On 6 October 2016, Sport Shorts covered the charge levelled by the Scottish Football Association (the “SFA”) against Joey Barton (then of Glasgow Rangers) in respect of 44 bets he was alleged to have placed on football matches between 1 July and 15 September 2016. Barton later admitted the charges against him.

Barton’s gambling-related troubles did not stop there. On 23 December 2016, it was reported that Barton (who was then set to rejoin Burnley) had been charged by the Football Association (the “FA”) with misconduct for placing 1,260 bets between 2006 and 2013. The matches on which he placed bets are reported to have included at least five matches in which Barton was a player.

Yesterday, on 26 April 2017, the FA confirmed that Barton had been suspended from football and all football activity for 18 months with immediate effect, following his admission of the misconduct charge against him. Barton was also fined £30,000 and warned as to his future conduct.

Barton subsequently posted a statement on his website addressing the sanction and stated that:

“The decision effectively forces me into an early retirement from playing football. To be clear from the outset here this is not match fixing and at no point in any of this is my integrity in question.

I accept that I broke the rules governing professional footballers, but I do feel the penalty is heavier than it might be for other less controversial players. I have fought addiction to gambling and provided the FA with a medical report about my problem. I’m disappointed it wasn’t taken into proper consideration…

Having consulted with my friends and lawyers, I have decided I will be appealing against the length of ban. I hope that I shall be afforded a fair hearing by an independent appeal panel. If I am, we are confident that the sanction will be reduced to a fair one that both reflects the offences as well as the mitigating factors and the fact that there was nothing untoward or suspicious about the bets I made.”

Barton’s claim that his integrity is not in question may not stand up to scrutiny when the scale of his wrongdoing is considered. Barton made a huge number of bets that are prohibited by FA Rule E.8. Rule E.8 states that players are prohibited from betting, either directly or indirectly, or instructing, permitting, causing or enabling any person to bet on:

  • The result, progress, conduct or any other aspect of, or occurrence in, a football match or competition; or
  • Any other matter concerning or related to football anywhere in the world, including in respect of the transfer of players, the employment of managers, team selection or disciplinary matters.

Moreover, players are prohibited under Rule E.8(2)(a) of the FA Rules from betting, instructing, permitting, causing or enabling any person to bet on (a) matches in which they are participating (or in which they have participated) (b) matches in which they have any influence or (c) any other matter concerning or relating to any club participating in a competition that the player in question is participating in (or has participated in during the season in question).

Barton placed over a thousand bets in contravention of the FA Rules. Some of those bets included matches in which Barton played. Whether or not this affected his performances in any way, the fact remains that Barton’s placing of such bets posed a serious threat to the integrity of those matches. The rules are clear and they were included in the FA Rules in order to increase transparency and to ensure that the integrity of the sport was protected from match and spot-fixing.

The sanction that was issued to Barton reflects the scale of his misdemeanours. The eighteen month playing ban is vastly in excess of other high-profile sanctions that have been meted out in recent years. Other examples of sanctions imposed by the FA include the following:

  • On 20 February 2016, the Norwich City striker Kyle Lafferty was fined £23,000 by FA for placing a bet on a match;
  • In March 2014, Dan Gosling, now of AFC Bournemouth, was fined £30,000 by the FA for multiple breachesof the FA rules;
  • On 14 August 2013, Cameron Jerome, now of Norwich City, was fined £50,000 for a number of breachesof the FA rules;
  • On 4 June 2013, the England forward Andros Townsend was fined £18,000 by the FA and suspended for four months, though three of those months were suspended until 1 July 2016.

Barton is now 34. The question that many will now be wondering is whether he will play professional football again. If the length of ban remains unaltered, Barton will be 36 before he is next able to grace a pitch.

A linked question is how Burnley will treat the sanction. Today, Burnley manager Sean Dyche reportedly called the sanction “harsh”. Yet if the sanction remains at eighteen months, Barton will effectively be unable to perform the job that he is required to do for that period.

Against this background, will Burnley consider that Barton’s wholescale breaches of the FA Rules constitute gross misconduct? Will Burnley treat his conduct as a breach of the implied duty of fidelity owed to the club? Will it say that Barton’s conduct has led it to lose its trust and confidence in the player? This will remain to be seen. A lot may rest on the outcome of Barton’s appeal against the length of ban. If the rest of Barton’s colourful career is used as a guide, it might be safe to assume that this will not be the last we hear about the matter…