Simon Kelner: Life, like football, can be a game of two halves

Kelner's view

Share
Related Topics

Today's column is tackling some very big themes: rehabilitation, redemption,
respect and Queen's Park Rangers. My mind turned to these issues when I saw the
footballer Joey Barton on Newsnight.

An appearance on BBC2's flagship news programme may be regarded as a sign of intellectual respectability, although the appearance of Nancy Dell'olio discussing feminism slightly kiboshed that. ("I'm sorry, I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about," was Jeremy Paxman's response to her).

Paxman's introduction of Barton, the QPR captain, to give his assessment of the new England manager, was similarly priceless. He said he had "a couple of convictions for violence and once played for England".

This might have startled some of Newsnight's regular audience, who are more used to guests being introduced as Nobel Laureates or professors of Economics, but Barton has indeed spent time at Her Majesty's Pleasure for common assault and affray. He was sentenced to six months' imprisonment in 2008, and anyone who saw the CCTV footage of the incident at the time will wonder how, only a few years later, he could be sitting there, chewing over the issues of the day with Paxo.

And this offence was not entirely out of character for Barton. Both on and off the field, he was regularly in trouble. He put a team-mate in hospital after attacking him on the training ground, he stubbed out a lighted cigar in a young player's eye, and has kept referees busy throughout his career. Stuart Pearce, who managed him at Manchester City, said that Barton crossed the line from mischief to nastiness, and the player himself admitted that he couldn't argue with being labelled a thug.

Barton's charge sheet, which includes court appearances, playing suspensions and public fall-outs, does not make pretty reading, and you would be excused to think that he is beyond redemption. But to hear him on Newsnight, talking calmly, intelligently and using words like "predominantly", "entity" and "bureaucrat" and, in relation to the England team, saying that "inter-club rivalries have grown beyond the national identity", was a rather inspiring experience.

You don't have to be a Christian to rejoice in the one sinner who repents. If you don't believe people can have the opportunity to change, you might as well give up on humanity. Barton is one of the successes of the Sporting Chance clinic, a specialist addiction clinic for sportsmen, and his rehabilitation has been accelerated by his Twitter persona.

He's a prodigious tweeter, and has been known to stray into Cantona-esque linguistic contortions, quoting the literary strikeforce of Nietzsche and Orwell. He has almost 1.4m followers, a statistic that Paxman included, along with his convictions and his England caps.

Barton has been described as a "football philosopher" (a contradiction in terms, maybe) and his views, un-mediated and unreconstructed, demand attention. More than that, Barton challenges our ability and preparedness to accept that someone with his appalling record can become a decent and respected member of society. Appearing on Newsnight is not a bad staging post on that road.

React Now

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

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...

Investigo: Finance Business Partner

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - West London

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: WEST LONDON - An excellent new opportunity wit...

Recruitment Genius: Florist Shop Manager

£8 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A Florist Shop Manager is required to m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A solar energy farm in France  

Nature Studies: For all the attractions of solar power, it shouldn’t blight the countryside

Michael McCarthy
Supporters of New Democracy wave Greek flags during Antonis Samaras pre-election speech.  

Greece elections: Where does power lie? This is the question that ties the UK to Athens

Steve Richards
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project