Earlier today, infamous Burnley midfielder, Joey Barton, was given an 18 month ban from football by the FA as a result of gambling offences.  As well as the year-and-a-half ban, Barton has been fined £30,000 for betting on football 1,200 times since 2004, breaking FA regulations in doing so.  All footballers playing in the seventh tier of English football or above are prohibited from placing bets on any football activity and are also banned from passing inside information to others.  This is intended to prevent match fixing and upholding the reputation of the sport, but there is no suggestion that Barton involved in any sort of match fixing.

In a statement Barton put out on his website in response to the charges, he announced his intention to appeal against his ban and argued that he felt his punishment was overly harsh and that “the penalty is heavier than it might be for other less controversial players.”  It certainly cannot be denied that there are few more controversial men in the football world than Barton, who is rarely far from the back pages and almost as frequently on the front pages.  Among his misdemeanours are instances where he has got in numerous fights on the pitch, and has also been in trouble for stubbing a cigarette in a teammate’s eye as well as serving a prison sentence for assault.  However, on this occasion I am inclined to sympathise with the ex-Manchester City man.

This is not the first betting scandal in football this season, with the last controversy surrounding the Sutton United goalkeeper, Wayne Shaw.  This surfaced after the veteran was caught on television eating a pie on the bench during Sutton’s FA Cup last 16 match with Arsenal.  This broke betting regulations because the Sun Bets had offered 8/1 odds on Shaw eating a pie on camera and, having seen this, the 45 year old thought he would ‘have some banter’.  Just like the case with Barton, there is absolutely no indication that Shaw’s pie-eating antics had any impact on the result of Sutton’s match, which therefore rules out any prospects of match fixing.  None of the bets which Barton placed had any impact on the matches the were placed on as he was not involved in any of these games.  Therefore, he has effectively been prosecuted for match fixing despite having no influence on the matches he was betting on.

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Image courtesy of TBN Sport

Barton has openly admitted that he put money on matches involving his own team – and even bet against his own side on several occasions – but he did not back the opposition in any matches in which he was involved in the matchday squad.  I am by no means saying that it was sensible for Barton to bet on matches involving his own side, and especially not to bet against them, but hear him out!  In matches he was involved in, he only ever bet with his own team which, if anything, would give him a greater incentive to try his best.  For example, Barton placed £3 on himself to score the first goal for Manchester City against Fulham in 2006, which clearly had nothing to do with match fixing.  When he bet against his own side, he was never in the match squad and, therefore, had no opportunity to influence the result.  In his statement he revealed that, on several occasions, he was angry at being left out of the match squad and placed a bet against his team in spite.  While this is by no means sensible, nor is it match fixing.

The obvious reason for the length of Barton’s ban is the sheer number of bets he placed over such a long period of time.  It is clear that he showed a complete disregard for the FA’s gambling restrictions as he would not have placed so many bets if he honestly regretted that he was breaking the rules.  However, it should be noted that when many of the bets were placed, the FA took gambling offences much less seriously and has not bet on a match involving his own side in the last six years.  Therefore it could be argued that it is harsh to use current punishments on historic cases of betting as the repercussions for Barton’s offences would have been far more lenient had they been enacted at the time he placed his bets.  On the other hand, i cannot deny that he needed to be punished considering he placed so many bets.

But, while a ban was necessary, 18 months is far longer than is necessary in my view.  I agree with Barton wholeheartedly in that it is his reputation which has earned him such a lengthy suspension.  As Barton mentions in his statement, the maximum ban for players who did not play in matches they bet on is six months, while the only players to have received suspensions of a year or more have been those who bet against their own side in matches they featured in.  Therefore, to get banned for a year-and-a-half despite not having placed bets against his side on matches he has played in is nothing short of disgraceful.  If he was not such a controversial character and did not have such a poor disciplinary record, both on and off the pitch, there is no way he would have been banned for as long.  For me the situation is clear: the FA want to be viewed as strong when upholding their rules on gambling, and so have gone after Barton in order to set an example to other players.  They know that not too many people will jump to the defense of such an unpopular player so he is an easy target to come down upon harshly.

It must also be taken into account that Barton was suffering from a gambling addiction at the time in question, and produced medical evidence at his hearing to back this up.  As a professional footballer, for the last decade or so he has spent no more than a couple of hours each day occupied at ‘work’, giving him hours upon end to sit on front of the television and scrolling through social media trying to resist the urge to put on a bet.  This urge must have been especially difficult to disregard as Barton has an in-depth knowledge of football and so would be confident in his capability of bringing in a profit and successfully predicting the results of matches around the world.  A certain strength of mind would have prevented him from becoming addicted in the first place but, as with any addiction, it would have been difficult to throw his habits after a while.

In conclusion, I am not saying that Barton is blameless and believe that, seeing as he placed so many bets and also bet on matches in which his side was involved, he deserves a ban of between six months and a year.  However, for the 34 year old to be given an 18 month ban – effectively ending his career in English football – is a huge injustice.  His bets had no influence on the outcomes of any matches and I feel that some consideration should be made due to the fact that he was suffering from a gambling addiction.  He has been thrown under the bus by the Football Association who have looked to use the publicity that comes with punishing the midfielder to send a message to other professionals who might feel that gambling regulations are not to be taken seriously.

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Image courtesy of Anorak

I hope Barton’s appeal is successful and that his ban is reduced, but unfortunately I cannot see this happening and feel that this spells the end for Joey Barton’s career in English football.  A final payday in China or the USA could beckon, or he may choose the relative home comforts of France where, of course, he is a scholar in the language.  Either way, we have probably seen the last of Joey Barton in English football and, while I find this disappointing, I cannot deny that it is fitting to see Barton exit the game in the midst of yet another controversy.

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