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Joey Barton - An unlikely ally in the fight for justice

Thursday 20th October 2011
Joseph Anthony Barton. A name synonymous with trouble and controversy.

After breaking into the Manchester City first team in April 2003, aged 21, Huyton-born Barton has continually found himself in hot-water both on and off the field. From sparking a 10-man brawl in a pre-season friendly, to serving a six-month prison sentence for a vicious assault, the talented midfielder has lived his life on the front and back pages of the nation's newspapers.

However, after joining the social network Twitter, Barton is slowly managing to change some fans' opinion of him. Whether it is his brutal honesty, his wit, his banter with fellow footballers and journalists who love to slate him, or his philosophical ramblings, some people have warmed to a side of Barton which we haven't seen before. His role in campaigning for the release of all official Government documents relating to the Hillsborough disaster has only enhanced his ever-growing following.

For most people Barton is, and always will be, a troublemaker. A man who doesn't deserve to be earning thousands of pounds a week doing a job which many of us can only dream of. A man who should be a role model for young people, but instead is a blueprint for what not to do. A look at his chequered past backs the theory up. Regularly involved in on-the-field controversies, whether it be bad tackles, off the ball incidents or even showing his bare posterior to rival fans, Barton has done them all and is still doing them. As if that wasn't bad enough though, off the pitch he is an even more controversial person.

During Manchester City's 2004 Christmas Party, he stubbed a lit cigar into the eye of youth team player Jamie Tandy, after he caught Tandy attempting to set fire to his shirt. He received a fine of six-week wages and was lucky not to be sacked by City. In May 2005, he had a run-in with the police when he broke a 35-year old man's leg whilst driving through Liverpool City Centre at 2am. A few months later, he paid out another £120,000 club fine, was sent home from a pre-season tour of Thailand and ordered to undergo Anger Management therapy after assaulting a 15-year old Everton supporter, who had verbally abused and kicked Barton. So incensed was the City midfielder, that he had to be restrained by team-mate Richard Dunne.

Despite attending a 7-day programme of behavioural management at the Sporting Chance clinic, he continued to hit the headlines. He showed his backside to Everton fans following a last-minute City equaliser, then his outspoken nature saw him openly criticises England players who had released autobiographies after their poor showing at the World Cup. He also labelled City's signings under manager Stuart Pearce as “sub-standard”, with Pearce deciding to ban Barton from any future dealings with the media.

He was then arrested on suspicion of assaulting a Liverpool taxi driver in March 2007, although he was later cleared of all charges. At the end of 2006-07, a training ground bust-up with Ousmane Dabo saw the French player suffer injuries to his head and a suspected damaged retina. Barton was charged with assault, received a suspended four-month prison sentence, 200 hours of community service, ordered to pay compensation, fined and suspended by City, and received a six-game ban from the Football Association. It proved to be the end of his City career, as he left for Newcastle United during the summer.
Early into his career on Tyneside, he was slated for a challenge on Dickson Etuhu with the News of the World going with the headline “Ban Him”, although the referee took no action. In December 2007, he was arrested in Liverpool for a vicious assault, punching his victim twenty times. On May 20 2008, he was sentenced to six months in prison, of which he served 77 days. On his return to football, he was given a six-game ban by the FA, before injury ruled him out most of Newcastle's campaign. When he did eventually play, he was red carded at Liverpool, with manager Alan Shearer so incensed that he ordered Barton to stay away from the club.

In July 2010, Barton signed up to Twitter. Expecting fireworks, @Joey7Barton attracted hordes of followers. He did manage to use the platform to criticise the Newcastle United hierarchy, for which he was suspended, made to train on his own and ultimately allowed to leave on a free transfer for QPR. But, apart from that, Barton's tweets have been fun, showing people a different side to him. Regularly winding up fellow footballers such as Rio Ferdinand or Robbie Savage, Barton has also provoked many a debate by claiming some of today's footballers are detached from the working-class who follow them. Even when in trouble at Newcastle, his philosophical quotations and musings provided humour and showed that Barton is much more intelligent that given credit for.

Earlier this year, Barton used his Twitter power to full effect.

Twenty-two years on from the Hillsborough tragedy, the families of the 96 victims are still searching for the truth, for justice. Margaret Thatcher's government cover-up and the vicious lies spread by Kelvin Mackenzie and his rag The S*n, must all be brought out into the open. For 22 long years, the Hillsborough Family Support Group and Hillsborough Justice Campaign have worked long and hard to finally uncover the truth. Two years ago, Andy Burnham, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, gave the families hope that all official Government documents related to the disaster would be released. In July/August this year, Liverpool supporter Brian Irvine started a Government e-petition to force the House of Commons into a Hillsborough debate. With 100,000 signatures needed, Twitter and other forms of social networking were used to publicise the petition and the reasons why it should be signed. Using his new-found Twitter fame, over 600,000 followers, Barton took it upon himself to help the cause.

He bombarded fellow celebs with the e-petition link, urging them to Retweet for their followers to see. Hour after hour he checked the number of signatures, and if it wasn't enough, he would publicise even more. When the magic figure of 100,000 was reached and a Commons debate was scheduled for 17th October 2011, Barton didn't stop there. He continued to publicise the fight. On Monday morning, the day of the debate, he tweeted "Hopefully the government give the Hillsborough families, what they have always sort today...". That evening, he was present at the House of Commons to watch MP's Burnham, Steve Rotheram, Alison McGovern and a number of others deliver emotional speeches, which led to all political sides unanimously agreeing to the release of the official documents. He later tweeted:-

"I've actually just started crying listening to @SteveRotheramMP close. I tried to hold it together, it's been an emotional day ...."

Love him or loathe him, the work Joey Barton has put in for the fight for Hillsborough justice, must be commended. Of course, his turbulent past proves his is no saint, meaning that for every person that backs him, there will be two, three or more who can't forgive his previous misdemeanour's. Back in 2009, Barton's challenge on Xabi Alonso in front of the Kop, resulted in a red card for the midfielder and a club suspension. As he left the field, the Kop sang "You're supposed to be in jail!". Following his sterling efforts these past few months, as a Kop Season ticket-holder I'd like to think that there won't be a repeat of those type of chants when Barton leads his Queens Park Rangers side out at Anfield on December 10th. Instead, I hope we thank him.

A rendition of “There's only one Joey Barton” would be well deserved.

Thanks and Well done Joey.

Robert Nevitt

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