A dash of bitter irony this week. I’ve been doubling down on Joey Barton for a long time. I won a tasty wedge with a long shot online punt on Joey stubbing a cigar out on a trainee’s eye. Why not?
I snapped up some action when I saw the crazy odds on Joey biting Richard Dunne’s fingers in a classic ‘punching above your weight, mate’ fight in Thailand. And that six-month jail sentence? I bought my first yacht with that one.
What gnaws though is the ones that get away. I passed up a generous double on Joey Barton addressing the Oxford Union and appearing on Question Time. I missed a trick when Joey won an award as Straight Ally Of the Year having previously called Fernando Torres a poof and the Brazil captain Thiago Silva a “pussy” and “an overweight ladyboy”.
Then last week the FA (gambling partner: Ladbrokes) finished Joey off with an 18-month ban. Joey will wear the Dafabet (football partner: Burnley FC) jersey no more.
Here’s the rub. I wasn’t down on that one. I just didn’t see the hypocrisy coming. I mean, it was the FA, and I should have known better.
The betting industry and football are so happily tucked up in bed with each other that you forget what an odd couple they make.
People love to bet on football but the people most vulnerable to getting hooked on the business are footballers. Half the players in the Premier League wear jerseys bearing the names of gambling concerns. Are Joey and the Sutton pie-eater the only footballers actually gambling on the game?
The FA banned tobacco when asked but have no problem with having a beer partner, a gambling partner, and as of next year promoting healthy lifestyles by partnering up with Cadbury’s. They have replaced one addiction with other addictions.
Now, top sportspeople spend a lot of time just being bored. They have more disposable income than the average Joey. They have been bred to be competitive about anything and everything.
Last month, former NBA player Charles Barkley recalled an afternoon long ago when he had to move aside for Michael Jordan to take a putt that had $300,000 riding on it. Barkley told of how he used to go to Vegas.
“I won a million dollars. I probably won a million dollars five times, but I probably lost a million 25 other times.” Bored sports people with time and money and the need to feel that rush. Same old story.
Joey Barton was in breach of football’s gambling rules. The rules are the rules, regardless of whether you believe or not that football is complicit in the downfall of its own stars. But… The FA knows that Joey Barton isn’t an outlier. He’s a small fish. He was caught because he used his own name. The vast majority of players who gamble online use alias accounts; absolute criminal geniuses.
Players who wager the kind of sums that most people would use to buy a good new car often have their friends place the bets for them. They lay off the amount with several different bookies, sometimes with a legitimate high street firm and sometimes with the sort of people you’d expect to see in a Guy Ritchie movie.
The Guy Ritchie route allows players to bet collectively with cash on their own games. If you don’t think that that happens, then you should take a job with the FA. A free velvet blindfold with a Three Lions crest on it is one of the basic perks.
Twice as a player I was involved in collective betting on my team’s result. Twice I won. Or rather, the squad won. I played in both matches. The opposition had no idea that we had placed a bet on ourselves to win.
We didn’t unduly influence the opposition. We backed ourselves and went for it. It’s no excuse but there is a difference between betting on your own team to win because form is good and paying opposing players to throw the match.
There was smaller stuff too. Home or away teams always want to play towards their own fans in the second half. Whoever wins the toss stays at the end they have warmed up in. So the home team get to kick-off.
In the early days of online gambling and specifically in-play betting (first throw, corner, goal kick etc.) I was with my first club. The algorithms to detect fixing the odds were crude. Our team would kick off, the striker playing it back to a midfielder who stroked it back to the left back. The left back would slice a ball down the line high and wide and out for a throw-in.
I thought that we had just a very poor full-back. I was right but it turned out he was pretty smart too. Years later at a reunion I laughed along as they told me the story but suddenly it all made sense. I was happy that I had been oblivious to it and that they had shielded me, a young player, from the scam. And from the winnings.
I’ve watched football with an old teammate who is pretty much a professional gambler now. With five minutes left he announced there would be another goal. Both teams were going for it but I wouldn’t have bet.
He called an ex-England player who took the bet. £15,000. Two minutes later a Liverpool player duly scored the winning goal. The same player bought his Ferrari from a similar bet but for a bigger stake.
The FA, petrified about what they might find, keeps the lid on this side of the game. Much easier to come down hard on the hapless ones. Cue Joey Barton. Joey by now has reformed himself more often than most boy bands. He is a catalogue of most of the acute problems that can beset a man. Anger management issues. Alcoholism. Gambling addiction. Playing for Rangers.
He will bounce back.
Since 2004, Joey placed more than 15,000 bets on a range of sports. The FA revealed that 1,260 of those were football-related bets, placed over 10 years. The total stake of those bets was £205,172.79. Winnings: £88,196.72. Return: £188,464.50.
Joey made a made a loss of £16,708.29 from football gambling.
Last year before the new TV deal, the average weekly wage of a senior squad player at Man City was £96,445 before bonuses.
£16,708.29 is not a lot of money to most players. It was not a lot of money to guys I played with. But lots of those players would snap your arm off for £16,000 now. Remember the stats? One in three get divorced within a year of retiring, one in three will suffer with a mental illness and 40% will go bankrupt within five years.
Eighteen months is rough, but so is karma. Joey Barton found that out last week. Meanwhile, the men in velvet blindfolds happily stumble on.