The Great Big Drop…

4 05 2009

With the end of the Premier League season approaching, three teams naturally find themselves struggling to stay afloat. West Brom look certainties to go down, and although Mowbray’s attacking instincts are commendable, I’m still not sure whether they are realisitic for a newly promoted side in the division. However, I hold no fear for West¬† Brom, one of a few yo-yo clubs at the moment, and I think that, providing that they hold onto their better players, they will bounce back again pretty quickly.

Instead it is Newcastle for whom I fear the most. I think now they will go down, as I cannot see them picking up the requisite number of points to keep them up.  If they are relegated, the club will sink in the manner of Leeds, Charlton and Southampton (all recently Premier League clubs who find themselves either in League One, or joining it next season). Newcastle are club prone to turmoil, it seems poorly run from the top down, and there is nothing Alan Shearer could realistically have done to prevent the collapse. It is a longer term problem within the club than simply a season full of bad results indicates. They will continue to struggle I think, over the course of the next two or three seasons, and may very well be rubbing shoulders with the teams in League One sooner than they will be back in the Premier League.

Of course, there are two teams already heading to the Premier League to replace West Brom and probably Newcastle. Birmingham City, who, if I’m honest, have not impressed me much this season in footballing terms, have secured second spot in the Championship and make an immediate return to the Premier League. It is however Wolves who have finally pulled clear of the chasing pack, finishing seven points clear of Birmingham as the top scorers in the league. It has truly been a roller-coaster season for Wolves fans, the thrills of last autumn were followed by the pains of early spring. Even as recently as April 6, when the team lost to Birmingham, the fans were still muttering that automatic promotion would not be achieved. However, for the team which had remained top since October, avoiding defeat in the final five games meant that the other clubs simply could not stand the pace and fell away (Cardiff in spectacular fashion). Wolves deserve to win the Championship, there is little question about that. For the team though, the hard work starts now.

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Role Models…

23 10 2008

I must admit, when I heard the news that Joey Barton, the footballer, wanted to act as a role model for young people, I was hugely skeptical about the whole idea. I mean, what parent in their right mind would want to leave their kid in the company of someone who has, on more than one occasion, assaulted people and done jail time for it? I don’t think I would ever have called Barton a role model. There are many things that he is, violent, dangerous, unpredictable, short-tempered. But not a role model. This is, remember, the guy who stabbed a lit cigarette into the eye of a younger professional at a christmas party.

So what sort of role model could he be? “Here’s how to get banged up. I’m a footballer, I can get away with it, but you kids won’t. You’ll do longer sentences because you aren’t famous.” Hmm. Truly inspiring. It’s not like the guy is particularly renowned for his speaking abilities either (some footballers, incidentally, are, Beckham for example, after all these years, is still as rubbish as he ever was, but Steven Gerrard, despite being a scouser, does speak well to the press I feel). No, Barton is just not role model material.

He is someone who has been given so many ‘second chances’ that he must be nearer his one-hundred-and-second chance than his second. Barton was, and, I believe, will remain a thug, both on and off the football pitch. You get them in all walks of life, the playground bully, the office bully, the coffee shop bullies if you remember Friends, the wife-beaters (or indeed husband), children-beaters. Bullies are not uncommon in the world. Barton is just a public bully. Except that he isn’t just a public bully at all. He is a public bully who keeps getting away with it. Which is very definately worse. What sort of example is that to set to young people? What sort of mis-representation will that give of our legal system, which for all its flaws, still does not resort to execution as a means to an end?

There is the argument that Barton himself is trotting out, running along the lines of ‘changed man’. Which is interesting. Rudyard Kipling told us that the leopard could not change its spots. Nor indeed the Ethiopian for that matter. I don’t think Barton will either, despite time in jail, and despite vowing to be a different person.

Citing his experience in jail as one of the reasons people can connect with him, Barton has told reporters that he hopes to reach those who were unreachable before. Hmm. Despite my reservations, no, my complete dislike, of Barton I think he may have a point. There are many people who feel footballers do belong in a different, squeaky-clean world full of celebrity culture and the high life. Those who shun such attention (Paul Scholes and Micheal Owen for example) have the reputations of being well-mannered, polite family men. Which is a far cry from the growing gang culture of major cities. At least Barton can try to connect with people from shared experience (alcohol abuse, violent conduct, jail time) and try to help them improve their lives. Just as he is, apparently, trying to improve his. It remains to be seen how successful Barton is during his career (at 26 time is on his side as a professional sportsman), but I think of more concern to everyone is how successful Barton is in his own life.