The Newcastle United midfielder Joey Barton has accepted a three-match ban from the Football Association for punching Blackburn Rovers' Morten Gamst Pedersen on Wednesday night.
Barton admitted he was at fault and apologised to the Norwegian. "I fully accept that I was in the wrong on this occasion and accept the charge that the FA have brought against me," he said. "This season I have really been enjoying my football and, although I have been on the receiving end of a few robust challenges, I have, up until now, remained calm in the face of provocation and just carried on with the game.
"But I hold my hands up, I reacted badly to the situation on Wednesday night and I deeply regret it."
The player could have requested a personal hearing that would have allowed him to delay the violent conduct charge, handed down yesterday under the FA's new fast-track disciplinary process, permitting him to play against Fulham tomorrow. However, the player, who was caught on camera felling Pedersen with a right-handed punch to the Norwegian's chest, instead begins the suspension at St James'.
Any appeal would have been heard by a three-man independent commission and that commission would have had the right to increase Barton's punishment from three matches. With such compelling evidence, there would have been a strong case for the 28-year-old to receive an even longer ban. Rio Ferdinand had his ban extended by one game for what was described by a disciplinary commission as a "frivolous appeal" against the original three-match charge for striking Hull City's Craig Fagan in January.
Mike Jones, the match referee at St James' Park, did not see the incident and was sent the video footage by the FA's governance department to review yesterday. Jones subsequently told the FA that had he seen Barton strike Pedersen he would have given him a red card at the time for violent conduct.
The incident took place while Jones was booking David Hoilett for diving. In the immediate aftermath, Barton tried to pretend to Pedersen that he had just slapped him in the chest and the footage of the incident shows Pedersen smiling in disbelief at the Newcastle player's explanation.
Newcastle's manager, Chris Hughton, originally defended Barton but the incident was a depressing return to form by a volatile player who has promised repeatedly to change his ways. Barton gave an interview before the derby against Sunderland on 31 October in which he said he did not want to leave "a legacy of being a lunatic", having served 77 days in prison in 2008 for assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
He told the News of the World: "Because of the position I played and the outlook I had, I wanted to be nasty. I didn't want people thinking I was a soft touch. But it's actually all right to say, 'I'm an all right guy'. It's all right to be nice, it's not a sign of weakness.
"The cell door closed and I just thought, 'How the fuck did I get here?' I asked myself, 'Do you want to go back to that and where that could possibly lead, or do you want to change?' That is it for me."
Privately, his club find it difficult to understand, given some impressive recent performances, why the player reacted as he did to Pedersen.
Barton's charge sheet
Dec 2004 Stubs cigar out in the eye of a Man City trainee. Fined six weeks' wages.
May 2005 Breaks leg of pedestrian while driving at 2am in Liverpool.
July Involved in an altercation with Everton supporter on tour of Thailand.
March 2007 Arrested on suspicion of assault and criminal damage after an alleged argument with taxi driver in Liverpool. Later cleared.
May Attacks City team-mate Ousmane Dabo during training. Joins Newcastle.
Dec Arrested in Liverpool city centre in connection with allegation of assault.
May 2008 Jailed for six months after admitting assault and affray.
July Receives four-month suspended sentence for assault on Dabo.
Sept Receives 12-match ban from the FA and fined £25,000 over Dabo incident.