The Early Days

In my Mersey paradisePolaroid crop

I’m Joseph Anthony Barton and I was born on the 2nd of September 1982 in Huyton, Merseyside. Huyton is in Knowsley and, in 2007, the show Location, Location, Location put it in the top 10 worst places to live in the UK. It’ll always be home to me, though. There’s still a very close-knit community and I never really liked that show anyway. The whole area was football crazy and everyone played the game. You just have to look at the names that came out of Huyton to realise that: Peter Reid, Steven Gerrard, David Nugent, Tony Hibbert – loads of tops players.

Jumpers for goalposts

My childhood was all about football. I wasn’t interested in anything else. School. Other sports. Nothing. I always felt a lot tougher than the other kids. Even if there were players that were a bit faster or stronger than me, or who had a bit more technical skill. I always felt I was exceptional. I knew I was going to be a footballer, even back then. By the age of seven, I’d decided. And that was that. Which probably sounds daft, but I did. I knew it, and I knew I could make it happen. Saying that though, my nan made me study and take my exams and even though I didn’t really revise (I’d read over the books on the morning of the exam), I managed to get 10 GCSEs.

But, as I say, it was all about football back then. I used to play about three games a day. I was a bit of a weird kid, I suppose. I had three sets of mates. I used to play with the kids in my street (which was just normal street kickabout), the boys from school (which was a bit more technical), and then with the hard kids from the estate (which got quite brutal from time to time). And when there wasn’t a game to be had, I just played ‘lamposts’ by myself – I’d stand 20 or 30 yards away from a lamppost and try to curl the ball onto it. I got pretty good after a while, and I think it set me in good stead for taking free kicks and corners now. So yeah, those early days back in Huyton prepared me well for my career: I’d say they sharpened my skills and gave me the determination to be a professional footballer.

Signing for Everton

Everton Youth

As well as all the kickabouts with mates from around St John’s, I played for a local team called St Anne’s. Not meaning to be big-headed, but I was probably the best player on the pitch for most games and, after a while, Everton scouted me. I started playing with them when I was eight or nine. I was made up. I was born an Everton fan. All my family were Everton fans. And now I was playing for Everton. It was like a Boy’s Own story – proper Roy of the Rovers stuff. I was in an age group with players like Phil Jagielka and Bradley Orr and things were going great. I was getting time on the pitch and my game was coming along nicely.

Then when I was 16, a new academy director came in and analysed all the players and said I was too small to make it as a midfielder and that they wouldn’t be offering me terms. They wanted full-on, big, bruising shit-kickers back then – Roy Keanes, Paul Inces, David Battys. I just didn’t fit the archetype for that kind of player, and I was out. Maybe it was just the kick up the arse I needed.

That was the first serious rejection I’d had in my life. Until then I’d achieved everything I’d set out to achieve. I was playing for my hometown club. I was happy with how things were going, then I was let go. I was fucking gutted. And then at pretty much the same time, my mum and dad split up. So I got hit by two massive psychological traumas in one go. My confidence took a real hit and I went home that night in bits.

Back with the R’s

A year with the R’s and then another with l’OM

Queens Park Rangers

I’m back at Loftus Road, following an insightful year on loan in the French Ligue 1 with Olympique de Marseille. There was plenty of speculation surrounding my future; whether or not I’d be returning to my parent club and whist I was unsure myself, that’s now been cleared up and I’m fully committed to helping QPR return to their rightful home, the Premier League. Playing in a different league not only helped improve me as a player, it helped me get some distance and perspective on my first season with the R’s, not to mention gain valuable cultural experience, something that I hope to bring to the changing room too – particularly with our international squad. Something I now realise is not common with English players.

A new start with Harry Redknapp

QPR were struggling in the league during my loan spell, inevitably Hughes had to go and Harry Redknapp was appointed. Whilst Hughes and myself didn’t see eye-to-eye, particularly following the well-documented Manchester City incident, which ultimately lead to me making the move for a year in Marseille, I’ll just wish well with Stoke City. Although QPR were unable to avoid the drop last season, the level of belief instilled by Harry during the second half of the season, was a firm reminder that with a little guidance and leadership, QPR can establish themselves as a Premier League team. That’s what Harry brings to the team and it’s a trait that’s helped carve an impressive C.V; helping clubs survive relegation, steering Spurs to their first ever Champions League campaign and even being tipped for the England manager’s job before Hodgson. There was speculation on whether Harry would sell me, I can tell you that was complete nonsense. Harry welcomed me back with open arms, and I aim to repay him and the R’s fans.

A few years with the Toon Army

A new club and a new start

Newcastle United

When my time at City had run its course, I headed up to sign with Newcastle. I felt I had a better chance of winning things with Newcastle and I really fancied working with Sam Allardyce.

I’d heard good things about him from other players and you couldn’t fault the job he’d done with Bolton. I was ready to put everything that had happened at City behind me and have a new start.

