Joey Barton’s goal on Tuesday evening against West Brom meant many things. Not only did it help give Newcastle their first win under caretaker manager Joe Kinnear, but it was Barton’s first goal since his jail sentence and the formal ban given to him by the football association.
Now the ban is over Barton can get on with his career, something that he started on Saturday against Sunderland and has now continued by scoring on Tuesday evening. Now the process begins as opposing fans coming to terms with Barton’s return to the game something that many feel he should never have been allowed to do.
I’m pretty certain that the Football Association wouldn’t have let him complete his comeback to the game if he hadn’t proven he could change and be a positive influence on the game. But that won’t stop many opposition supporters.
Barton has got the job of turning some of those supporters round, just like Jonathan Woodgate had since he was involved in an assault in 2001 along with Lee Bowyer. The only way he can do it, just like Woodgate did, is by turning out week in week out and performing like we know he can. After all Barton still hasn’t recaptured the form that saw him earn an England cap while he was at Manchester City.
He’s not the only one whose had to prove himself however. In 2004 Lee Hughes, then of West Bromwich Albion was involved in a car crash in which the driver in the car hit was killed. Hughes, foolishly fled the scene of the accident but handed himself in just 24 hours later. He was later charged with dangerous driving and leaving the scene of an accident and jailed for six years.
He was released after three years for good behavior and returned to football months later with Oldham Athletic, after West Brom had terminated his contract. Many fans were against the signing and boycotted games that he was involved in.
However soon his form on the pitch turned the fans around, and even though there are football fans out there outraged that he is allowed to play many have made their peace with the decision. Hughes is now an influential presence in the Oldham side as they push towards promotion from League 1.
Hughes has shown how hard work on the pitch can help turn the tables in your favor and if Barton wants to get similar respect he needs to turn out performances mirrored on how Hughes made his comeback.
Not letting himself get in stupid disputes like he did while at Manchester City will help, a particular incident at Goodison Park comes to mind, when he dropped his shorts towards opposition supporters.
Barton has an example to follow, it’s now down to him put the work in and get the fans back on his side.