Peter Bills: English football has no values of decency

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The Independent Online

Giving those who have erred and strayed from their ways another chance might seem a decent humanitarian gesture. But then there’s the case of Joey Barton.

How many more chances does this thug of English football need for us to confirm our original judgement? With people like Barton, it’s best to lock them up and throw away the key.



Barton the footballer was in Manchester until earlier this week. Not engaged in pre-season training with his club but banged up in Strangeways jail. He was there because he kicked and punched someone so hard that their life was imperilled. And, just as a little occupation on the sidelines you understand, he then attacked one of his own team-mates at Manchester City so violently that the guy almost lost an eye. For that he got, wait for it, a suspended sentence; in other words, a little tap on the knuckles and told not to be a naughty boy again.



You can bet your life, he will be. Barton fits perfectly the in thug’s Identikit. Once a hoodlum, always a hoodlum...



Now there is a school of thought that Barton recently has been among his own, rubbing shoulders with the flotsam of society whose company their fellow Brits can most certainly do without. As m’learned judge told the infamous Kray brothers from London’s East End all those years ago when passing sentence “Society has earned a rest from your activities’.



Surely football has earned a rest from Joey Barton’s activities. But no, he emerged from jail this week, was soon in talks with his employers at Newcastle and, it is said, was busily defending his rights. The only ‘rights’ Barton should have been talking about was being ‘banged to rights’ in jail.



Yet this is no examination of England’s social disorder, an analysis of who and what has turned a once peace-loving nation into a haven for feral youngsters. What it is, is a simple, straightforward query. Why wasn’t Newcastle United Football Club prepared to make a stand for the entire game and dump this thug out of their club? They surely had a golden opportunity to tear up Barton’s contract and strike a significant blow for standards of decency in the game at large.



A better chance could scarcely have existed. The nation, cowering under growing attack from the likes of Barton and his fellow wild creatures, is desperate for action. Does not football need to demonstrate it does still cling to certain values of decency?



Instead, it is said that Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan wanted to keep Barton so chairman Mike Ashley had to go along with it. If so, both men were wrong.



Keegan’s eagerness to give Barton yet another chance is at best misguided, at worst stupid. He has done the entire game and his own considerable reputation immense harm by embracing the devil known as Barton.



People like Barton rarely change their ways for the same reason leopards don’t change their spots. They can’t. But you wring your hands in utter despair at a game that is handed a wondrous chance to draw a line in the sand against the thug element and just ignores it.



It is therefore, an apt comment on the prevailing standards of English football’s morals that even a commercial organisation is prepared to make a stand for its principles. Nike is believed to have sacked Barton from a £40,000 a year promotional position. The world famous sports clothing and equipment organisation had no more appetite to be associated with a player whose reputation was as an occupant of the gutter.



But doesn’t it tell you something about the seedy, self-centred world of English football that even as commercial organisations pull the plug on the thug, soccer embraces him anew. Has there ever been a sadder statement about the present low level repute of the English game?

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