Barton's Stint In Jail As A Toon Player

Last updated : 29 May 2016 By Footy Mad - Editor

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Seventy-three times he experienced the din of heavy steel swinging shut, soon followed by the clunk of metal on metal as a lock is manoeuvred into place before silence and darkness descends.

Just days away from a six-month prison sentence, handed down at Liverpool Crown Court in 2008 for an alcohol-fuelled attack in the city, it was in this convivial atmosphere that the gravity of his situation struck home.

“People say that it is when the cell door closes. It wasn’t,” said Rangers’ new signing of the defining moment during his spell in HMP Manchester. “I remember sitting in the dressing room at Newcastle and I was on bail but, basically, knowing that at the end of the season I was going away.

“I was actually playing decent football regardless of all the mental stuff that was going on around it. The lads were all sitting talking about two weeks out from the end of the season about Dubai, Spain, America. And I was thinking: I’m going to f****** Strangeways.

“The reality of that dawns upon you. F****** hell. That’s when you talk about epiphanies. How did it come to this? What are you doing? I wasn’t enjoying life. I wasn’t enjoying football. I thought this has got to change.

“Either you’ve got to give it up and walk away or you’ve got to do some serious work and have a look at this. You just find a process. Some people find it at 18. Some people never find it. I’m just lucky that I found it when I did in terms of being able to salvage some great years and some really happy memories over the last few years.”

The pessimists and doubters of this world will point to the fact that upon release Barton was allowed to return to Newcastle, his £71,000-per-week salary and the lavish lifestyle he enjoyed prior to his incarceration, giving him something to look forward to after serving less than half the time handed down to him by Judge Henry Globe QC.

Regardless of the rewards, money, cars and houses that are commonplace among most top footballers in England, Barton speaks candidly about a life-changing moment that sent him down a road to redemption that he has stuck to ever since.

“Ask that to anyone – we’re all the same,” he said. “The honest answer is that when you are 17 and on a YTS and straight into professional football you’re like Peter Pan. As long as you are playing good football no-one really cares how you behave and conduct yourself.

“That’s the nature of football up to a level and it’s not unique to any one football club. You get away with a lot of stuff. No-one ever tells you that you are acting like a knobhead. You have to work that out. You go into a pay grade where people who would put you in your place feel that they can’t. You might earn more than your dad ever did and he feels he can’t intervene.

“No-one ever gives you a blueprint on how to behave – certainly they didn’t for me and the other question is: would I have listened?

“You never grow up and you get away with stupid stuff and it just gets worse and worse and worse. Eventually it comes to a head and you have to grow up.”

The sight of Barton being paraded around Murray Park on Tuesday was living proof of what the one-time so-called bad boy of English football has become. Sitting in a small development office inside the Rangers training ground, the 33-year-old, sporting a royal blue sweater and a crisp white shirt, spent time shaking every press man by the hand before cranking the window open to let the air flow into the crowded room. Not that you could tell he was flustered.

During a prolonged chat, the cool and calm Barton spoke articulately about his life with all the eloquence of a university scholar, in between checking on the contentment of his four-year-old son Cassius, already decked out in the colours of his old man’s new team, as he gazed up at the group of strange men sat around the table as his father held court.

“I had much better financial offers in England," said Barton Snr. “But I’ve been fortunate to have a good career. Well, apart from going to jail. I don’t really live to excess. I’m just a normal fella. I’m a massive football fan who is fortunate enough and worked hard enough to have the opportunity to play football.

“If I wasn’t playing I’d be on the terraces supporting. I had injuries and I’d go and watch the match. People forget that sometimes. I am deeply in love with this game, more so now than at any stage of my life.

“To put something back into the game. I’ve been fortunate to give my family, my kids a great opportunity in life. It’s shown me great places in the world and given me great opportunities. For me to just take, take, take and never put anything back in would be incredibly selfish.

“It’s a duty of myself and senior players like myself to help the kids deal with or not fall down the pitfalls we fell in. It’s about taking the shirt and moving on and leaving it in a great spot. As a senior pro I would’ve wanted a lot more to have some good ones around me but a lot more to say: Look, get here, this is the way this is done.

“That’s on a daily basis in the training ground that you conduct yourself, what your attitude is towards everything. You are no in a place to just be. I won’t be getting self-righteous with kids. Some are going to make mistakes, some will learn quicker than others. We are all different. That’s life.

“Sometimes when you’re in the media spotlight, as footballers tend to be nowadays, they can be amplified. In my case it was great. If I’d been working on a building site I could’ve got a lot longer prison sentence.

“I was on a kind of self-destructive phase. The fact I did get outed and because of my profile I had to serve a bit of time. It was an incredible learning curve for me.”

Less than a week has flown by since the Liverpudlian’s arrival but already Rangers fans are salivating at the prospect of seeing Barton command the centre of Mark Warburton’s midfield for the next two seasons.

Above all the noise, Twitter proclamations and talk about his short fuse, Barton has proven himself to still be a talented footballer capable of operating at the highest level. The man with just one England cap has cited his lack of international recognition as a regret he will no doubt have when he looks back on his career, but that will surely be tempered by the feeling of achievement after what has been a triumphant campaign at Burnley.

Barton was the Turf Moor club’s player of the season during a title-winning campaign that saw him go without one booking and his team undefeated in 2016. Not bad for a so-called hot head.

Now 200 miles away in Glasgow, The man once defined by his flaws is ready to dedicate the next chapter of his career to continuing a positive legacy that he can be proud of.

“I had to leave the Burnley Whatsapp group with the lads, it’s the most heart-wrenching thing I’ve had to do in a long time,” he admitted, with not the merest hint of sarcasm in his Scouse brogue. “I said ‘lads obviously I’ve made the decision that I’m off. I don’t want anyone to kick me out, I’ll leave of my own accord’ so I gradually took myself out of it.

READ MORE: Rangers MD Robertson promises Barton won't be the last big name signing at Ibrox this summer

“It’s great memories. To do what we did in the Championship and share that journey and the play-off final with QPR, stuff like that is what football is all about.

“All the other materialistic stuff, money, all the bollocks. The cars and the flash watches that’s just not important."