Joey Barton: Football's eternal student



Joey Barton may not be leaving for Marseille, but he certainly won’t be staying with Queens Park Rangers for very much longer. Given that his reputation is mud in this country, it seems highly likely that he will depart England at some point in the near future. Well, I for one will miss him. He is an unlikely reminder of a character we haven’t seen in nearly 20 years. He is a student.

Students don’t really exist anymore, not since the 1990s when they let people like me go to university. What was once the preserve of the goth and the greebo, the poet and the pseud, is now more like a holiday camp for townies, wannabe it-girls and the irredeemably stupid. Barton, however, is an echo of a more precocious time. He should, by rights, be sticking posters of Joe Strummer to his wall with chewing gum, paying for his drinks in coppers and seducing the impressionable with a passing understanding of the work of Friedrich Engels.

Being a student was never about how clever you were, it was about letting other people know how clever you were by constantly quoting dead philosophers or album sleeve notes. I think we can agree that Barton excels in this field. Like any first year student, his education is strictly of the ‘chocolate box’ variety. He snaffles the soft-centred, easily remembered quotes and leaves the time-consuming wider reading, the chewy toffees at the bottom. After a series of George Orwell-themed tweets from Barton, journalist Henry Winter made a light-hearted remark about his career taking, “The Road to Wigan Pier”, one of Orwell’s lesser known, but still rather famous works. Barton didn’t get it.

This is because Barton, like most students, isn’t quite as clever as he thinks he is. In a recent article on his new website, he appears to support widespread reforms to the libel laws, delighting in the expansion of free speech, while tempering his joy with the view that some restrictions must remain in place to prevent abuse. Like... erm... libel laws, perhaps?

The mystery is why we ever thought this was a problem. Being pugnacious and spiky, using rat-like cunning and desperate short-cuts to further yourself; this is familiar ground for most sports journalists. The only difference is that the talking heads in the media were able to make their mistakes in the relative privacy of Student Union bars and smoky bedsits. Barton didn’t get to quote The Smiths or Nietzsche in the Manchester City dressing room because that kind of thing gets your head flushed down the toilet. But why shouldn’t he read books? For your average footballer to be considered 'open-minded', it's enough to have eaten somewhere other than Nandos in the last six months. Barton’s push for knowledge should have been welcomed, not mocked.

Being British, of course, we naturally resent the idea of anyone attempting to jolt themselves from one demographic to another. Working class footballers are not supposed to read Kierkegaard, even if it’s just his Wikipedia page. We saw this back in the late 90s with Tony Adams, whose efforts to write poetry and play the piano brought widespread mirth. Mind you, those little cultural flourishes helped him to woo Caprice, so it’s safe to say that he had the last laugh on that one. 

You can dislike Barton for his thuggish past, or his thuggish present; you can criticise him for not replicating his Newcastle form at Queens Park Rangers; but there’s something a little sad about attacking him for his intellectual curiosity. 

So good luck, Joseph, wherever the road takes you. It won’t be Marseille, but cheer up. If someone doesn’t snap you up by Friday, you could always go on loan to Stalybridge Polytechnic for a swing at a BA (Hons) in Philosophy and Art History.