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Joey Barton: Back from the brink

Joey Barton gets sent off

After a career marred by on and off-pitch violence, footballer Joey Barton says he has put his life on track. In a frank interview with Sarah Montague, he describes his recovery.

Joey Barton

Joey Barton credits Sporting Chance, the charity set up by Today programme guest editor Tony Adams to help troubled sports stars with addiction and anger management, for giving him "the tools to understand myself, basically".

For the former Manchester City star, now playing for Newcastle United, that road to understanding has been both long and hard.

The journey has been punctuated with a series of incidents, both on- and off-field, which include stubbing a lit cigar on the face of teammate Jamie Tandy, breaking the leg of a pedestrian while driving his car through Liverpool at 2am and inciting a 10-man brawl in a pre-season friendly in Doncaster.

"That's the stuff people know about as well. There'd be stuff I got away with," he admits.

Football life

Joey Barton's road to the top was rapid and, in its way, privileged.

From a working-class estate in Huyton, Merseyside, he signed to a youth team at the age of eight and moved straight from school to a professional football scholarship, then on to Premiership football with Manchester City and Newcastle.

I've never really lived in the real world
Joey Barton

He readily admits that he was living in a "Peter Pan world" in which agents would sort everything out - money, mortgages and even car insurance.

"I was earning 20 [thousand pounds] more than the rest of my family were earning a week, and yet I didn't even know how to behave, I was still a child," he says.

"You've grown up in that environment where as long as you're a good player you're told you're the best all the time."

Joey Barton in his only senior england performance
Barton has played for England once, in a friendly against Spain

Following a punch-up on Manchester City's pre-season tour to Thailand in 2005, manager Stuart Pearce offered to reduce Barton's fine if he spent a week at the Sporting Chance clinic. Although initially sceptical that a "normal" lad from Manchester could benefit from psychological help, he found the residential anger management course surprisingly helpful.

But he admits that he "bamboozled his brain" into thinking he could control his drinking and his anger.

Matters only reached a head in 2008 when he was jailed for six months after attacking a 16-year-old boy outside a branch of McDonalds in Liverpool city centre.

"My last night out probably cost me £500,000 plus my reputation. I must have been as close as you can get to self destruct," he says.

"I had two choices basically. Either you carry on doing what you're doing and your career's gone, or you address it."

Surprisingly, Barton also credits the British press, despite their regular intrusions into his private life, for helping him turn things around.

Boy gives v-sign as Joey Barton leaves court
Joey Barton vilification in the British press means he is widely unpopular

"I am very thankful to the media of this country," he says, citing their regular vilification as forcing him to address his issues.

Now, with the help techniques learned at Sporting Chance, he has put his life in order.

"It's just give me the tools to understand my own thought process and how to deal with ups and downs that have gone on within my life," he says.

"Understand myself basically. Help me grow into a man. Help me understand that the way to deal with your problems is not just to pick up a drink and all of a sudden it's gone."

Human being

Barton says that his "trouble" has forced him to look himself in the eye in a way other footballers never have to.

"Most footballers are knobs," he says."I meet a lot of them and they are so detached from real life it's untrue.

Joey Barton
Barton's on field antics have often landed him in trouble

"You can dress it up whichever way you want, but driving around in flash cars and changing them like they're your socks, wearing stupid diamond watches and spending your money like it's going out of fashion.

"In the midst of a recession in this country when people are barely struggling to put food on the table - it's not the way to do it."

Despite the punch-ups and column inches, Joey Barton still maintains that he is deep down "a simple bloke at heart".

"I didn't want to be famous. I love football, I want to play football.

"It was never for me about the cars, the women, the money - whatever people perceive to come with it.

"Whether you're the best footballer in the world, or the best golfer or the best cricketer, you're a human being.

"You might be good at that, but you might be crap at life."




GUEST EDITORS 2009
THE EDITORS
Martin Rees Martin Rees
Cosmologist, Astronomer Royal and President of the Royal Society

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One of the most influential British artists of the 21st century

Tony Adams Tony Adams
Football manager and former Arsenal and England defender

PD James PD James
Best-selling crime writer and Conservative peer

Robert Wyatt Robert Wyatt
Solo musician and Soft Machine founder member

Baroness Williams Shirley Williams
Senior Liberal Democrat politician

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