Football people on TV: Joey Barton

Date published: Friday 4th March 2016 9:45

Fashion police
A casual look at the Bartonic journey through the world of fashion reveals a man who has dallied with all sorts of moustache and beard arrangements. Long hair, short hair, shaved on the sides, pony tails – he’s gone through the lot. Judging by Wednesday night’s photo of him at the King Power, he’s settled on a look which the fashionistas might call Homeless Man.

More usually goes for the soft, expensive-looking menswear in plains and cheques with swept back hair and some degree of unshavenness. Often looks like he could have been in Pearl Jam in 1992. This is A Good Thing.

Must have a few decent suits left over from court appearances and perhaps a cravat or two from the more philosophical phases of his life.
Has the lined brow and hard-eyed look of someone who knows the cost of wanting things that can only be found in the darkness on the edge of town.


Lingo bingo
Has a classic flavour of coherent Scouse, which unlike some other strains, doesn’t sound like a cat trying to cough up a fur ball. Sometimes softly spoken and considered, other times narked and defensive, he keeps you guessing. Never hard to imagine him properly losing his rag.
Was probably the first footballer to really ‘get’ Twitter. Doesn’t do so many of the philosophical Tweets at the moment, which is a bit sad really. We need more footballers quoting Albert Camus. The day James Milner references Wittgenstein to explain a loss against Swansea City is the day all our lives are improved.

Joey is good with a quick analogy or a bit of imagery and draws well on his long career as a professional footballer. Can do that annoying and wholly pointless, pluralisation of individuals. “Your Vardys, your Simpsons” etc but one of his strong points is you’re never quite sure what he’s going to say. It could be educated, new school progressive liberal, or old school hard man arsiness. There are not many you could say that of.


Hits and misses
Let’s remember, we’re here to talk about JB’s work as a football pundit, as opposed to trawling through a notoriously long list of crimes against humanity.

Gets it in the neck from all quarters for quoting from books, philosophers and songs. Seems unfair, that. Footballers get slagged off for not being the sharpest knife in the box, but as soon as someone shows a bit of learning, they get hammered for being pretentious. That’s the very British traits of both snobbery and anti-intellectualism, all wrapped up in the same belch of unpleasantness.

Has dipped in and out of TV work, but the biggest hit has been on the lush uplands pastures of BT Sport’s European Football Show, where he is required to perform to an elevated level in order to meet the show’s default standards, and does so with more ease than his critics would like.

I hear him mostly on the 5live. He’s always excellent on the Monday Night Club appearances. Never waffles, does he Motty? Ha ha goodness, me, no, well, not like I do anyway, I think you’ll find, and I know we’ll come on to this later but, nothing wrong with a healthy debate is there? Why are you kneeling on my throat, Joey?

However, he’s recently started doing co-comms work. On Tuesday he was at the King Power for the Leicester v West Brom game. Was he any good? Let’s say this clearly and unequivocally: He was absolutely superb.

It was actually only his third such gig and he came at it with clarity, quick thought, instant analysis of tactical shifts and a colourful, expressive way with words. I noted a blind person tweeted that his ‘insite (sic) was fantastic’ and that was absolutely true. He painted pictures with a natural instinct for description, there was no defaulting to the usual cliches, no drifting off on unfocused rambles, no being boring or cracking lame jokes. And he clearly enjoyed the game and so, by extension, did the listener.

To my ears, it was clear that it was something he could do naturally and wasn’t just the product of media training. It also showed an almost casual depth to his knowledge of how football matches ebb and flow. He read the game fantastically. Yet, the co-comms gig is one of the hardest, because you’ve got to offer colour and insight above and beyond the action which the commentator has already described. It requires quick, instinctive responses. Joey was working alongside Conor McNamara, who is a quick-witted, passionate fella at the best of times, and together it made for a superb listen. A really good pairing, which drew compliments from other media pros, such as the never not excellent, Jacqui Oatley. It was also reflected during the game by a stream of surprised but complimentary social media comments. No co-comm ever gets that response. Exceptional work.


Big club bias
No evidence of any BCB. Now plying his trade at Burnley, which is about as down home and unglam as possible. If anything, has always made a bit of a name for himself standing out against the big names, big reputations and big clubs. Spoke passionately about how good it would be for English football if Leicester won the league.


Loved or loathed
Affection is generally in short supply for Joseph, as you might imagine, given the catalogue of human rights abuses assigned to him. The fact he’s clearly bright and keen on self-improvement, makes the history of the fighty-fighty stuff even worse, but then intellect and violence are not mutually exclusive.

My social media research suggested there were plenty who thought everyone deserves a second or even a third chance, but maybe not an 18th chance. A lot of people want to be sympathetic, but feel like it’s only a matter of time before another nasty raging incident happens. Previous crimes are not forgotten, nor forgiven, by many others. Some do feel he’s done his porridge and has come out of it a better person and, given his background, he’s tried harder than most to get to grips with his emotional and cultural inheritance. I’d go with that more positive view, myself.

