Barton: 'Nothing sobers you up like jail'

Newcastle's Barton breaks silence and admits that he is in 'the last-chance saloon'
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The Independent Online

Personal sympathy has not been requested and an outpouring is not anticipated, but Joey Barton has spoken publicly for the first time since his release from Strangeways prison on 28 July. Barton was both scathing and realistic about his life and standing within and outside football and said: "My reputation will precede me to the day I die; for some people that probably can't be quickly enough."

This was not self-pity. Barton used words such as "indefensible" and "stupid" to describe the misdemeanours of a lifestyle that culminated in him going AWOL in Liverpool last Boxing Day after Newcastle United's defeat at Wigan.

An early morning fight led, five months later, to a jail sentence of six months for common assault and a career in crisis.

Barton served 77 days of that sentence in different prisons and while he was inside, the then 25 year-old was also given a four-month suspended sentence for actual bodily harm for an attack on Ousmane Dabo in May 2007, when the pair were Manchester City employees. After his release Barton made one substitute appearance for Newcastle at Arsenal but was then charged with violent conduct against Dabo by the Football Association and banned for six matches.

On Tuesday night, at the home of Billingham Synthonia, Barton made his comeback. It was for Newcastle's reserves against Middlesbrough's. Barton played for 80 minutes in front of interim Newcastle manager Joe Kinnear and is now in contention to play some role in Saturday's potentially explosive derby at Sunderland.

Barton could have been sent off in the corresponding fixture last season but that was before Wigan, before prison and he insisted that he is a changing, if not changed, man.

"I let a lot of people down and now I am just hoping to repay them," Barton said. "I know a lot of people don't think that I deserve another chance but fortunately I have got one. I am very, very fortunate.

"Now I have to make the most of it. There are people that have been in jail longer than me. I was watching the boxing the other night and saw Bernard Hopkins. He had been in jail for four years and managed to turn his life around. I just have to try to take inspiration from that. I'm not the first person to mess up, and I have messed up on more than one occasion, but nothing sobers you up like the reality of going to prison. That's it. I know it's the last chance saloon."

Sobriety, Barton acknowledged, is pivotal to his future. Having been to Tony Adams's Sporting Chance clinic, Barton spoke like a man who has had that message drummed into him. Asked if he can reform, Barton replied: "Time will be the great teller. One thing I do know is that I am sober. I have not had a drink for 10 months, since December 27th. That's a start.

"It's well documented that I have had problems with alcohol in the past and the thing I went to jail for was alcohol related. I am not using that as an excuse. It was my own stupidity.

"As we all all know, we have all had a few pints, [and then] alcohol does something to you that makes you do things that you would not necessarily do when you are sober.

"Things will be levelled at me, that I had a fight with Ousmane when I was sober. I understand that. I know that if I drink again I am putting my football career in jeopardy. I have to put everyone that has believed in me first and that is why I will not drink again. I feel better instantly.

"The last 18 months have been hell. I have been living with a court case over me. If I am brutally honest, I knew that I was going to jail."

Barton's mea culpa will provoke a degree of understanding, though some will dwell on another reference to Dabo in which Barton said: "It does take two to tango, people must remember that." Barton suggested that had Dabo been English, news of the fight would not have gone beyond City's training ground.

Talking outside Billingham's club bar, Synners, it was a reminder that, as Barton said, he is "a work in progress". "It's not a case of all of a sudden you go to jail and you see the light and you come out. The main thing for me is staying sober. I have a great support system from all the guys at Sporting Chance and I feel so good about the future. It's messy when I look back. It's not great when I look back, but if I could go back and rewind things and change things I would. But I can't. All I can do is look to the future and try to help or soothe things and repay my debts for what I have done wrong."

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