The Unbanker went to see football-philosopher-reprobate Joey Barton being interviewed by the Guardian's Owen Jones in front of an audience of 500. It was part of the launch activity around his new autobiography, No Nonsense. (Cynics might suggest that the promotional activity actually began with the suspiciously timely row at his club, Glasgow Rangers; Joey was very publicly sent home with no tuck. The media had a field day but hey, Joey's publishers certainly ain't complaining.)
Unbanker’s wife and his sister appeared less than impressed to be dragged along to watch a footy chat show. But, in fairness, whereas Unbanker has rubber-necked the seemingly inevitable media car-crash of Barton’s public life, his wife had done the homework and actually read the book. As a “middle class” footie-despiser she rated it as “puke”. Not quite an A grade then. It didn’t augur well for a jolly night out.
From an Unbanker’s perspective though, Joey was thoughtful and witty, far warmer and more engaging than expected, not the Neanderthal of media characterisation. He is modern and cool and, yes, vulnerable. The ladies were certainly, er, charmed, as in “well, I wouldn’t kick him off my pitch”. So, Joey, an upgrade from vom to eye-candy, at least.
Barton’s thesis was that his tough start in life was not easy, but nor was it exceptional. Many others go through it too, but the “middle class media” has an obsession with exception and wants to highlight just those worst parts. As, indeed, it does with him. Much of his upbringing was OK, just some was pretty awful. It nudged the Unbanker that here was a pretty good, if slightly extreme, description of the circumstances of the majority (72%) of normal citizens, where life on average-to-below-average income is certainly pretty damn tough in parts, but OK for the rest. People just get on with it, and do their best. Not that the metropolitan media cares. Normal lives are boring.
Joey also spoke about his interest in better educating himself for the remainder of life ahead. His football talent took him from school at 16, and he missed the breadth and focus that A Levels and University brings. He understands but regrets this. His interest in philosophy is, clearly, not a stunt. He expects himself to be better informed, to become less cod, to know more. He does not want to remain a Gucci wallet stuffed with fifty quid notes rushing around in an Umbro jock strap kicking people. So, he has purpose. That appears to put him ahead of most of the footballers who we see showboating talent and Bentleys in equal proportion, before ending up as a footnote in a news bulletin about the dangers of drinking, or gambling, or drug addiction.
It highlighted to the Unbanker the importance of mission. Joey certainly has a future after football. He is a smart and focused chap, who admits he hasn’t always done right and intends to do better in future. No harm in that. The uncertain world of football will almost certainly try to boot him out at some point (currently there is a – scarcely credible – betting rap he has to beat to survive). If not, it will lose him anyhow (with hypocritical cheers and groans in equal measure from within a rancid industry).
Joey Barton will doubtless thrive in some form of politics, perhaps as a champion of those who have talent but don’t have hope, and could be so much better, if only someone gave them infrastructure. His views on prison reform will be worth hearing for sure. He will follow his mission.
It’s not as if U is the Joey of Banking, or even that Joey is the U of Football. But there are parallels. Joey is frank and fearless and he certainly is disruptive. He challenges the stereotype and he tells it like it is. People might not agree, but it needs to be done by someone brave.
Barton knows he hasn’t got all the answers and he knows he makes mistakes. But as he says, so does everyone. It’s just that the media expects people to be absolutely perfect, and when you prove to be sadly human after all, they pour “role model” sewage all over you.
His background means he will always stand up for himself, and that he never takes a backward step, which is often why he gets bad press. Of course, it’s a fine line between being firm and being a bellicose tosser. But there’s much to be admired in Joey Barton, and to be learned from him. The man has a mission.
As a fellow disruptor, the Unbanker wishes him well.