Andy Martin: Cambridge is the place for Joey Barton

Related Topics

Move over Eric Cantona. Enough trawlers and seagulls. Joey Barton has taken over as football's No 1 philosopher. A fluent midfielder who has played for England and Manchester City, Barton is also famous for his fouls and has criminal convictions for affray and assault.

Now, as he is being squeezed out by Newcastle United, he has turned to philosophy for support. On Twitter, he has recruited a Premiership team of attackers and defenders, including Nietzsche, Goethe, Virgil, Proust, Norman Mailer, and the well-known nippy left-winger, George Orwell.

There is a natural link between philosophy and football. Jacques Derrida, the deconstructionist, dreamed of becoming a professional footballer. Had Paris Saint-Germain signed him before the Ecole Normale Supérieure, we might never have had Of Grammatology and The Archaeology of the Frivolous. Our own A J Ayer, the Oxford logical positivist and author of Language, Truth and Logic, was a Spurs fan (and known as "the Prof" at White Hart Lane). But it was Albert Camus who spelt out the connection explicitly.

There is an urban myth to the effect that Camus used to play in goal for Algeria. He certainly played in Algeria for the Algiers university team. His lonely position between the posts – part of the team and yet not able to handle the ball, but also likely to take a lot of flak – probably gave him the idea for the novel that would become The Outsider.

Joey Barton is the outsider de nos jours – the alienated individual who can speak on behalf of our feelings of angst. The contemporary philosopher Simon Critchley (who supports Liverpool) has said that the philosopher is "the person who has time or who takes time". Barton goes one better by actually having done time to boot (74 days in Manchester Strangeways). Which gives him an edge. After all, Socrates, the father of Western philosophy (whose namesake played for Brazil), was outlawed by the 5th century BC Olympiakos for "corrupting the minds of the young" and "not believing in the gods of the state".

It would be easy to make fun of Joey Barton and his intellectual pretensions. But the fact is that philosophers have always understood that they are comic figures. Zeno, for example, proved with his paradoxes of infinity that it is always impossible to get beyond the halfway line (which may well be true for certain extremely defensive European teams). Thales, another pre-Socratic, was mocked for falling down a well while looking up at the stars.

Barton's philosophical tweets suggest an explanation as to why his court appearances are right up there with his appearances for Newcastle. He is an intellectual manqué. All his misdemeanours can be attributed to his frustration at the lack of a decent dialectician to tackle.

If Barton wants a philosophical role-model I would recommend Jean-Paul Sartre, who came out with possibly the most resonant one-liner of the 20th-century: "Hell is other people." Sartre was also, like Barton, handy with his fists and likened everyday experience to boxing, which he defined memorably as "a binary praxis of antagonistic reciprocity". Or as Bertrand Russell once put it: "Can I take him or can he take me?"

Sartre also thought of football as akin to boxing. In his late work, Critique of Dialectical Reason, he argued that "in football everything is always complicated by the presence of the opposing team". I would define Joey Barton as the pre-eminent neo-existentialist of the Premiership.

I hope he applies for a place to Cambridge University – as Wittgenstein did – as a mature student. I am confident he would walk straight into the Blues team. I should warn him though that essays on philosophy are typically longer than 140 characters.

Andy Martin lectures in French at Cambridge University

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
William Hague, addresses delegates at the Conservative party conference for the last time in his political career in Birmingham  

It’s only natural for politicians like William Hague to end up as journalists

Simon Kelner
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent