Joey Barton’s 18-month ban for breaking the FA’s rules on gambling is excessive – because it is out of proportion with punishments for other high-profile misdemeanours in football.
I’m not saying Barton should get away scot-free after placing 1,260 bets on matches over a 10-year period.
Some of those wagers were on his own team to lose games, which is clearly not acceptable, although he was not playing in those matches and he was unable to influence events on the pitch.
So, yes, he had to face the music. No arguments on that score.
But is Barton’s addiction to gambling really worth an 18-month ban when nobody has been harmed, and he has not made a financial profit from his bets?
Let’s put some cards on the table here because it is important to put my comments in context.
I like Joey. I played golf with him at the BMW pro-am at Wentworth last year and I found him to be enlightened, engaging company. And a pretty handy golfer, by the way.
As both an ex-professional footballer and a current ambassador for a major high street bookmaker, I am aware that I have a foot in both camps. I am proud to be patron of William Hill’s charity.
And I am well aware that 10 Premier League clubs carry the logos of bookmakers or online gambling sponsors on their shirts, so the link between football and the betting industry is not a secret pact. It is there for everyone to see.
But who were the victims when Barton placed his bets? Who was actually hurt or damaged by them, except Joey himself?
Did his actions bring the game into more disrepute than Luis Suarez biting Branislav Ivanovic, which earned the Liverpool striker a 10-match ban?
Were Barton’s bets a more damaging episode for the game than Eric Cantona’s kung-fu attack on an abusive fan 22 years ago, which earned him a nine-month ban?
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Sean Dyche says Joey Barton ban is ‘harsh’
Is his punishment in proportion to John Terry’s four-match ban and £220,000 fine from an independent FA tribunal for alleged racial abuse towards Anton Ferdinand?
And is it in proportion to Paolo di Canio’s 11-match ban for pushing over referee Paul Alcock 20 years ago?
In each instance, I would submit that the answer is ‘No’ – which suggests Barton’s punishment is too heavy and should be revised.
The FA say they imposed only the minimum ban applicable for his misdemeanours. Really? Who sets the tariff for these punishments?
I’ve never heard anyone say you get a minimum 18-month ban for breaching the rules on gambling. Where was that precedent set?
Surely the FA should have looked at the human cost of suspending Barton for such a long time because they are effectively ending his career – he will be 36 by the time he is clear to play again.
The psychological damage of such a swingeing punishment will hit him like a hammer.
Towards the end of my playing career in 2008, when I was made to train with the kids at Derby, and pushed out on loan to Brighton, I thought I was finished.
Although I had broken no rules, I thought I was going to crack up because the fear that nobody was ever going to pick me again was terrible.
I was lucky that Brighton took such good care of me, rekindled my passion for football and I played on for another three years in the Championship.
Sometimes, problems are closer to home than you think.
I have shared digs as a junior at Manchester United in the class of ’92 with Keith Gillespie, whose addiction was documented in his autobiography, and my old Wales team-mate John Hartson – omne of my best pals – also used to suffer from a craving for placing bets.
Yes, Joey Barton has broken the rules and is answerable for his mistakes. But I hope this isn’t the end of his career.