Reading through Joey Barton's 1500 word mea culpa reacting to the news of his 18-month ban for breaking the Football Association’s betting rules, you have to say he makes some very valid points.
The game has been in thrall to bookmakers for far too long. Phone apps, online ads, ‘accas’…you can barely watch a match now without Ray Winstone’s dismembered head being lasered on to your retina.
There is a certain hypocrisy in the FA clobbering a player for gambling on the one hand while it takes Ladbrokes’ money with the other. And yes, a certain irony in the fact that Barton’s own team, Burnley, are sponsored by a betting firm.
The relationship between football and gambling is unhealthy in the extreme. We know that. It is a sad state of affairs when one of the abiding memories of the season is of the Sutton United reserve goalkeeper eating a pie on the sidelines in a betting controversy rather than Sutton’s Cup run itself.
Unfortunately for Barton, it changes nothing where his case is concerned.
Effectively, he is accusing the FA of failing to cut him some slack because he was addicted to gambling. That is not how rules work. The FA is not making a moral judgement on gambling, or his dependency on it. It is enforcing its rules.
The length of Barton’s ban is another question entirely. It is hard to know, without all the facts, whether it is heavy-handed. Possibly it is, in which case you might have some sympathy for him.
But looking at the bets he holds up as the ‘most pertinent’ they certainly raise questions. Barton apparently bet nine times on PSV to beat Newcastle in a pre-season friendly in 2008. Although he was not playing in that match, three of those bets were on specific scorelines of 1-0, 2-0 and 3-0. Did he know Newcastle’s line-up in advance?
And what about the game on which he bet against Georgios Samaras being the first goalscorer? Did he know Samaras would start on the bench? Barton actually played in that game. The match was goalless when Samaras came on in the 66th minute meaning Barton was in a position to influence the outcome of the bet. As it happens Richard Dunne nicked the ball off Samaras’ toes.
Barton asks us to believe that “at no point in any of this is my integrity in question.” And he may well never have tried to influence the outcome of a bet. The problem is there is just no way of knowing for sure. And what message would it send to other players, young impressionable players, if the FA did not throw the book at him?
Barton is perfectly justified in pointing out the hypocrisy of the FA. He is right when he says that if football’s governing body is “truly serious about tackling the culture of gambling in football, it needs to look at its own dependence on the gambling companies, their role in football and in sports broadcasting, rather than just blaming the players who place a bet.” But in the meantime rules are rules.