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The big interview – Joey Barton: I was due to have talks with Arsenal once – and yes, I’d have loved to play for them

Joey Barton
Photography: Martin Hunter

How hard was it when Everton released you as a youngster?
Tony Green, Liverpool

It was an incredibly difficult time. I was a boyhood Evertonian, standing on the terraces and waiting outside of the training ground for autographs. After being in the academy from the age of seven to 14, to be told that someone has decided you’re not big enough – not that you’re not good enough – is tough. But you either mope and confirm they were right, or you say, ‘I’m going to prove you wrong.’ I think I’ve validated that I was right and they were wrong.


High: 2003
Scores first senior goal in a win for Manchester City at Spurs

Low: 2005
Has a spell in the Sporting Chance clinic following off-field incident

How much interaction did you have with Pep Guardiola when he was on trial at Manchester City in 2005?
Steve Zee, via Twitter

I was one of the few who spoke to him. Not many people knew who he was, which was strange, or if they did then they didn’t let on. I remember sitting down and talking to him. I’m an anorak when it comes to football: I knew who he was and how he played, as I had watched him for a very long time.

I wanted to try to farm every single bit of information I could out of him. I haven’t met him since but I keep thinking about reaching out to him, asking if he remembers me. I would be surprised if he doesn’t, if he’s as analytical as I believe him to be. Maybe I’ll need to lean on him at some point in the future if I’m a coach – maybe he could teach me a lot. I was sceptical about whether he’d take the Manchester City job because they never signed him. He was clearly good enough. Whether it was politics at the time, I don’t know.

Why did the Jamie Tandy incident happen, when you pushed a lit cigar into the City youth player’s eye?
Brian, via Twitter

The Jamie Tandy incident happened because all the players were on a Christmas night out, drinking excessively, and there were a lot of alpha males in a football environment. Sometimes alpha males misbehave, tempers flare and people do things that they regret. It happens in every city centre every Friday or Saturday night.

When you put a combination of males of a certain age, exuberance and excessive alcohol in a room together, bad things happen. Unfortunately, bad things happened that night.

A lot happened when you were at Manchester City: the fracas with an Everton fan in Thailand, the clash with Ousmane Dabo at training… Do you regret the number of off-field incidents you were involved in then?
Thomas, via email

Of course you do – I regret the number of off-field incidents I’ve been involved in during my career. If you give me the opportunity to travel back in time – if you get me Marty McFly and get me in that car – I’ll go back and I’ll quite happily change all that, but I f***ing can’t.

You can’t change the past; all you can do is change the now and change the future. Do I regret some of the things that happened? Of course. But they weren’t done without justification or, in most cases, without provocation. Could I have decided not to resort to violence? Yes, but with the skill set I had at the time, it was so difficult.

Do you look back and think that if you’d acted differently as a young player, you could have been a part of the new Manchester City?
@FellGareth, via Twitter

No, not really. It’s like saying if I’d been born with a massive d**k, would I have been a porn star? Yes, of course I would be in that position if I had been calmer during my time there, but I wasn’t, and you live by the consequences of the decisions that you made at the time.

I wanted to leave City. I’d just had enough. I had got into a number of scrapes and I thought: ‘I need to get out of here and do something new’.


High: 2007
Makes England debut as late sub in a friendly vs Spain

Low: 2008
Serves 77 days in prison after pleading guilty to assault

What was it like to go into the England dressing room for the first time, having criticised players for releasing autobiographies shortly after a disappointing 2006 World Cup? Is it true that Steven Gerrard left a signed book outside your room?
Jason, Leicester

Yes, he did. I’d known Steven for a while and what I said was never about him and Frank Lampard. If I’m honest, it was about Wayne Rooney and Ashley Cole, as I thought: ‘What have they got to write about?’

But because I was a midfielder, and Gerrard and Lampard were both the first-choice selections for England, it suited the media to make it about that. I said what I said, I believed in it, and I thought: ‘I’ll stand behind it if anyone asks me about it.’ For people in the England squad it wasn’t really much of an issue, though. Gerrard and Lampard both just got on with it.

Your only senior cap came as a late substitute against Spain. Why didn’t you play more for England?
Ben, Lincoln

It was an incredible honour to play for my country and I would have loved to have done it a lot more, but obviously my behavioural patterns at the time made that particularly difficult. I was struggling with life; struggling to cope with being me. I look back and think I was actually very fortunate to get one cap. But you know within five minutes whether you can cope with that level or not, and I knew that I could play international football.

