Joey Barton’s playing career may be over.
Following a lengthy investigation into his gambling habits, the FA has banned the Burnley midfielder from football for the next 18 months. The decision also levies a fine of £30,000. Barton, who said that the FA’s decision “effectively forces me into an early retirement,” plans to appeal the sentence.
Between March 2006 and May 2016, Barton was found to have bet on over 1,260 football matches, several of which involved his own teams and a few in which he played. Barton insists that his integrity is “not in question” and denied accusations of matchfixing.
The FA’s investigation began last December. Barton accepted the charges in February but was counting on a lenient punishment after he provided medical documentation detailing a diagnosis for gambling addiction. Barton says that his forthcoming appeal will hinge in part on the assetion that his addiction problem should’ve been taken into account when considering the ban.
Barton had run into similar trouble late last year after the Scottish FA charged him with betting on matches he was involved in while playing for Rangers. He left the Ibrox in November and signed a short-term contract with Burnley the following month (his second spell with the club in two years), but not before serving a one-match ban for the gambling charges.
For most of the time in which the gambling took place, the FA rules stated that players and staff could not bet on matches they were involved in. In 2014 the rules were changed to prohibit betting on any football match and any sporting competition anywhere in the world. The rules apply to players and staff in the Premier League, the Football League, and in nonleague divisions down to the eighth tier, as well as the Women’s Super League. Barton was found in violation of both sets of rules.
In a statement released soon after the decision was handed down, Barton talked about his gambling addiction and admitted it’s time for him to seek help.
”I am not alone in football in having a problem with gambling. I grew up in an environment where betting was and still is part of the culture. From as early as I can remember my family let me have my own pools coupon, and older members of the family would place bets for me on big races like the Grand National. To this day, I rarely compete at anything without there being something at stake. Whether that’s a round of golf with friends for a few pounds, or a game of darts in the training ground for who makes the tea, I love competing. I love winning. I am also addicted to that. It is also the case that professional football has long had a betting culture, and I have been in the sport all my adult life. [...] Throughout my career I am someone who has made mistakes and owned up to those mistakes and tried to learn from them. I intend to do that here. I accept that this is one more mess I got into because of my own behaviour. This episode has brought home to me that just as I had to face up to the need to get help to deal with alcohol abuse, and with anger, so now I need to get help for my issues with gambling, and I will do so.”
Yet in the same statement, Barton suggested that the ban was unnecessarily harsh because of who he is, and accused the FA of incompetence and hypocrisy in addressed the problem of player betting and matchfixing.
”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. I have fought addiction to gambling and provided the FA with a medical report about my problem. I’m disappointed it wasn’t taken into proper consideration. I think if the FA is truly serious about tackling the culture of gambling in football, it needs to look at its own dependence on the gambling companies, their role in football and in sports broadcasting, rather than just blaming the players who place a bet. Given the money in the game, and the explosion in betting on sport, I understand why the rules have been strengthened, and I also accept that I have been in breach of them. I accept too that the FA has to be seen to lead on this issue. But surely they need to accept there is a huge clash between their rules and the culture that surrounds the modern game, where anyone who watches follows football on TV or in the stadia is bombarded by marketing, advertising and sponsorship by betting companies, and where much of the coverage now, on Sky for example, is intertwined with the broadcasters’ own gambling interests.”
The Professional Footballer’s Association echoed Barton’s criticism over the proportionality of the ban, saying that they “... hope sufficient weight is given to the sanctions handed down in other cases of a similar nature.”
Meanwhile, further investigations into footballer bets are either in progress or pending, and as many as 53 players could be implicated. This story isn’t going away anytime soon— even as Barton’s role in the drama may be finished.