Joey Barton blasts Alex Scott, Laura Woods, other female football hosts

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

So goes the famous quote from American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou. And so, when I consider the recent pronouncements of former footballer Joey Barton, I think back to my one indelible memory of him.

May 12, 2012. Manchester City versus Queens Park Rangers. One of the most dramatic days in the history of any sport.

City needed to win to secure its first Premier League title since the 1960s. QPR was fighting to avoid relegation. And Barton was its captain.

Early in the second half, he elbowed an opponent – City striker Carlos Teves – in the face, and got himself sent off. Hardly the act of a mature leader. Then he vented his frustration by stalking up behind another City player, Sergio Aguero, and viciously kicking him.

It was among the dumbest moments I’ve ever witnessed in sport (I’m a lifelong rugby league fan, so the bar is high), and it could very well have doomed Barton’s team, if not for the good fortune of other results going QPR’s way.

“He needs to be rescued from himself,” said veteran commentator Martin Tyler as Barton was marched off the pitch, still trying to argue, to fight, to escalate.

“He’s destroyed Queens Park Rangers’ prospects,” said fellow commentator Peter Drury on another channel, adding that a City player had to restrain Barton on his way off the field “to save him from himself”.

That’s who Joey Barton was as a player: a thuggish, brainless hothead who undermined his talent by repeatedly sabotaging his own teams through sheer stupidity. Retirement has done little to change him.

He’s re-emerged in the last fortnight, this time as a voice in the media, by crowning himself emperor of the regressive, (wannabe) macho trolls who still infest the sport.

Barton is on a crusade against the presence of women in men’s football, be it as club staff, broadcasters or, worst of all, analysts. Women! Analysing men! It’s a sore spot among many a basement dweller, and indeed many a gender-obsessed podcaster.

I’ll give you a couple of examples, lest you fear I’m verballing the man.

“The amount of times in my professional life I’ve seen women compromise themselves in the men’s game is ridiculous. I’ve actually lost count,” he said in one recent post.

“Female staff sending naked pictures to players. To having full blown affairs and costing people marriages … it happens all the time.

“I think it is very dangerous to have women in certain roles in certain departments in men’s football because ultimately, ‘They’re not made of wood, lad!’ It’s a recipe for disaster.”

What we have here is the infantilisation of grown men, as though they lack all agency and responsibility. A young, rich footballer can’t keep it in his pants, and instead of blaming him for jeopardising his marriage, we chuck it all on the more junior, and less powerful, woman.

And our solution, in the Joey Barton school of thought, is to purge women from the staff room altogether. Gender segregation! It’s a rather dim view of masculinity, isn’t it, when you think men can’t even be trusted to work alongside female colleagues without turning into mindless horndogs.

Alex Scott is a former star of the Arsenal women’s team, and an England international with 140 caps (Barton, if you’re wondering, has just the one).

She has a degree in Professional Sports Writing and Broadcasting, has been a presence in the British football media for a decade, and became a full-time broadcaster after retiring from the sport in 2017 – six years ago.

Barton feels she is unqualified to analyse men’s football.

“Fantastic women’s footballer. Decorated in her game,” he said, replying to a male fan on social media who’d stuck up for Scott.

“But no, she isn’t qualified to talk with any authority about the men’s game in my opinion. You will clearly disagree? But you no doubt sold your conkers off to the XX chromosome gang years ago, if at all you had any to begin with.”

First, a smidgen of credit: Barton knows what chromosomes are. I confess myself surprised, given the juvenile level of his insults. Who would have thought he’d ever opened a biology textbook?

Anyway Scott responded to Barton, indirectly, at the end of a subsequent broadcast.

“Just before we say goodbye: to all the women in football, in front of the camera or behind it, the players on the pitch, to everyone that attends games – keep being the role models that you continue to be,” she said as she signed off.

“To all those young girls that are told, ‘No you can’t,’ football is a better place with us all in it. Goodbye.”

The notoriously flappable Barton was, seemingly, triggered by this message.

“I can’t say you don’t know men’s football? I’m sorry, you don’t. You don’t have a clue. And you were a really bad player compared to even a Sunday League player,” he said.

“I’ll happily have Alex on my podcast. I think I know more about football than her. I think I was a better player, but I would like to see, hear her perspective.”

A couple of thoughts: I’d rather listen to someone like Alex Scott talk about football than a man whose career was characterised by chronic idiocy. Chances are I could learn more tactical nous from a rando down the pub than from Joey Barton.

More importantly, I see two possible responses to the rise of women’s sport, and of women in sport more generally.

1. “More sport to watch! And more fans being attracted to it, to help it thrive. Excellent!”

2. “The men are better, what are all these females doing here?”

What sort of fan do we want to be, gents? The bitter one, arms crossed in front of the television, forever nostalgic for a time now gone, when sport was a male sanctuary? Or the optimistic one, who’s happy that sport is growing; that we’re sharing and enjoying it with millions more fans than before?

Are we jealous gatekeepers, or evangelists who want more people to share in our enthusiasm?

Two years ago, my native New Zealand hosted the women’s Rugby World Cup, and the energy of fans – male and female – felt transformative.

More than 40,000 people showed up to the final in Auckland, where they witnessed a spectacle to match, if not surpass, anything the men’s World Cup has ever offered. My father, very much a political conservative, was obsessed with it. Together we marvelled at the talent of players whose skills were developed with far fewer resources than their male compatriots.

Did Kiwi men spend the tournament moaning that the All Blacks tackle harder, or run faster, or stand taller than the Black Ferns? No. Because who, the hell, cares?

At the start of October, I was at the Emirates Stadium in North London to watch the Arsenal women’s team play Liverpool in its season opener. The record crowd of 54,000 included many women and children – far more, it must be said, than at your average Premier League game, where the atmosphere tends to be a tad less welcoming.

I haven’t even mentioned the women’s football World Cup, which so completely captured Australia’s imagination this year.

There is no reason whatsoever why sport should be an exclusively male domain. We love it because it’s the ultimate entertainment, the prestige drama with no script, where anything can and frequently does happen, in defiance of the odds. Anyone can enjoy that. Anyone can understand it, and appreciate it.

The pathetic “stay in your lane, love” style crap Barton is trying to peddle is sad. It’s the product of a joyless mind. You almost pity the man.

If the only acceptable qualification for commenting on, and analysing, men’s sport is having played it then there are several million very vocal, and rather foul-mouthed tactical geniuses in the stands of every match (myself included) who are going to need to shut up.

Twitter: @SamClench


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