Making a Joey out of Barton.

Published: Thursday, 27 April 2017

Two football stories broke on Wednesday - one had me shrug my shoulders with an air of nonchalance - the other had me spitting mad.

I was in no way surprised to hear that another raid had been had been organised on football clubs' offices, this time by HM Revenue and Customs pursuing a criminal investigation into tax fraud. It was around a decade ago that City of London police staged similar raids, but they were looking into the murky world of bungs. Do you remember? There was an early morning raid on Harry Redknapp's home. The Pompey owner, Milan Mandaric, was arrested so were Birmingham's owner and MD, David Sullivan and Karen Brady and the offices of Newcastle were raided as well as those of Pompey and Rangers. The outcome of investigations led to nothing. Will it be any different this time? HMRC had better come up with something to justify the frenzied activity of the week.

I'm not 'hoping' this goes away. Quite the contrary. Yes, football contributes hugely to HMRC coffers - billions in fact - and far in excess of many multi nationals that work the system to their benefit, but if the game mirrors society, then there is much the game could do to clean up its act.

Are we to believe that George Graham is the only manager ever to have taken a bung? To date he's the only man convicted of having done so - largely as a result of tax investigations. Of course he's not, but as long as the game continues to excite us, create its enormous wealth and sells as it does around the world, no-one is going to be too bothered.

Here's a true story. When Keys and Gray were on the radio I identified a guest I really wanted to talk to. We didn't know each other too well so lunch was organised. As the drinks flowed this is what he said to me 'I knew when I got into football I'd eventually go to jail, but I wanted to know why! I arranged a meeting with some of football's top brass to ask questions and find out'. He was making light of a serious subject. Coming from industry he just couldn't believe some of the things he was seeing pass across his desk. In London he was told 'it works - let's go and have lunch'.

So the big guys look after themselves whilst the little guys get hammered. So to the story that got me spitting mad. What on earth were the FA thinking when they ended Joey Barton's career on Wednesday? Barton gets an 18 month ban after he admitted an FA misconduct charge relating to betting on matches. His reaction 'I accept that I broke the rules governing professional footballers, but I do feel the penalty is heavier than it might be for other less controversial players'. He's got a point hasn't he?

Again, I'd pose the question, 'is he the only one'? Anyone close to football has heard toe curling stories of individuals AND teams (including the manager) placing bets on themselves.

Barton is a complicated character, but fascinating at the same time. He's fought demons that have threatened to destroy him - learning how to control them, but the bottom line is - by his own admission - he's an addict. He lives with alcoholism and wakes every day to conquer it again, but 'addicts' need outlets. Addiction is an illness - in any form. Alcoholics don't 'want' to drink - they 'have' to. Alcohol is their oxygen. If you control one addiction, the chances are another will grip you. Barton got caught up in gambling. He's not alone. Yes, we must all abide by the rules, but a self confessed addict banned for 18 months by an industry where 10 of the 20 Premier League clubs have shirts sponsored by betting companies? All 20 have official betting partners - even the FA has an official betting partner. Come on, we can't have it both ways. On the one hand we're promoting an activity that ruins lives and on the other cracking down on 'easy' targets when they do exactly what the advertising is supposed to do - promote the business and turn vulnerable people to gambling.

Barton was wrong, but he didn't do anything that means his livelihood should be taken away from him. He, like many others, needs help, not punishment. Mind you, it's easier for the game to make a Joey out of Barton than shine a light where it might really find something to put right. Let's see what HMRC find now that they've decided to have a look.