Wednesday 21 May ~
The back pages are dominated by the build-up to “English football's biggest match since 1966” in Moscow tonight. So another story, involving the jailing of a Premier League footballer for assault, found itself pushed into the news sections. The Sun even managed a Boot Him Out Of Toon front page headline. While coverage of Joey Barton's six-month jail sentence for two “cowardly and extremely violent” assaults varied widely, one fact that was repeated exactly and, oddly, without fail was the precise amount Barton drank that night – ten pints and five bottles of lager.
Though not a particularly difficult task, the Sun went for all-out character assassination. The “orgy of violence” was quoted in minute detail before getting Malcolm Macdonald's opinion that Barton “has to move on”, various Newcastle supporters' views on Barton – “as a person he is scum” – before concluding: “Football chiefs would be condoning such violence if they allow him on a pitch again.” Meanwhile on their website the Sun kindly hosted the actual CCTV video of events for the more inquisitive.
The Mirror, on the other hand, cleverly succeeded in linking this story to tonight's match in Moscow – claiming that Barton “had only himself to blame when he woke up this morning in a cell just hours before one of the greatest nights in the English game”. Though you suspect the least of his worries is where he's going to watch the Champions League final, the Mirror was slightly more forgiving, hoping that Barton “learns a hard lesson... turns his life around and redeems himself on and off the pitch”.
One character witness at the court case in favour of Barton was Peter Kay of the Tony Adams's Sporting Chance clinic. A second was Kevin Keegan and the aftermath of this ruling will be an interesting test of Keegan's authority at Newcastle. The manager has resolved to keep Barton and has offered his “unequivocal support”, going as far as to state his pride in the way the midfielder handled the pressure of the court case. However, in the light of such bad publicity and a £60,000-a-week salary it remains to be seen whether the Newcastle board and large “director of football” hierarchy above Keegan will agree. Newcastle fan sites seemed to betray a mixture of embarrassment and nervousness, rhetorically questioning whether their club was addicted to bad headlines before concluding, oddly, that: “The consequences of Barton doing jail are completely out of proportion to his crime.”
It seems that the defining moment will be Barton's second court case in as many months on June 30. This relates to the alleged assault on former team-mate Ousmane Dabo, an accusation to which Barton has pleaded not guilty. If this sentence also goes against him it is hard to imagine Barton retaining his employment. But for now he has been sentenced to six months and if as expected he is released in around three (probably wearing a tag and just in time for the new season) one suspects he will have the support of Dennis Wise at Newcastle. Wise himself was sentenced to three months for allegedly attacking a taxi driver in 1995, only to be released on appeal, a story that did no harm for sales of his autobiography. Expect a Joey Barton confessional to be in the shops in time for Christmas.