I’m not ashamed to admit that I am a fan Joey Barton.
But firstly, let me quantify what I mean by being a “fan”: I don’t mean having the Michael Owen-sort of unquestioning devotion, but more of that platonic sort of fondness mixed with admiration and amusement. And let me emphasize that I very much exclude his less-than-admirable, grimace and facepalm-inducing, law-breaking actions from the past in my positive feelings for him–Violence is never acceptable (if you want a full breakdown of his past, Google and Wikipedia are your friends).
However, his efforts to shed his seemingly Mr. Jekyll-and-Hyde personality is commendable and I applaud footballers who can acknowledge their wrongdoings like a man and wear their “battle scars” proudly. Initially, when I heard of his foray into Twitter, I thought it was going to be nothing less than a trainwreck (yet that didn’t stop me from immediately clicking the ‘Follow’ button), but he has fended off loads of offensive and unfair jibes on his past (looking at you, Piers Morgan) with panache and surprising humility. Not that he won’t call people out when they’re being unnecessarily vicious, because beneath the Morrissey-loving, Hangover 2-watching, Nietszche quotes-retweeting reformed teddy bear still lurks the tough Huyton lad who will flash you his backside unabashedly when he feels like you deserve a right bollocking. Never mind his repeated use of “would ofs” and misspellings–he still gets top marks for his candor, dry wit, and banter.
The thing about him is, he is not the typical clean-cut, PR-machine, Mums-love-him footballer that I like, and he definitely talks a lot of smack, but what’s most important is he has the game to back it up. Voted Young Player of the Year by Manchester City fans in 2003-2004 and Player of the Year by Newcastle United supporters last season, his reputation may precede him, but he is one footballer whose talents are being underrated and wasted by unfair and oftentimes uncalled for judgments by the media and blacksuits (looking at you, Newcastle United board and The English FA).
Was it right to drop him like a hot potato over a few criticisms? Should he have been punished for having the balls to speak out? Hell, no. I suppose only time will tell on who will get the last laugh on the matter–the Wronged Player or the Vengeful Football Club.
So whichever club you end up with this season, Keep Calm and Play (/Tweet) On, Mr. Barton. The real football fans? We got your back.