Joey Barton has had a long career in professional football but, throughout it, he has never strayed far from the wrong side of the line.
An 18-month ban from the game means the 34-year-old’s career looks likely to be ended by this latest incident; placing more than 1,500 bets on football matches between 2006 and 2013, a practice from which footballers are prohibited. To look back on his career, however, is to survey a series of unpleasant, often violent, incidents that would have meant the sack in any other industry a long time earlier.
Barton, who was born in the Liverpool suburb of Huyton, began his professional career at Manchester City. He earned a first-team debut age 19 and made an initial name for himself as a prospect of some talent. But an act that shocked the game soon changed that.
At the club’s Christmas party in 2004, Barton became engaged in a dispute with a youth player, Jamie Tandy, 18. The altercation ended with Barton stubbing a lit cigar in Tandy’s eye. The incident made national news but Barton was only fined by City for his action. The next summer he was fined again and sent home from a pre-season tour after an altercation with a 15-year-old.
Yet Barton continued to play for City until the summer of 2007 when another assault, this time on a French international teammate, Ousmane Dabo, an attack that left him with injuries to his eye, nose and lip, finally forced the club’s hand. Barton was sold to Newcastle United for £5.8m, the only transfer fee of his career.
His time at Newcastle was again tainted by outbursts of violence that included a spell in prison for assault and affray after an incident in Liverpool city centre. He also received a four-month suspended sentence for his assault on Dabo and was sent off during a match for headbutting an opponent.
During this time Barton was also publicly at odds with the club’s hierarchy and his manager, Alan Shearer, and was at one point indefinitely suspended by the club. Again he stayed at Newcastle for five years, though he played just 80 games. He moved to London at the end of his contract on Tyneside and joined Queens Park Rangers. It was there that a second, highly unexpected side to his character began to emerge.
An avid user of social media, Barton began to paint a picture of himself as a renaissance man, a lover of culture and music. One popular tweet read: “Sitting eating sushi in the city, incredibly chilled out reading Nietzsche #stereotypicalfootballer”.
The appearance of this heretofore hidden aspect won Barton many plaudits and earned him invitations to moonlight as an art critic and appear as a pundit on Question Time.
But his aggressive side was never curbed and at the end of his first season at QPR he received a record 12-match ban after he not only elbowed Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez, an act for which he was sent off, but then struck Sergio Aguero with his knee and attempted to headbutt Vincent Kompany on his way off the pitch. Barton was captain of the club at the time. QPR allowed Barton to leave on loan for Marseille in the summer of 2012 where he enjoyed a relatively quiet season. His only ban was for transphobic abuse levied at the Brazilian international Thiago Silva on Twitter. Barton returned to QPR the following summer and played for two further years at the club before being released.
Barton enjoyed the most successful spell of his career at his next club, Burnley, where he formed a pivotal part of the side that won promotion from the Championship in 2016. Last summer, with his one-year contract at an end, Barton chose to reject the offer of a new deal at Turf Moor and instead moved to Scotland to join Glasgow Rangers. It was to be the shortest stint of his entire career, a six-month stay peppered with confrontation that ended with the Ibrox club terminating his contract.
Burnley saw fit to give Barton another chance. But his return in January, scoring in his first appearance, has turned out to be short-lived. Barton, through a statement in which he claims his betting problems were in part the result of “character issues”, says he intends to contest the ban.