Today I noticed a Labour politician, whom I like, tweet his condemnation of Joey Barton’s on-pitch lashing out at the weekend. The tweet was a high-minded, moral thing about how awful Barton’s violence was; how much of a disgrace he is to football and about the human race in general. The comment accurately reflected widespread national condemnation of Barton, perhaps best exemplified by this blameless vicar from Liverpool. ‘BARTON’S VIOLENCE IS THE MOST TERRIBLE OUTRAGE SINCE HITLER’, sort of thing. ‘KIDS WERE WATCHING’. ‘HE COMES FROM A FAMILY OF SHITE’ (the vicar again, presently being widely celebrated and much retweeted in the ‘sphere).
It’s nauseating, surely? Not Barton’s skirmish: professional football is a rough old game, but the elevation of a bit of minor violence during what most fans accept is a contact sport and where nobody got hurt, to crime of the century. From an angry response to provocation (‘I think Tevez may have nibbled at him a bit’ said one TV pundit, euphemistically, during the incident), a momentary loss of temper in a highly-charged situation, Barton’s lapse has morphed into a piece of contemporary action art portraying the fall of man. What the fuck are people talking about?
If people want to be appalled by human violence and its consequences, they should get themselves to the Eastern Congo, where millions have died and continue to die daily at the hands of maniacs with AK47s, their wives and families raped then murdered with machetes on a daily basis. Of course, life is cheap there – the Congo isn’t strategically significant, you see, so relatively few people care. It’s a little less cheap, but not much so, in foreign places like the middle east (getting more expensive with the present unrest’s potential economic significance) or perhaps Afghanistan (getting cheaper since everyone’s getting a bit fed up with the women’s stuff and all that and want to leave them all to it now). But these are still worth a comparison with the ‘horrific violence’ of professional football, all the same.
Or, if people want to observe high moral values, they could go and watch the synod of the Church of England, or book a meeting with the Dalai Lama – the latter has some time on his hands these days, I understand. But what’s going on when people want to suspend all their normal value judgements when it comes to football? Politicians are carping about huge salaries but leaving out footballers; council-tax payers are preferring that their money is spent on propping up some crap local football team rather than granny’s care-home; Scotland’s journalists turn a blind-eye to the mess of Rangers FC, then go mental and turn it into the only story which matters here -and then preserve their right to express their own moral superiority through the medium of the excuse that they use to escape their wives/husbands for a few precious moments each week.
I’ll tell you what. If you never want to go and watch a couple of dozen aggressive, supremely talented and justly well-paid athletes fight for your entertainment on a football pitch, then you may have a right to carp. But otherwise, extrapolating moral and ethical significance from a football match looks like your life might be a bit shite (see vicar, above) and your polemic sounds more like an existential cry for help.
And, by the way, you might want to read this this thoughtful Guardian piece about class. And this decent and well-observed piece about being a massive talent from a difficult background; insightful and, actually, sweet (sorry Alex C).