I was struggling with life; struggling to cope with being me. I look back and think I was actually very fortunate to get one cap

Sam Allardyce said that you had let him down when you were arrested during your time at Newcastle – do you think that was a fair comment?
Dave, Jesmond

Yes, I think so. He had every right to feel that way. He had a small window of time with me at Newcastle – five months. Within two weeks of Sam signing me, I broke my foot, and there were contributing factors to that – it wasn’t through my own making. I was out for three months and I probably rushed back: I wasn’t at the level that I was at before, and I wasn’t completely comfortable with the injury. Then my form dipped and then I got dropped, so there was a chain of events that set everything off.

Did Sam go ballistic with me when I was arrested? He couldn’t, because I was remanded in Walton jail for six days. I spoke to him on the phone and, as you can imagine, he wasn’t best pleased. By the time I was released, got back to the training ground and had the opportunity to rectify things, Mike Ashley had chosen to sack him.

What was the hardest moment during your time in prison? Were there any good moments?
James, Isle of Wight

The hardest moment was probably the first night, when you realise you’ve had your liberty taken away from you. There is no easy moment. But are you going to feel sorry for yourself, blame others, seek to justify why you behaved the way you did and not really address the pressing issues of your behaviour? Or are you going to think, ‘This isn’t going to happen again’?

My mindset was to learn from it and then not let it happen ever again. I tried to use the time there to the best advantage and, sitting here today, I think that I did.


High: 2011
Scores twice as Newcastle draw 4-4 with Arsenal after trailing 4-0

Low: 2015
Relegated with QPR in a 6-0 loss to former employers Manchester City

High: 2016
Named in Team of the Seasonat the Football League Awards

What are your feelings towards Alan Pardew and Mike Ashley after you weren’t offered a contract extension ahead of the 2011/12 season?
Geordie Boy, via Twitter

That’s a common misconception: I was offered a contract, but I was offered it by Derek Llambias, and there were stipulations attached to that contract that I didn’t think he had the credibility to put in there. I didn’t think he had a clue what he was on about and I made that point quite directly. We didn’t sit down and negotiate again.

I was gutted, because I really enjoyed playing for the club – I felt I was playing fantastically well and I wanted to stay and play there for the rest of my days. I have got no issue with Mike Ashley. There are certain things that have happened in the past where I’ve had an opinion and spoke from the heart about what I saw going on, but I don’t carry any animosity towards him. The sad thing is that time has come along and vindicated the things that I said.

I knew that I was right at the time but people didn’t, and now they do. It’s nice when you know that you were right, and that you were right five or six years ago.

How close did you really come to joining Arsenal instead of QPR? Did you ever speak to Arsene Wenger?
‘Warburton Is Magic’, via Twitter

No, intermediaries spoke on their behalf. There was definitely some low-level interest, and before I got sent off against Arsenal, when the thing with Gervinho happened, I was due to hold some form of discussions with them. But then it never came to be. Would I have liked to have played for Arsenal? Of course. Who wouldn’t?

There was definitely some low-level interest from Arsenal, and before I got sent off against them when the thing with Gervinho happened, I was due to hold some form of discussions

What was going through your head when you tried to attack half of the Manchester City team on the day they won the Premier League?
Shane Burns, via Twitter

The overriding priority was QPR getting a result to stay in the league. We equalised, then I checked [Carlos] Tevez’s run and he attempted to punch me in the face. It’s weird how people get away from that. I got up, realised that both the linesman and Mike Dean hadn’t seen it, felt incredibly aggrieved and decided to take the law into my own hands and level it up. 

I shouldn’t have done that. I levelled the scores: it’s 1-0 to Tevez – my elbow on him makes it 1-1. But that was spotted by the linesman and, quite coldly, I decided that as I’d been sent off, it would be a great idea to try to take one of their players with me, because that would give my team the opportunity to stay in the league. I just shouldn’t have got involved in that. Now, I would not have reacted to Tevez and he probably would have got done retrospectively by the FA.

Having spent a season in France on loan at Marseille, do you think more English players should play abroad?
Paul Watson, via Twitter

It’s difficult, because the financial power is in the Premier League. Our best players aren’t necessarily going to go abroad to be paid less. But has it improved Gareth Bale as a player? Of course it has.

I loved it at Marseille. I went out there on the back of a 12-game ban – I was a pariah in England – but the people of the city embraced me and I had a fantastic year there that I will never forget.

