Turn the other cheek
Why were Everton fans so offended by Joey Barton's 'blue moon'? Flashing your buttocks is a noble tradition.
Once again football’s good name has been sullied by the behaviour of a few mindless idiots. I am referring of course to the pathetic Everton fans who reported Joey Barton to the police for flashing his arse at them. What is the world coming to when a man can’t moon his opponents without fear of being hauled before the beak?
The Manchester City midfielder, who was on Everton’s books as a schoolboy, had been taunted by the home fans about his half-brother Michael who was jailed for his part in the murder of black teenager Anthony Walker. Barton’s response, which followed City’s dramatic last-minute equaliser, was to blow kisses and bare his buttocks at the Everton supporters in the Park End. Barton’s ‘blue moon’ was fairly tame stuff as acts of provocation go, but sufficient to prompt some supporters to complain to the police.
‘A policeman did approach me after the game to make me aware of the situation and it’s up to them to deal with it first’, explained City manager Stuart Pearce. ‘I pointed out to him that it was probably just over-excitement from Joey after the dramatic end to the game…. It’s nothing new to me – I see Joey’s bum after training every day!’ Merseyside police have now decided not to take any action against Barton, but the Football Association looks likely to charge him with misconduct.
We’ve been here before haven’t we? Football fans are happy to dish out the taunts but increasingly prone to run crying to the cops as soon as an opposing player returns the compliment. In February 2004, Merseyside police received over 100 written complaints from Everton fans that objected to provocative goal celebrations by Manchester United players. Earlier this year there was a similar outcry from ‘Outraged of Merseyside’ after Gary Neville’s badge-clutching goal celebration in front of the Liverpool fans.
The ritual trading of abuse that characterised the old terrace culture now rubs shoulders uneasily with the new thin-skinned ‘family-friendly’ culture that has been imported into football alongside furry mascots, foam fingers and jesters’ hats.
It’s not clear how many Everton fans actually complained to the police. A quick trawl around fan websites suggests that there are plenty of Evertonians who can still withstand a bit of teasing. On the When Skies Are Grey message board I had to scroll through various bored-at-work discussion threads about Des Lynam’s departure from Countdown, whether Trinny from What Not To Wear is more shaggable than Susannah (the jury is still out on that one), and which is the best way to cook sausages.
Eventually I came across a thread on the Joey Barton incident in which there was little support for the fans who complained to the police. ‘The person(s) that reported him is (are) greasy shitehawk(s) that don’t deserve to be called Evertonians’, remarked one contributor. Over on the ToffeeWeb fans forum, opinions were more divided. ‘It was unprofessional and could have caused a riot’, complained one outraged supporter. ‘I can’t see the problem myself. He was getting stick, so he gave some back’, retorted a fellow fan. ‘Is anyone else sick of the idiots who call the police whenever a player puts his foot wrong? I’d expect that sort of low behaviour of Kopites [Liverpool fans]. But us?’ asked another contributor.
So, not all Evertonians are whinging coppers’ narks, which is reassuring. However, it remains a mystery to me how a fairly comical gesture like mooning can actually cause offence in this day and age. Nudity on television is no longer unusual or particularly shocking, so why worry about a footballer partially flashing his buttocks? I can’t see the problem. In fact, I’d go further and argue that the right to moon is a liberty that should be cherished and defended.
Barton was simply engaging in an age-old ribald tradition. I’d always assumed that mooning was a peculiarly Anglo-Saxon practice but it seems to be fairly universal. According to Wikipedia the earliest recorded instance was at the Battle of Crécy in 1346 when several hundred Norman soldiers bared their buttocks at the English archers. Fast forward two centuries and you’ll find Florentine explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano recounting how North American Abenaki Indians mooned him and his crew. I suspect, though I may be wrong, that Barton’s gesture was in fact an homage to the memorable scene in Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris in which Marlon Brando drunkenly moons the elderly patrons of a tango hall.
Mooning may not, at first glance, appear to be a free speech issue. It isn’t a particularly articulate form of expression. ‘Look at my arse’ is the somewhat blunt message. But the same goes for pretty much all terrace banter. By insisting that Joey Barton shouldn’t be punished for dropping his shorts, we’re implicitly protecting the freedom to express a bit of passion and trade insults at football. Without the banter and taunts there would be no atmosphere at a game. So, yes, there is an important principle at stake here. To update Voltaire’s celebrated dictum: I don’t want to see your hairy arse, but I’ll defend to the death your right to bare it.
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