Yesterday’s harmless piece of fun had our neighbours foaming at the mouths, most of them spectacularly missing the point that the writer, Pete Sixsmith, was quoting words written by someone else (though amid all the charges of “drivel”, “boring”, “gash” and “*****”, one lad did nobly own up to knowing who Sandy Denny was). But derby week being what it is, the banter must go on …
Even the leader of Newcastle’s care-in-the-community brigade now admits he was wrong to call Gervinho a cheat, however much the Arsenal player made of the contact he received in the United penalty box.
It follows, and Joey Barton admits this too, that it was wrong – as if it could otherwise be right – to haul the man aggressively to his feet in exaggerated remonstration.
And it follows further still that to fall to the ground in apparent agony after being hit less hard than happened at school, with the self-confessed aim of getting the opponent sent off, was an outrageous example of, er, cheating.
So there we have it. More or less on his own account, Joey Barton – in the name of taking a stand against cheating – becomes a cheat himself.
He rationalises all this by saying he was cross that Song had not been sent off earlier when that nasty stamp left him writhing in similar fashion (until he was able to get smartly to his damaged feet to ask why Song was not already singing in the showers).
Perhaps after those schoolyard incidents to which he alluded, it was Barton minor’s custom to exact revenge not on his assailants but on someone else entirely.
The upshot of events at St James’ Park on Saturday, and the aftermath, is that our hard-living, hard-tweeting, hard-reading Tyneside philosopher now has something else in the grip of his strong, manly hands: exclusive rights to the name of the question about cheating in football that Salut! Sunderland poses in each pre-match interview with an opposing supporter.
I had warned the Newcastle United fan who has provided excellent answers for this week’s edition – due to appear here later today or tomorrow – that I would retrospectively name the question, already put to him, the Barton/Gervinho Question in honour of the joint antics of the two players.
But it is now clear that Gervinho did not cheat, even on the assessment of Barton. He did strike out tamely with a hand, not really any more combative a gesture than manhandling someone to his feet and verbally abusing him, and has received the inevitable punishment. But what preceded this brawl was not an out-and-out dive, certainly not in the Eduardo/Stephen Taylor/David Ngog league, so Gervinho’s name must be removed from this particular trophy.
Barton professes to hate divers, too. So it is odd to have his name attached to the question which, as put to the Newcastle United “Who Are You?” candidate, now reads: “The Barton Question: which form of cheating in football troubles you most, who is/are the main culprit/s and what would you do about it?”
But feigning injury and trying to get opponents booked or sent off also amount to cheating, especially when done together. So Barton is condemned by his own actions, not – as he so often assumes – by a quick look at his antecedents.
The risk, of course, is that all this goading will spur on our misunderstood neighbour, as he remains until Ashley, in his finest Henry II impersonation, can find someone to “rid me of this turbulent p
riest?”, for Saturday at noon.
A man described at the erudite Blackcats list as a great footballer but also a sociopath could present himself to Howard Webb as a model of professionalism and produce a mesmerising display of match-winning midfield flair. But in the interests of the Corinthian Spirit that, in other ways, Barton is so anxious for others to embrace, it is necessary to set an example.
It is not because this is Joey Barton or because he plays for Newcastle United. Salut! Sunderland despises cheating in football, from diving to card-waving to shirt-pulling to pretence of injury, and has a track record of being ready to criticise whoever indulges in it, even if the culprit is wearing red and white stripes.
But if Barton is sincere in his declared wish to erase the streak of viciousness that has people queuing to condemn him, he can take heart: being a cheat is, on balance, better than being a thug.