Footballers – giving back to society

ACTION IMAGES

By Cressida Smart

A recent tweet suggested that Joey Barton’s sending off provided the extra time that
allowed Manchester City to score two more goals and lift the title. Perhaps there is some
truth in it, but it really is water under the bridge now. Barton’s actions highlight the
wider issue regarding Premier League footballers’ reach and contribution to society.

For those who missed the action last Sunday, Joey Barton was shown a straight red
card for catching CarlosTevez with an elbow; he then struck Sergio Aguero, confronted
Vincent Kompany and had to be pulled away from Mario Balotelli after being restrained
by Micah Richards. The incidents involving Aguero and Kompany came after Barton
had been dismissed, meaning they fall outside the jurisdiction of the referee. He has
accepted one FA charge of violent conduct, but denied a second; he admits clashing with
Aguero after being sent off, but says he has no case to answer for his confrontation with
Kompany. In addition to a four-match ban for his second red of the season, each charge
could carry a three-match ban; the FA’s regulatory panel also has discretion to increase
his suspension.

Joey Barton isn’t the first to receive a red card and of course won’t be the last. What
strikes me as worrying is his post-match action. He was quick to jump on Twitter, “Still
not my proudest moment but who gives a f*ck, we are safe……….and that is all that
matters.” This is one of many abusive tweets that has sprung forth from his malicious
tongue or should I say keyboard, over the past week. As of today, Joey Barton has 1,543,
819 followers. Beyond that, it is hard to estimate how often his tweets are retweeted and
are read by those who revere and despise him. The message he sends out is that he can
physically assault on the pitch, verbally assault off the pitch and walk away with a slap
of the wrist in the form of a probable match ban and fine. This is all to the tune of his
£60,000+ weekly salary and an extraordinary lack of remorse for his actions.

From where I am standing, it seems like football players live by a different set of laws
and take little positive action with their fame and influence. However last week, Jermain
Defoe, a striker for Tottenham Hotspur bucked my view and possibly the public opinion
of Premier League footballers as overpaid, irresponsible and spoilt. Defoe is acting as a
mentor in a project set up by the football club that’s entitled E18hteen. The name refers
to Defoe’s squad number but also to the age of many of the participants. E18hteen aims
to train and find employment for 160 young people who are, or have recently been in
care. The teenagers are drawn from four boroughs of London– Barnet, Enfield, Haringey
and Waltham Forest – close to Tottenham’s ground; Tottenham was the centre of last
summer’s riots and looting. While E18hteen doesn’t speculate about the underlying causes
of the disturbances, there is an understanding that the club needs to reach out to some of
the more deprived neighbourhoods that surround the stadium.

For Defoe, his ties with the violence and crime in the capital are personal. Three years
ago, his half-brother, Jade “Gavin” Defoe, was killed in a street fight. He says that he
had been growing increasingly concerned about the plight of young people in London,
but the death of his half-brother made him stop and ask what he could do. He also has a
cousin who was in care but is now in prison. Defoe approached the Tottenham Hotspur
Foundation, the club’s community charity, and said that he wanted to get involved in

helping young people in need. The result was E18hteen, which has now been operating
for seven months. The scheme focuses on teenagers in or from care because, statistically,
they face the biggest challenges in society: 53% leave school without any qualifications;
29% are designated Neet – not in education, employment or training; 23% of the prison
population has been in care. In addition, 20% of women leaving care between the ages of
16 and 19 become mothers within 12 months.

The concept is E18hteen identifies individual talents and then seeks to realise their
potential. The scheme also tries to ensure that participants are armed with a qualification
in something like crowd stewarding that can deliver employment. Each member of the
scheme is allocated a personal mentor, who checks progress, maintains contact and is
there to help in moments of difficulty or crisis. Once a month a small group of them meet
up with Defoe. The footballer enjoys an easy rapport with the teenagers, sharing much
of the same slang and can speak about urban music with no little authority. However, the
point of connection that the project members emphasise is Defoe’s experience of loss.

The cynics amongst you will no doubt comment on the lavish lifestyle that Defoe leads.
Yes, he does earn an enormous salary and had been known to date models and reality
TV stars; why the latter should be a black mark against his name is a mystery to me,
surely he can date who he chooses. However, as Charlotte, one of the participants in the
programme has said, “…it’s not the lifestyle, it’s that he’s done what he wanted to do. You
could be the dustbin man if that’s your dream.” Defoe is using his celebrity status and
his ability to reach the youth of today to make a difference. If anyone can help struggling
teenagers who are lured by the appeal of gangs and criminal activity, it is those whom
they admire and to whom they may actually listen.

He is not the only player to use his fame in this way. Chelsea striker Didier Drogba set
up a foundation in his name in 2007 which aims to provide health and education support
in his native Ivory Coast and elsewhere in Africa. He has poured in plenty of his own
money. Craig Bellamy is one of the game’s most active charity campaigners. The 32-
year-old, currently with Liverpool, set up the Craig Bellamy Foundation in 2007, to run
Sierra Leone’s first (and currently only) football academy.

Joey Barton has an enormous following both on and offline. He exerts a negative
influence on youngsters; note I haven’t even listed his off pitch activities. I would
really like to see Barton use his money and recognition in a positive manner. However,
with his reputation in further tatters, his football career uncertain, would any charity or
philanthropic venture want to have any association with him? I sincerely doubt it.

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