How much stick did you get for your infamous French accent in a press conference during your time there?
Steven, Widnes

My brother and a mate of mine were at the back of the room, laughing their heads off, after about 10 minutes of me talking like someone from ’Allo ’Allo. I was in a bubble in France and it was only when it was picked up back in England that I really realised the absurdity of it. I was just doing my best to try and communicate, but obviously it looked totally ridiculous. Sometimes you just have to laugh.

How much did Zlatan Ibrahimovic hate you calling him ‘Big Nose’ when you played for Marseille in Le Classique against PSG?
Ed, Uxbridge

I don’t know – you should ask him now he’s in the Premier League! [Laughs] That goes on all the time on the pitch, although maybe not as in-your-face as that. Unluckily the cameras picked up on it. We were having a minor disagreement, it got personal and you react. I was just making an observation. He has got a big nose.

You played extremely well for Burnley last season in helping them to gain promotion. Why did you move to Rangers instead of having another season in the Premier League?
Thomas Lethardy, via Twitter

The Burnley fans are fully aware of how much I enjoyed being there. We lifted the Championship trophy and it was a fantastic group of players with great staff – Sean Dyche is right up there in the top drawer of managers I’ve played for. Burnley are a great club.

But in life you get presented with opportunities and sometimes you can’t afford to turn them down, or you will regret it for the rest of your days. I knew I could either play in the Premier League for Burnley or have one opportunity to play for a club like Rangers, back in the top flight after a turbulent period.

This is a chance to put Rangers back at the top table of Scottish football and to be part of something far greater than my own personal career. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make in my life, but inside me lies a competitive animal. I wanted to feel the pressure. At Marseille I’d had the pressure of trying to win a title, coming up short and finishing second. This is a place where I can get back in touch with that.

Do you still support Celtic?
BoroKnicks, via Twitter

I don’t think I’ve ever supported Celtic. I’m a born-and-bred Evertonian and I’ve not met any true football fan who supports two teams. My full name is Joseph Anthony, I went to St Agnes Primary School and St Thomas a Becket Secondary School, and my grandmother is a staunch Roman Catholic of Irish heritage. So when Rangers play Celtic, the same way as when Barcelona play Real Madrid, you pick a side based on what’s going on around you. Things like that are always an issue until the first game, then people really know which side of the divide you stand on.

I don’t think I’ve ever supported Celtic. I’m a born-and-bred Evertonian and I’ve not met any true football fan who supports two teams

Which tweets do you enjoy more: quoting Nietzsche or describing Thiago Silva as an “overweight ladyboy”?
Joe, Nottingham

They usually get me in trouble, those ones! [Laughs] The Nietzsche quote was two-and-a-half years ago. You see stuff that resonates with you and think, ‘I’m going to share that’. It said less about me than it did about society, because people were saying: “You’re a footballer – why are you tweeting about that?” It was breaking down stereotypes and it was an incredibly positive thing, as people were talking about Nietzsche who ordinarily wouldn’t be talking about him.

Who’s your favourite philosopher? You can’t say Ashley Barnes!
David Jessop, Brighouse

Yes, er, Ashley’s a strange philosopher. I would have to say Epicurus. When I was doing my degree, he was the one who really resonated with me. He didn’t have any tremendous philosophical point; it was just that there is no right way, and the key to everything is somewhere in the middle. Philosophy is a great discipline – it should be on the school curriculum.

It’s far more important than religious education and some of the other silly topics they have on there, based on the strange ideas of strange people from thousands of years ago. I’ll probably upset everyone who has ever been to church, but I think that philosophy teaches you the art of understanding. You have a subject matter and you try to look at it from different angles until you formulate an opinion. If more people did that, we would make more rational decisions and the world would be a better place.

Ever considered a life in politics?
Michael, Reading

No. Why would you want to do that? Why would you want to get civil servant money and superstar press intrusion into your life? If I can get superstar money I’ll take superstar press intrusion, but I’m not having civil servant money to take superstar press intrusion. It’s an interesting profession, but I have absolutely no ambition to be a part of it. I look at them and think, ‘Fair play to you’.

This feature originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!

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Chris Flanagan

Chris joined FourFourTwo in 2015 and has reported from 20 countries, in places as varied as Jerusalem and the Arctic Circle. He's interviewed Pele, Zlatan and Santa Claus (it's a long story), as well as covering Euro 2020 and the Clasico. He previously spent 10 years as a newspaper journalist, and completed the 92 in 2017.