I can remember vividly the episode of Scotsport from the opening day of the 1988/89 season. It covered Rangers’ first fixture of the domestic campaign against Hamilton at the old Douglas Park. Rangers won 2-0, with goals from Mark Walters and Ally McCoist, I believe. But it is was not the game that made me remember this episode of Scotsport – it was something far more important.
After the game we were treated to a an interview with Graham Roberts, who had been jettisoned from Ibrox to a new life with Chelsea, who were then far removed from the glamour club they are today and were languishing in England’s second tier. Roberts’ infamous fall-out with then manager Graeme Souness a few months previously had brought about an abrupt end to his Rangers career, and I must confess that it took some time for me to recover from his departure. If I’m being honest, his leaving Rangers still wrangles a bit with me today.
On hearing the news last week that the long, drawn out saga that had surrounded Joey Barton and Rangers since September had reached its almost inevitable conclusion, I must admit I had a similar sense of loss.
That’s not to say that Barton’s contribution to Rangers can be matched with Roberts’. Far from it. In fact, it could be legitimately argued that Barton represents possibly the worst big name signing we’ve ever made – and we’ve had a few duffers in our time! No, the sense of loss this time was more one based around what might have been.
Barton’s departure, in my opinion, is disappointing for more than one reason and, despite the obvious errors Barton was guilty of committing during his time at Ibrox, I am not convinced that Rangers come out this shambles smelling of roses.
My sadness at Barton’s departure is not only related to football, which was a similar situation to my happiness when we signed. For me, Barton represents something more.
Those of you who have engaged with me on the Rangers twitter-sphere will maybe have noted my distinct unhappiness with modern football and the path it is currently on: extortionate ticket prices, corruption, bungs and a hefty amount amount of dull, corporate millionaire footballers who pedal a seemingly endless amount of bland, meaningless platitudes has severely corroded my love of all things football.
It seems impossible to get any of these tanned, tattooed Adonis’s to say anything mildly interesting for fear that they may reduce their appeal to possibly interested parties who wish to use their youth and celebrity to sell some extra bottles of dandruff shampoo. You don’t really get that with Barton. With Barton you get what so many footballers seem devoid of: an opinion on matters outside of football.
His appearance on Question Time is a prime example. How many modern-day footballers would go on the BBC’s flagship political programme? I can’t think of many, that’s for sure. Ok, he didn’t cover himself in glory with some of his comments – primarily the “two ugly birds” comment – but nevertheless, it was refreshing to see a rich footballer take an interest in political matters and, specifically, speaking up on matters that are affecting the working classes.
His interest in music, particularly 'The Smiths', is also something quite refreshing and something that you don’t really associate with footballers these days. In essence, when Barton talks about certain issues I find myself being able to relate to a lot of what he was saying, and that is something I have not had a great deal of with footballers in recent years.
But Barton, for all his proclaimed enlightenment, is capable of folly on a grand scale as his brief time at Ibrox proved. There can be no denying he made some huge mistakes during his spell at Rangers.
Firstly, the decision to forego pre-season training at the age of 34 in order to do media work for the Euro’s may have undone Barton before he even got started. From the minute he kicked a competitive ball for Rangers he looked off the pace and plodding. That he felt he could get away without a pre-season and still reach the performance levels required of him shows the overly arrogant and naive side of Barton.
Then there was the outbursts at Scott Brown and Brendan Rodgers. Now frankly I quite enjoyed some of these comments but the problem was a) they became too frequent, b) he failed to back them up and c) with hindsight, are these really comments you would expect of a Rangers player? Is not better to do your talking on the park?
It has also been suggested that Barton was overly vocal about the level of performance by his team-mates this season. If this is the case then it is hard not to agree with Barton. Where his argument falls down, however, is the level of his own performances, which resembled a more expensive version of Ian Black.
That said, I am not convinced blame lies entirely with Barton on this issue. Rangers’ handling of the situation at various points is also suspect.
Firstly, we can reasonably assume that Barton missed pre-season with the blessing of the club. Such an act is on par with Barton’s in terms of misjudgement, and Rangers have to be held accountable for their part in allowing a veteran player to come into a season off the pace.
Then there was the handling of the incident that led to Barton’s dismissal. We will probably never know the exact nature of what went on that day, but whatever it was it wasn’t enough for Rangers to sack Barton outright. Instead we were lead through a process of one suspension followed by another, a process that gave the distinct impression Rangers were unwilling to deal with the situation.
Some question marks are also raised about Mark Warburton’s role in all of this. At times it felt like he didn’t want to deal with the situation, and the fact that Rangers couldn’t terminate Barton’s contract outright raises questions about the severity of the original incident and Warburton’s willingness to even consider giving Barton a second chance. Given the salary that he was on, it seems odd that this doesn’t appear to have been even considered as an option. At the end of the day we’ll probably never know what really happened, but that Barton has left Govan without really making any impression will represent an itch that we will never be able to scratch for years to come.
Who knows, maybe Barton just wasn’t cut out to be a Ranger. He has had a career of being the underdog; the guy who goes after the big boys and brings them down a peg or two. Maybe the mentality change required from being the underdog to being the guy who has to deal with the underdogs snapping at your heels on a weekly basis was too much for him.
Whatever the reason for his premature exit from G51, for me it will be up there with Roberts’ exit in terms wishing things had turned out differently.
Colin Armstrong (@moonman1873) is a former columnist for the Rangers News & match-day programme.
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