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.