little boy putting on this big show.
I started attending a course at Roehampton University last year. I go to lectures every Tuesday and Thursday during term and have become really good friends with Raj [Seghal], the lecturer. I am not saying I am superintelligent, but there is nothing to stop you expanding your mind if you have the focus and discipline. You can learn so much about the world and, even more importantly, about yourself.
The things I have done are stupid and foolish. But they are not war crimes. When footballers are on the front page and on page seven is something about soldiers dying or floods or the real tragedies in this world, I ask myself how we can justify that.
Violence always comes from a place of misunderstanding and low to zero self-worth, well mine did anyway. . .
I don’t like the way [religion] stops people thinking for themselves. I really believe that philosophy should replace religious education on the school curriculum. People should be given the tools to try to understand who they are, rather than simply rely on the words of an authority figure, because that can lead to self-improvement.
Where I grew up, fathers would have bets on whose kids were the toughest and we were put together in the garden – almost like illegal boxing fights.
I can still feel the wolf inside. Perhaps it will always be there. But I communicate with that part of my character; I have learnt to accept it and control it. When I feel the anger rising, I have much better coping mechanisms. I have good friends, people I can turn to. I have my family. I have philosophy. I cannot say for certain that I will never make a mistake again. I cannot be 100 per cent sure. But I will do everything possible to do the right thing. I am feeling stronger in myself than ever before.
I could have pissed my career up the wall. I remember sitting in the holding cell waiting to go into court and there is all this graffiti on the walls. I’m just reading it when I see this message left by someone. ‘I don’t know why you are here, what you are here for but someone wants you to learn a lesson. Don’t be a fool and don’t put yourself in a position where you have to read this again to learn.’ It was like someone had put something in my way. Like a light had come on.
I look back and know that I would not be the man that I am nor the father that I’m going to be if I hadn’t completely fucked up my life at a very young age.