Sport Soccer

Monday 25 September 2017

Barton has turned into a new man, Beckham always was one

I once returned home from a school trip to London feeling as pleased with myself as an adolescent who believes his life is utterly miserable can be.

My friends and I were obsessed with 1960s American music and had plucked every piece of vinyl we could from London record stores. There were Buffalo Springfield b-sides, David Crosby biographies and Velvet Underground anthologies.

I felt I had bettered them all. When I got home I carefully removed a Stars and Stripes flag decorated with an image of Jim Morrison from my bag. I was 15 and tremendously pleased with this counter-culture statement, even if it was from a counter-culture that was 20 years old. This banner would hang from my bedroom wall and announce that at all times, no matter what appearances I gave to the contrary, I was sticking it to the man.

But this was no ordinary Stars and Stripes flag, illustrated with a drawing of Jim Morrison. On my flag, Jim Morrison was wearing a crown of thorns. Yes, I was suffering in my overwrought adolescence like Joey Barton is suffering now.

Barton learned last Monday that he wouldn't face any charges following a series of tweets in which he commented on the John Terry court case. Barton is developing into one of England's great eccentrics, a comic genius whose comedy depends on him taking himself very seriously.

Over the weekend he had stuck it to the man. 'Make me a martyr,' he demanded when the threat of being found in contempt of court hung over him, but not before he had deleted a couple of the most contentious tweets, a gesture as rebellious as a teenager telling his parents that they are establishment shills and then sitting down at their table at dinner time and wondering where his food is.

He posted some lines from Dylan -- Please get out of the new one if you can't lend a hand, for the times they are a changin' -- before helpfully adding they were written by Dylan for those who didn't know.

Once he was cleared, he continued taking on all those who had wondered if he was in contempt and again the results were comic.

The transformation of Barton into a figure we can all enjoy is in itself startling. I remember being at Arsenal once when Kevin Keegan attempted to defend Barton shortly after the player had been released from prison.

Barton had been booed by a mob/crowd in moralistic mood and Keegan said afterwards that Barton was making attempts to alter his life. For this, Keegan was treated with the same sanctimonious contempt that has hung around English football in recent months.

But Keegan was right. Barton was changing and his life on Twitter has been central to the change. Barton may take himself too seriously, but equally he has demonstrated that Twitter is not the time-wasting frivolity some believe it to be. His life is better than it was and the public persona only hints at the effort he has made and the courage required to change

Over the weekend, while awaiting word from the Attorney General, he also took on David Beckham who was doing some self-promotion for his new underpants.

Barton was right about this, as he is right about so much. In pointing out that Beckham will do anything for money, Barton got to the heart of this cultural phenomenon.

Beckham is not bland, as is often suggested, he is just corporate. There are corporations who employ several hundred people to deliver the perfectly weighted statements of nothingness that Beckham can pull from his own head several times an hour. He is a corporate tuning fork, a man with perfect pitch when it comes to the two things required of corporations, the ability to be inoffensive and the ability to be offended by nothing.

Beckham has forgiven Alex Ferguson for kicking him out of Manchester United and he has been forgiven too because he is so forgiving.

Perhaps his only valid contribution to sporting life has been his total state of relaxation about becoming a gay icon. Football can't come to terms with its own homo-erotic impulses but Beckham happily allowed the gay community to embrace him. Many of his team-mates would have been sneering at this before lining up a girl as handy cover for a night spent in the company of several other naked men. To a straight man, the attractions of roasting are hard to spot.

Beckham was, at least, more straightforward, or not going to be detained in his business of promoting the David Beckham corporation.

Beckham manages this with genius. He is, in effect, a billboard, free of all unwieldy complications like convictions, both custodial and philosophical. His latest ambition for the further penetration of the brand is to become captain of the Great Britain football team at the Olympics.

David Beckham is 36 and continues to flourish as if he is an actual sportsman rather than an excellent brand ambassador for himself. He is a role model for corporations everywhere. Just as they try and rename themselves so their name has little or no suggestion of what they do, Beckham moves away from his original purpose with great ease.

The Royal Mail in Britain tried this when they changed their name to Consignia before changing it back when people had no idea what they did. The Olympics exists to promote his brand. He exists to promote his brand.

Beckham becomes involved in something like the World Cup bid and emerges unscathed when it turns out to be an incompetent disaster, again demonstrating a dexterity which is the goal of many multi-national corporations. He is, essentially, unstoppable. Beckham can achieve what he wants, especially as he has moved from the purely sporting arena to that murky overlapping world of sponsorship and sport where cant thrives.

Some people suggested him for the England job, name-checking him while running through candidates like Brian Clough, who had the advantage of being dead, and Trevor Brooking, who didn't. Beckham would never get involved. He's better than that.

dfanning@independent.ie

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