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

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: pours or pores, pulverised, ‘in preference for’ and lists

Guy Keleny
Ed Miliband created a crisis of confidence about himself within Labour when he forgot to mention the deficit in his party conference speech  

The political parties aren't all the same – which means 2015 will be a 'big-choice' election

Andrew Grice
Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect