Sport on TV: A questionable invitation leads to ugly confrontation


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The Independent Online

Inviting Joey Barton on Question Time (BBC1, Thursday) might seem like an act of madness. After all, he can start an argument in an empty room – and anyway, who cares what footballers think? It’s probably best not to know. And yet he was introduced by David Dimbleby as “the man described as football’s philosophy king”, whose pronouncements on Twitter are deemed in some quarters as important as Pascal’s Pensées or the existentialism of an Algiers University goalkeeper called Albert Camus.

He was asked to explain the rising popularity of Ukip, and he should understand their appeal better than most – “bloody foreigners, coming over here, taking our jobs”. In fact Barton (pictured) was so reviled two years ago after fighting his way off the pitch against Manchester City that he had to leave the country because no employer would touch him. If ever there was a case for shutting the borders, it must have been when Joey went to France.

Ukip’s leader, Nigel Farage, has apparently been up in arms about handguns, calling for them to be legalised because of “our Olympic gun team having to go out of the country to train”, as Ukip MEP Louise Bours helpfully explained. If people are going to be forced to emigrate in order to improve their job or medal prospects, Nigel won’t want to be losing our best marksmen. You never know when they might come in useful.

So “Le Barton” dismissed Ukip’s electoral success last week as a protest vote against the political class, but he included the Faragists in the mix by using an unfortunate analogy. Gesturing to the four party representatives, he said: “If I was somewhere and there were four ugly girls, that’s what you are.”

The Ukip woman appeared to take this rather personally (they seem to do that a lot, instead of looking at the bigger picture, things like policies and governance). She said his comment “proved that footballers’ brains are in their boots”, though she may have been giving them too much credit there.

She had another go at him later on, and he said he would add the offence he had caused to his “repertoire”, by which he presumably meant his charge sheet. “I’m never going to live this down,” he added. “Maybe I was a little bit nervous.” That’s the kind of thing fascist thugs say after a pogrom. “I’ve got more chance of winning a General Election than the Lib Dems,” he went on, allowing us to contemplate his career move the next time he ostracises himself. It may not quite work. He’s more likely to bite your hand than shake it.

Talking about Ukip was a useful way of casting the enfant terrible of British sport in a good light – not to mention another execrable exile, Piers Morgan, who came across as some kind of saint as he prattled on about how much sport his four kids were allowed to play at boarding school (at least they don’t have to see much of him). The debate was held in the new Terminal Two at Heathrow and you could almost see all the illegal immigrants sneaking through the gates behind the panel.

After Barton had criticised the call for a new runway at the airport because it would be terribly noisy at his mansion in Kew – but surely it would make it easier for him to slip out of the country if he had to run for it – the discussion moved on to the problem of obesity and the lack of fitness. A nutritionist in the audience said: “We’ve got the third heaviest girls in Europe.” “That’s one for Joey Barton, I think,” wisecracked Dimbleby. Well, Barton does seem to carry a lot of baggage around with him.

They ran out of time before Barton could put his foot in it again. Dimbleby revealed that for every kilogram you lose in Dubai, you are given a gram of gold. As if footballers didn’t love their shopping trips to the Emirates enough already, their wives will be wanting to emigrate there now.