To put it simply, yesterday was amazing. The 2011/2012 Premier League finale was one for the ages, overflowing with drama and unpredictable to its penultimate finish. If there was ever a perfect example to illustrate what makes soccer so transfixing as a sport, this was it. Survival Sunday — as it’s come to be dubbed — left little to complain about for even the most hardened of soccer critics, considering all the intrigue, all the league place changes, and all the goals.
None of the ten matches finished goalless and 32 were scored in all. And thanks to those goals being spread out into a near even distribution throughout the 95+ minute matchday, it made for great drama as the potential final league table rapidly shifted nearly from minute to minute. At a point early on in the running, United were soon-to-be champions instead of City, Spurs had jumped Arsenal into third, and QPR were sitting in the relegation places instead of Bolton. But by the time every final whistle had been blown, none of that held true. It was so hectic, Fabrice Muamba admitted it was probably bad for his heart.
All said and done, round 38 of the Premier League season was almost the perfect day of football.
So why just almost? Yesterday’s ten matches proved to be a rather undisciplined affair. A total of 30 cautions were handed out, and a further two straight red cards were drawn on top of that. And while that should be expected to a certain extent — after all, a lot was riding on yesterday’s results at both ends of the table — and even added to the intrigue at certain points, it certainly calls into question the merits of the FA’s entire “Respect” campaign.
In particular, QPR midfielder and self-prescribed “pacifist” Joey Barton’s sending off is of great concern.
Yes, Barton is an easy target thanks to his lengthy list of past indiscretions, even more so thanks to the fact that he never shuts his trap on Twitter. And yes, his retaliatory elbow to Carlos Tévez’s face was probably deserved by the Argentine, so I can excuse him for losing his head in the heat of the moment. But his actions post red card — including an unprovoked knee to Kun Agüero’s ass and a mis-directed headbutt aimed at Vincent Kompany — were so far beyond unacceptable professional behavior that I can’t really find words for it.
As Barton’s on-field meltdown played out, my immediate thought was, “Joey’s just gone over the deep end.” He attacked two players for what appeared to be no reason other than unadulterated rage, so it was easy to write him off as the same old nutter that we saw in Newcastle and City colors in years past. No sense in questioning it further.
But when Barton (inevitably) returned to Twitter after the match to explain himself, he revealed his true intentions to be far worse than just a fit of rage:
The head was never gone at any stage, once I’d been sent off, one of our players suggested I should try to take 1 of theirs with me… (See tweet here)
By saying “the head was never gone at any stage”, that means that Barton knew fully what he was doing, and was acting with a clear head. And by saying that he “should try to take 1 of theirs” with him, it was clear he was deliberately trying to provoke a Manchester City player to retaliate against him and earn their own red card. Or in short, Barton openly admitted that he attacked a player for no reason other than to get another professional sent off… disgusting.
At bare minimum, this kind of lack of professionalism sullied the beautiful nature of yesterday’s generally positive theatrics. And while I can see the tactical ideas behind Barton’s actions, that doesn’t excuse the methods he attempted to use to help level the playing field. He knew he couldn’t get sent off twice and leave his team with just 9 men, so he went out of his way to hurt people just to better his club’s chances of survival. And to me — and hopefully 99% of the fans out there — I’d rather my side go down swinging in a fair fashion, then see us survive because one man chose to abuse the system.
Today, the FA announced they’re charging Barton with two counts of violent conduct, and that’s a good first step. But with only a potential for a 9-match ban under the current system, I think it’s fair to say that Barton deserve a bit longer suspension. Half the season seems appropriate, given his frankness and unapologetic nature about the matter. His lengthy wrap sheet should only amplify the implications. It seems the appropriate message to send about such poor sportsmanship, if only it’s a message to the kids since Barton clearly won’t learn a damn thing from it. Throwing the book at him will hopefully inspire other, current and future players to stray away from such lewd acts moving forward.
The ironic part about the incident was how unneeded it actually was for Rangers. For one, the melee following Barton’s actions likely created the extra time in which City were able to find two, game-winning and title-securing goals. And two, QPR were only doomed if Bolton were able to secure three points, which couldn’t manage to do. And now his side — the one he’s so glad to have “helped” stay up — will be without one of their crucial players for a sizable chunk of the next campaign. In his own words, what a helmet.
Look, I know I’ve been ranting on about how horrible Barton’s actions were, and how it seems like I think said actions ruined one of the finest days of football action in a generation. But that’s not true: he didn’t ruin it. Barton’s idiotic behavior, however deplorable, was nothing more than a blemish on an otherwise amazing Premier League finale. And in five years time, I doubt his storyline will be the one that springs to mind first when thinking back about it.
But Barton’s behavior is the type of tarnish that’s hard to rub off, and one that the Premier League would be wise to address before similar behavior permanently ruins the league’s shiny appeal.