Not since Gazza’s infamous imitation of a flute band has there been as big a kerfuffle at Rangers Football Club, as has been caused by Joey Barton’s self – opinionated public rubbishing of his fellow players at Ibrox. I had wondered if adding a notoriously hot-headed and somewhat ageing player to the Old Firm mix might turn tasty, but I’d expected that the hackles raised would be at Celtic, rather than his own club. The incident, albeit reported ad nauseam in the Scottish press, remains unclear, but certainly involved Mr Barton speaking back to his manager. At present he has been sent to the naughty step for a period of time, possibly with the hope that he may return contrite.
There has been endless comment on this matter in the sports pages of the newspapers and online, and I had almost stopped paying any attention to it, when I came across a remarkable article by Barry Fergusson in today’s Daily Record. He is himself an ex-Rangers midfielder, who also played many times for Scotland. More relevantly however he was also involved in a footballing stramash entitled “Boozegate” which along with his public disrespect of critics, finished his football career at Rangers. In his piece today he refers to those incidents, and offers some advice to Joey Barton. Nothing new in that, you might think, but you’d be wrong.
Barry Fergusson is utterly honest about his own bad behaviour. He writes in some detail about the four days he spent at home, without distraction from newspapers or TV, looking steadily at himself, and as he says, not liking what he saw. He saw that there was no one to blame but himself, because he had chosen to do the things that had brought him disgrace. He goes further, by mentioning that he realised that these bad decisions were part of a pattern that he needed to break. He expresses gratitude to the manager who allowed him to remain until the season’s end and to the other manager who took the risk of signing him for his club. It is the most sensible and honest reflection I have read for some time.
Modern sporting gurus are forever telling sportsmen to “man up”, meaning that they should at least match the aggression of their opponents or counter their superior skill by force. The expression rests on a strange view of what it means to be a man, having little to do with courage and a great deal to do with testosterone. Barry Fergusson has proven his worth as a human being by his initial courage in looking steadily at his own character, and his greater courage in writing publicly about a painful episode in his life. I would be happy for a my grandchild to be influenced by this man.
As it happens, Jesus was a man. It is part of Christian teaching that he was without sin, yet when a prophet took to the wilderness and urged people to repent, he was able to man up and join his fellow sinners at the River Jordan. The capacity to see and admit our faults and follies is is a prerequisite for goodness.