Friday, 19 August 2011

Short back and many sides: Joey Barton’s head

Across the offices and magistrates’ courts of Britain, there is a united condemnation of Joey Barton.  Like a hoodied rioter, he is brandished ‘completely unacceptable’ and tarred and feathered as a delinquent dabbler in criminality. He is charged with irresponsible use of social networks and microblogging sites and quoting too many famous literary figures considered healthy for a footballer. We must hastily set up a kangaroo court for our little Joey. Let us sentence him swiftly and ruthlessly. His Dalai Lama re-tweets alone warrant a lengthy sentence.

Before passing judgement, we must also wrack our brains for some behavioural cause, for there is the nagging feeling that we are somehow collectively responsible for how Barton has turned out. We need C4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy to chair an immediate meeting of varied social strata, garnering the opinion of awkward Goths, menacing hip-hoppers, jittery parents, belligerent shop-owners and hounded councillors. We know this will only descend into a dreadful row, but it a reasonable step to take in admonishing ourselves from guilt.

But, in the words of the Confucius: ‘One tree that stands alone bears the most fruit and is less likely to be chopped down’. Or something similar. So it is a fresh assessment of Barton that is the most rewarding. There are plentiful descriptions that have been offered: he is a hooligan, a hardman, a pocket dynamo, a ‘dangerous player’, as labelled by Fabio Capello. He is a play-actor or critic of play-acting. Nobody seems to know exactly what to make of him. Even his agent, Willie McKay offered a complete mis-read by suggesting he had the ‘easiest job in the transfer window’ and had already been inundated with interest from top European clubs. One can imagine a one-way conversation: ‘You need a midfield enforcer, Arsene. Now, before we talk turkey, a drop more Tennents Super?’

After falling out with the powers that be at Newcastle Utd, Barton referred to himself as ‘persona non grata’, shocking the public by demonstrating he can speak Latin. Presumably he has picked up the local lingo of a number of affiliated barristers, particularly as his ‘previous’ doesn’t read well in English: Gross misconduct - one count. Assault - two counts. Breaking a pedestrian’s leg (gallery murmurs). Jabbing a lit cigar into someone’s eye (gallery erupts). The CCTV footage advertises Barton’s street fighting prowess and leaves an indelible, yet grainy, image. It resembles a deleted scene from the film, Scum, awash with sullen youths in starched collared shirts, sporting mod haircuts and brutally attacking each other with cries of: ‘Where’s ya tool?’

However, in the words of Desmond Tutu: ‘Resentment and anger are bad for your blood pressure and your digestion. Repentment is better.’ Thusly, Barton has reformed, addressed addiction, patronised charities, visited clinics, consulted the scriptures, analysed his entrails. He is now better known for his witty Wildean jousts with a gaggle of bullying sports reporters on Twitter. In return, they treat him like an idiot savant without the savant. He frequently engages in an acute love-hate, macho-gay mental tussle with Piers Morgan. There is an endearing bridging-the-class-divide quality about these exchanges last demonstrated by Lord Ralph and groundskeeper Ted in The Fast Show.

Barton’s tweets have so provoked the FA and the media’s fury that they risk lashing out and reducing themselves to ten men. Journalists are incensed that not only does he read Nietzsche, but he can quite effortlessly spell his name, which was impossible before the advent of Information Technology.  It's as if Barton has a Twitter ghost-writer who is embarking on a huge practical joke. Critics have lambasted references to non-picture books and use of ‘multi-syllable words’. Barton might have countered with: ‘It’s poly-syllabic, shitlips.’ For the underdog has blasted away writer Oliver Holt, describing him as the ‘journalistic equivalent of holding a digestive biscuit in a cup of tea for a second too long’. He has treated politics too, informing that he cannot abide Ed Milliband’s haircut or his lisp, signing off with the hilarious: ‘…obviously he shouldn’t be banished, just not the front man,’ Barton must be aware that there haven’t been singers with speech impediments for g-g-generations.

The duality that exists within Barton’s head has manifested itself on the outside in what can loosely be described as a ‘hairstyle’. He insists his savage short back and sides pays homage to murderous New York cabbie, Travis Bickle. The violent psycho suddenly resurfaces in Joey. However he has ended up looking more like he has been clippered in a dimly lit trench, alongside Private Baldrick. A comic vulnerability is restored.  

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