Defending Joey Barton
English football's bad boy is actually a quality midfielder
There's something uniquely special about following the trials, tribulations and triumphs of underdogs and outliers.
Take Leicester City last season - their title win evoked emotions from within that I barely knew existed.
However, for every Leicester City, there have been countless other occasions when I've backed outsiders more akin to under-puppies than underdogs.
At the UK General Election in 2001, when I was young and radical (foolish), I was one of 531 hardy souls who voted for the Socialist Alliance Party - a bunch of completely deluded political no-hopers who were about as threatening as a butterfly on a Zimmer-frame.
A few years later, I filmed a piece with former Olympic boxing champion Audley Harrison ahead of his world heavyweight title fight with David Haye.
I knew, as did 99 per cent of boxing fans, that poor old Audley had absolutely no chance of dethroning the fearsome punching Hayemaker.
However, after spending half an hour in A-Force's company, he convinced me that he was the second coming of Muhammad Ali.
He went on to land just one single glancing blow in a fight that was so dull it made crown green bowls look like a Conor McGregor press conference.
So what has this got to do with Premier League football?
Well, my first gig on Singapore TV was co-hosting an interactive EPL show called It's Your Shout, where viewers would ring and text in about the pressing issues of the day.
However, for the best part of two years, every call I answered seemed to be from an outraged fan pouring out vitriol in the general direction of Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson, Fernando Torres, or Joey Barton.
It felt as though fans and the media alike were ganging up on the aforementioned players - bullying them even.
And if there's one thing I hate, it's bullies. And useless left-wing political parties. And being suckered in by smack talking, infrequent punching boxers.
I found myself defending these harshly treated millionaires on a weekly basis; most notably the enigmatic Barton.
This is Barton's heavily edited rap sheet; the original version is longer than Fergie Time in the 2000s when United were a goal down. At home. With Howard Webb on the watch.
- Dec 19, 2004: Stubbed a lit cigar in the eye of teammate Jamie Tandy during City's Christmas party. Fined six weeks' wages. Tandy later sued Barton, winning £65,000 (S$114,150) in damages.
- May 1, 2007: Suspended by City after a training-ground altercation with Ousmane Dabo. Charged with assault and received a four-month suspended jail sentence.
- May 20, 2008: Jailed for six months after admitting common assault and affray following an incident in the city centre of Liverpool.
- May 13, 2012: Sent off for elbowing Man City's Carlos Tevez. Attacked Sergio Aguero and attempted to headbutt Vincent Kompany before being ushered off the field.
- Nov 10, 2016: Rangers contract terminated after an altercation with teammate Andy Halliday following a 5-1 defeat by Celtic in September.
Despite all these indiscretions, I remain a fan of Barton - both the man and the footballer.
Anyone who comes from a challenging background but who tries to better himself intellectually and as a human being deserves to be applauded.
As a footballer, he's been a quality Premier League midfielder. He won an England cap back in 2007, but I'd argue that his form in the latter stages of his spell at Newcastle warranted another call-up.
His performances at the time were so good that Arsene Wenger made preliminary enquiries into bringing Barton to the Emirates.
Then, on the opening day of the 2011/12 campaign, an on-edge Barton was instrumental in getting Gunners new boy Gervinho sent off. Funnily enough, Wenger never followed up on his interest.
Tonight, Barton locks horns with Arsenal once again. Having been turfed out of Glasgow Rangers in November, one of football's last remaining outliers is back in the big time with Burnley.
Few would bet against him being the centre of attention in a clash you can watch live on Eleven.
Richard Lenton is the lead presenter at Eleven Sports Network. Join him and his guests for live coverage of the EPL, which includes tonight's clash between Arsenal v Burnley (9.30pm). For more details, visit www.elevensports.sg. Follow him @richardlenton on Twitter.