I joined a team with players like Michael Owen, Mark Viduka, Shay Given and Obafemi Martins. I couldn’t help but think we had a decent chance of a run at a European place and doing well in the cups. Back then, Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool, were very much ‘The Big Four’, but there was a real feeling around the place that this Newcastle team could push them all the way, and maybe just nick a place in the Champions League. I’d gone for a lot of money, and really wanted to show the fans what I could do, and maybe have a go at getting myself into the England set-up.

Injuries. Bans. Trouble at the Toon.

Newcastle United

I didn’t quite work out that way though! In a pre-season game against Carlisle I broke my fifth metatarsal and was out for months. I spent 77 days in prison for assault. Then, after a brief comeback, the FA banned me for six matches for the Dabo incident. I came back for the derby against Sunderland: I got loads of coins thrown at me as I warmed up and we went onto lose 2-1. I only had about a month’s football before a crunching (but perfectly good) tackle from Lee Catermole put me out for a couple of months with a medial ligament injury. I came back in January, played twice more and broke another metatarsal and was out for another three months.

Then when I finally got back to fitness, I got a rush of blood and clattered Xabi Alonso with a late tackle. So that was that. I was banned for three games by the FA for that tackle. And then I was banned for the rest of the season by Newcastle for pointing out a few home truths to Alan Shearer and Iain Dowie.

Relegation. Promotion. And a sad farewell.

Newcastle United

It turns out that relegation wasn’t such a bad thing for Newcastle. We gelled as a team, got a decent manager in Chris Hughton and found our feet and our confidence. For the first few matches anyway – I bust my foot again against Plymouth and was out until mid-April. I came back for the last seven games of the season and helped the team finish the season as Champions. But I don’t feel that I deserved the Championship medal that I got that season. Even though I played games, scored goals and created opportunities, it just doesn’t feel right. I was just a small part of it. I didn’t earn it the way that players like Kevin Nolan or Fabricio Coloccini did.

That next season, the first one back in the Premiership with Newcastle, was probably the best of my career. I played regularly. The team was playing pretty well. I had no major injuries and I wasn’t getting lots of bans and punishments. Perhaps the highlight was coming back from 4-0 down against Arsenal at St James’ Park. I scored two penalties, Leon Best snaffled a goal and Cheik Tiote hit a screamer. Four all. Job done. Great day.

Despite a decent first season in the top flight, a 12th place finish and being one of their best players that year – things didn’t end well with Newcastle. They were selling their best players (Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan, Jose Enrique) and I couldn’t keep my discontent to myself. So after lots of posturing and nonsense by the chairman and the board, I was told I could leave on a free transfer. To this day, I look back on my time at Newcastle with great pride and emotion. I loved playing in front of all those Geordies and I’ll always have a soft spot for the black and white stripes.

Making it at Man City

Goodbye Everton. Hello City.Manchester City

The same day I got dropped by Everton, I got signed by Manchester City. And that’s where things really started working out for me.

After some hard graft, I broke into the youth team. Then made it through to the reserves. Then I got made captain. I remember beating a Leeds reserve team with proper first team players in every position – Paul Robinson in goal and Harry Kewell and Robbie Keane up front. And we beat them 3-0. I was playing at the very heart of that team and we went a run of 26 or 27 wins on the bounce after that.

Breaking into the first team

I finally got my chance in the first team against Bolton. I hadn’t even been on the bench for months, and then Kevin Keegan told me on the Saturday morning that I was starting in central midfield. We lost 2-0 but I think I played pretty well. The second time I played I had to man-mark Juninho: a guy who’d played in World Cups for Brazil. I totally played him out of the game. The third game was against Spurs and I got my first goal. After that, I kept my place in the team for the rest of the season. We beat Liverpool away, that cost them a place in the Champions League – that went down well with all my Everton mates! I played the full 90 minutes for all of the last seven games, and was rewarded with a proper contract on something like £6,000 a week, plus appearances. I really felt like I’d made it as a footballer.

Everything comes to an end

Manchester City

After that early success, things started going a little bit wrong at City. Despite some decent displays, our form slumped and I seemed to go from one tabloid story to the next. There was the Jamie Tandy and the cigar incident (bit pissed and I honestly wasn’t going for his eye), the Everton fan in Thailand (he ran up and slapped me in a hotel bar at three in the morning – how was I to know he was only 15?) and then the fight at the training ground with Dabo. Obviously, there’s been a lot said about that. But the truth as I see it is that he threw a punch at me and I responded. It was a bit of a daft thing to do, but where I’m from, if someone hits you, you hit back. Either way, that was pretty much the end for me at City. I was banned until the end of the 2006/07 season and my relationship with Stuart Pearce fell apart. It was a wrench, though, leaving City. I had a good rapport with the fans and I’d been there since I was a kid. That’s football though isn’t it? Everything comes to an end.