I’ve seen it all in football. I know what it means to walk out at Wembley with the Three Lions on your chest and take your place in a Legends XI versus the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Theakston and that bloke who is mates with Robbie Williams.
And I know how the media can build you up (“journeyman sometime professional Ronnie Matthews shares a joke with opponent Cheryl Baker after coming off second best in a 50-50”) just to knock you down (“the living personification of everything contemptible in football and indeed Britain today”).
When you read comments like that from the Professional Footballers’ Association, especially attached to a joint petition by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Nick Griffin and the RSPCA, it hurts.
As everyone always says, it’s recognition from your fellow professionals that really matters, but that can be a double-edged sword in fairness.
But that is when the football community pulls together. Community in football is more than just the thing that took over the Charity Shield, more than something you have to do after an unfortunate drink-driving incident, more than the intense festive season schedule of taking some tins of Quality Street to sick kids.
It’s about coming together in a dark period, and we have seen a great example of that this week when Joey Barton has put his hand up and broken his silence on the situation with Big John Terry.
Joey has had his own demons as he would be the first to admit, and like many football people he cannot see why he got a 12-game ban for a bit of handbags where John is 220 large in the hole and looking at four games nodding politely next to Mrs Abramovich just for repeating what someone had said to him.
If we are going to start punishing people for parroting words they have heard then to be fair the likes of Alan Shearer might as well just set up a direct debit to pay off the fines and get on with it.
It’s not for me to comment on whether John did or did not do the racism, but I would like to tell you a little story that I think sums the man up.
I was lucky enough to meet JT when we were second and third place respectively in the 2009 Branston Pickle Humanitarian of the Year Awards. I was admiring JT’s Bentley in the car park after the ceremony, and I’ve seen him coming over.
Given JT’s pace, I obviously had plenty of time to think about what I was going to say, but in the end I got star-struck.
As I’ve stood there gawping, he’s thrown me the car keys and joked: “Well go on then, you pleb.” I thought he meant I could take it for a spin, but in fact he wanted me to park it.
After he explained the mix-up, we had a right laugh, so I am sure whatever was said or not said to Anton was probably banter anyway.
Point is, in football a difficult situation can lead to an opportunity. That 12-game ban has given Joey the opportunity of a lifetime to expand his horizons, play in a different league and put himself in the shop window for a post-career pundit’s gig on French Match du Jour.
So on my advice, Joey is proposing a solution to the FA where John and him share their bans and serve eight games each, giving John a chance to come out to the south of France for a bit of R&R away from the press and the legal system while Joey gets himself back to west London to add bite to the QPR midfield.
That to me is what football is all about: a community coming together in a crisis to achieve the best outcome for all parties.
(Cheers to the lads at the Telegraph and especially to Christine Odone for help with some of the spellings. In exchange, I’ve put the fear of God up one her daughter’s boyfriends)