Some commenters see a lack of self-awareness in him (which I don’t agree with at all, he seems very self-aware) and others that he’s the non-thinking fans idea of a clever person. I reckon that accolade rightly belongs with Glenn Hoddle and Joey is much, much better on the telly and radio than Glenn. By a country mile.

There is general agreement that he’s eloquent and interesting and has much to offer football media. And, after all, it’s not like we’re marrying him, or even want to be his mate. We just want entertaining and informing. He’s very good at both of those things.

Worth also saying that football is such an infantilised world which holds its under-educated players, often born into under-privileged circumstances, in a weird isolated state of non-development, right into their 30s. That means it’s hard to judge people, warped by adulation and big money from an early age, in the same way you might judge a regular person. Which isn’t to excuse being an absolute twat, of course. But it does go some way to explaining twattishness when it occurs.

If you didn’t know anything about Joey, and only had his media work of the last couple of years to go by, I’m convinced he’d be well-liked and thought one of the best contributors. If he keeps at the standard he achieved on Tuesday, his media star will be very much in the ascendancy. He just has to make sure he doesn’t get sacked off for accidentally committing a violent assault on someone during a broadcast.


Proper Football Man
On the face of it, you’d think he was a shoo-in for platinum PFM status as he’d perfected the chippy hard-done-to persona years ago, when complaining about not getting picked for England. All the fighting and general outbursts of violence don’t trouble the PFM because it’s all part of having what they, and they alone, call a ‘bubbly’ personality. If you can’t take and give a stiff-right hander then you’re part of them lavender-scented middle-class ponces what are ruining football. It’s a man’s game, except when its played by women, no offence luv.

And he’s a box to box hard-working midfielder, who likes to stick the boot in when necessary. The PFM admires a red card for kick in the groin, or a punch in the throat because it allows them to say “We don’t want to see that, but you wouldn’t want to take that element out of his game,” and they love saying that, often whilst miming a forearm smash.

All this being said, they’re not so keen on them clever words what he comes out with. And playing abroad is dangerously cosmopolitan, unless you’ve only gone there ‘cos you’ve been forced out of the game by faceless FA blazers or ‘cos foreigns have taken your place. Obviously, most PFMs thought Joey was actually speaking fluent French when he briefly acquired a French inflection whilst plying his trade there.

But what was he doing on Question Time? Being on a non-football show is only acceptable to a PFM if he’s being paid a large amount of money, can show off about how great his house, car, watch and wife is, or if there’s a chance of accidentally walking into Carol Vorderman’s dressing room with your trousers down.

Also, judged against Big Sam’s recent standards of oration, which this week appeared to be the verbal equivalent of an abstract post-impressionist painting, he’s a coherent, literate speaker. Yer PFM is suspicious of anyone who can string a couple of sentences together, unless it’s Nigel Farage or Jeff Stelling, Jeff.

Joey, son. Put the Tibetan Book of the Dead down and take a swig out of Reidy’s flask. What’s in it Reidy? Really? Good god. Give us a taste. Mmm, I’m getting Beef Bone Broth, Brasso and Botex. Cor, that’s got a kick to it. Very refreshing and me face has gone shiny and numb. Bonus! Have you tasted this Deano? Deano? Oh, he’s passed out, quick take his pants off and get the cactus, Dion.

Despite all of his crimes against all things decent, being a nightclub lothario doesn’t seem to be one of them, so is unlikely to be papped coming out of Burnley’s premier nightspot, Fistings at 4.27am with the former Miss Blood Pudding and Minced Offal Comestible Body of 1993.

Has considerable post-nightclub hi-jinks form, some of which has ended rather badly, with blood and snot. But then, that’s not a bad thing to most PFMs, who see occasional casual violence as all part of life on the banter bus. Seems likely to enjoy throwing TC off a shed roof onto an abandoned mattress, using a beard trimmer to shave a dog and having a pickled egg eating competition with the boys, in a bleak northern outpost of civilisation.

But at the end of the day, Mark, Joey is just too smart to be a PFM. They’d be scared of him going on about things what only them what went to college know about and no-one wants that, Andy. Anyone who is an honorary associate of the National Secular Society can’t be trusted with the key to the PFM massage parlour, because no PFM has any idea what a secular is. Is it that big vein in your neck, Jeff?


Beyond the lighted stage
Has definitely read books without pictures in. Apparently, co-owns a racehorse with Claudio Pizarro, which feels like it must surely be a made-up fact. Has written columns in the Big Issue and worked for organisations helping people with addictions. This was at the behest of, somewhat inevitably, Tony Adams, who may or may not have been wearing a cape at the time, whilst reciting the poetry of Allen Ginsburg and staring wildly in the manner of a leech gatherer on a windswept moorland.

Like a lot of people who have rampaged through life, sometimes behaving very badly, there’s an element of wanting to put right the wrongs done about JB. While football all too often over-compliments its people merely for behaving in a decent, civilised fashion and has a habit of excusing appalling behaviour as “just banter”, Joey remains one of football’s most entertaining, interesting, if highly divisive characters.


John Nicholson

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