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Thursday 21 September 2017

Barton's tale of colour, criticism and controversy

Joey Barton lining out for Burnley in January this year. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Joey Barton lining out for Burnley in January this year. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Joey Barton in action for Manchester City in 2014. Photo: Phil Noble/PA Wire

From stubbing out a cigar on a youth-team player's eyelid to becoming the first footballer to appear on the topical debate show Question Time, Joey Barton has never shied away from the headlines.

Barton's career has been an unrelenting story of colour, controversy and criticism since he made his senior debut in 2003.

But it is, by Barton's own admission, a career now seemingly at an end after the 34-year-old Burnley midfielder was handed an 18-month ban for a misconduct charge by the Football Association over betting offences.

Barton, who had previously served a one-match ban issued by the Scottish Football Association over betting offences during his time at Rangers in 2016, had accepted a misconduct charge relating to 1,260 bets over a 10-year period.

If it really is the end of Barton the player - and he has pledged to appeal the length of the ban - then those paying tribute might be forming a short queue. Outspoken, and sometimes obnoxious, the Liverpudlian ruffled feathers in football that few have done.

Favourites

Born in Huyton, the same tough area of Liverpool which produced Peter Reid and Steven Gerrard, Barton made his way to boyhood favourites Everton before being released at the age of 14.

Barton would spend the next decade at Manchester City. He was in the first team at 20 and won England Under-21 honours, but he set a controversial tone by being sent off at half-time of an FA Cup tie at Tottenham when arguing with the referee.

Then came that December 2004 incident when he stubbed out a cigar in the eye of Jamie Tandy after the City youth player had set fire to Barton's shirt.

Amid nationwide outrage Barton escaped the sack and was fined £60,000 (Tandy later sued his team-mate and won £65,000 in damages), but the die was cast. Barton was bad news.

The charge sheet at City grew: Barton broke the leg of a pedestrian while driving in the early hours in Liverpool city centre, he was sent home from a pre-season tour of Thailand after assaulting a teenage Everton fan and dropped his shorts after a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park.

Even his solitary England appearance against Spain in February 2007, when he came on as a 78th-minute substitute in a 1-0 Old Trafford defeat, was shrouded in controversy after he had suggested some of his new team-mates had "cashed in" on an unimpressive 2006 World Cup by releasing autobiographies.

Barton's time at City came to an end after he was involved in a training ground incident with team-mate Ousmane Dabo, which ended with the French midfielder requiring hospital treatment.

Dabo requested that the police press charges against Barton and he was given a four-month suspended prison sentence, as well as being handed 200 hours of community service.

By the time the Dabo case was dealt with the following year, Barton was at Newcastle and he had received a six-month jail term for his part in a Liverpool city centre assault in December 2007.

Before serving 77 days of his prison sentence, Barton admitted to being an alcoholic and spoke of his determination to achieve "total abstinence" in order to improve his behaviour.

At Newcastle, Barton had a spectacular fall-out with Alan Shearer, who had been appointed manager for the final eight games of the 2008-09 season. Barton was sent off in a 3-0 defeat at Liverpool for what former England striker Shearer described as "a coward's tackle".

Newcastle were relegated from the Premier League and Shearer left, but Barton stayed to help the club win the Championship title before heading for QPR in August 2011.

Signed by Neil Warnock, Barton did not see eye to eye with his Rangers successor Mark Hughes. Barton subsequently revealed that he had locked the door of the manager's office on Hughes and challenged the Welshman to a fight.

On loan

He joined Marseille on loan in August 2012 and helped them finish second in Ligue 1, but his solitary season in France did not pass without incident.

Barton was mocked for speaking English at a press conference in a French accent, and given a two-match suspended ban for describing Paris St Germain defender Thiago Silva on Twitter as looking like an "overweight ladyboy".

His May 2014 appearance on Question Time also prompted an outcry when he said the options available to the electorate were like a choice "between four really ugly girls".

Jeered by the audience and accused of sexism, Barton put the comment down to being "a little nervous" and remarked that "my brains are in my feet".

Yet Barton's three million-plus followers on Twitter have always had a steady diet of eclectic tweets, ranging from the thoughts of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche to that of his musical hero Morrissey.

Burnley beckoned after QPR and Barton played some of his best football as the Clarets claimed the 2015-16 Championship title, but he chose not to hang around at Turf Moor, instead heading for Scotland last summer and a short-lived spell at Rangers.

Barton had his two-year contract at Ibrox terminated in November following a training-ground argument with Andy Halliday.

Burnley boss Sean Dyche offered him a route back to English football and Barton has since played 18 games, scoring one goal.

But the FA's punishment over his gambling appears to have ended one of the most controversial careers in English football history.

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