In a rare and raw assessment of what it feels like to be a professional footballer under pressure from a club's own supporters, Joey Barton has described the atmosphere surrounding Newcastle United as vicious, surreal and detrimental.
Barton said he was shocked by the mood at St James' Park during Newcastle's 3-0 home defeat by Liverpool last Saturday and has asked Newcastle fans to reconsider their relationship with the team. Until it changes and improves, Barton said there could be no progress.
"It was surreal," Barton said of the atmosphere against Liverpool. "I don't think I have heard a crowd that vicious. I was sitting on the bench and after 20 minutes I had picked up on it. It was still 0-0 at that point. At half-time I was walking down the tunnel with Peter Crouch and he turned and said: 'I have never heard a crowd so vicious.' To be honest it shocked me."
Large sections of St James' had turned on Sam Allardyce by the time Barton left the bench in the 51st minute and the serious nature of the divergence in opinion between manager and public as to how Newcastle should play may be witnessed once again today when Newcastle visit Blackburn Rovers.
With one point from their last 12 and having endured defeats at Derby and Reading this season, Newcastle have still managed to sell over 5,000 tickets for Ewood Park. But another disjointed performance today and Allardyce and some players can expect fresh criticism from the travelling fans. Barton is pleading with them for patience and understanding. "I can understand their frustration," he said. "I'm not saying it's not deserved, but we want them to stay with us.
"Unless it is addressed and we all get together as one and say: 'Well, we're not having the best time of it, but let's give my support to Newcastle United', then our next home game is against Arsenal and, if we are greeted by that sort of atmosphere, we will lose again.
"Unless they change that mentality and get with it, start supporting the side through poor results, then things won't change. It's the easiest thing in the world to be negative, but I would like them just to try to be positive, to say: 'Even if 51,999 are going to be negative, I will try to be positive.' If we can all be positive, before we know it we will turn it around.
"We want to earn the respect of the fans. If I had been watching the Liverpool game I would have been disappointed, but it's easy to be negative. As a club, as a city we have to try to be positive.
"If we can get the crowd behind us then it lifts the place it almost becomes a 12th man. I have watched Liverpool and the Kop become a 12th man in the Champions League. That is what we need. The amount of people, with their passion, it can have a similar effect at Newcastle; if it doesn't, it's detrimental."
Barton did not excuse Newcastle's players, saying that they had yet to gel, but he argued that would not happen in the current climate on Tyneside. He added that if Newcastle United gains a reputation for being a difficult place to settle then existing players will wish to leave and others will not come.
"People have talked about a fear factor up here and you sense it. The minute someone gives the ball away, or the minute someone does something wrong, or there's a backpass, they are greeted with disapproval and jeers. It's like England, the fear of failure. Without being unkind to them [the fans], the Keegan era is gone. In an ideal world we would be playing like that but this is not an ideal world. The squad is in transition, there's been injuries to players like myself.
"This is a high-pressure football club. I can only speak for myself and how I feel. I know there are others feeling it. You look at the calibre of players over the last 10 years since Keegan and there are a lot of good players the Kluiverts, Jenases and Parkers and this crowd has been vicious enough to eat players up. They are top, top players and they didn't do so well here. When you think about it, you can understand it. It's easy for someone to buckle in that kind of atmosphere."
Barton, 25, moved to Newcastle to replace Scott Parker this summer having endured "trials and tribulations" at Manchester City, as well as having touched "rock bottom in my private life." He sees a counsellor from Tony Adams' Sporting Chance charity in order to curb previous recklessness and, as became clear, has been told this week about the importance of remaining positive.
"Negative breeds negative," he said. "Unless it is turned around here with some drastic change of thought, it's going to be the same here for this manager, the next manager and whoever comes in after that. Sam's a good manager and the players have to turn up on Saturday and do it, because he is getting the brunt of the criticism. It should be the players. He doesn't deserve it.
"This is a time for coming together and seeing who the men are amongst us. If we don't, this club will be in big trouble. It's trench warfare, if you sit there in the trench you will be bombarded and overrun. I will go to war with them [Blackburn]. It's not about passing the ball around and being nice. It's about going to Blackburn one of the best teams in this league, one of the best units and overcoming them. It's not the time to shirk responsibility. As the manager said this week, anyone who doesn't fancy it: leave."Reuse content