Joey Barton’s moment of doubt that turned in to being the catalyst for Bristol Rovers promotion success

From fearing the sack just seven months into his job to delivering promotion the same amount of time later...

For the course of Bristol Rovers’ season, a clip of Joey Barton saying ‘I know we’re going to get promoted,” has circulated on social media.

At times, it was used by other clubs to mock what seemed lofty ambitions at the time, especially when the clip was after a 4-1 away defeat to Exeter City back in August.

But now its status can be viewed in an unironic light and is a delivery of the bold prediction when not many others believed in him.

For the 14 months that Barton has been at the Memorial Stadium, he has already had to deal with what many others go through in a lifetime.

A sacking at Fleetwood, an appointment at a new club without a transfer window and a relegation and that was just the first six months.

He then had to take on a massive squad rebuilding exercise, recruiting no fewer than 16 new players, whilst also seeing late departures as the season began.

In the midst of that, he also had to appear in court a few times over the course of the current campaign in the midst of a promotion battle.

Barton has had a storied career, coming through the Manchester City academy of whom he captained, to moves to the likes of Newcastle United, Burnley, Rangers and even a stint at Olympique Marseille.

But in a playing career where he’s twice won the Championship, the play-offs and spent 13 seasons as a Premier League player, it is his remarkable promotion that could stack up as his greatest achievement.

“It’s definitely up there, it’s my first promotion as a coach so I’ll remember that,” he said when asked about how his achievement stacks up against his playing career.

“Especially with us having two mad court cases in the middle of it. Had to get a CEO fired out of a cannon, a director of football get fired out of a cannon, plus about 15 people who were impersonating footballers.

“It’s not easy and I know a lot of people didn’t believe, which is natural that people don’t believe that, because of what has gone before, but again we’ve got a fantastic group and all we can do is give the blue half of Bristol something to believe in.”

Joey Barton had to assemble an entire new squad after relegation from League One. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)Joey Barton had to assemble an entire new squad after relegation from League One. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)
Joey Barton had to assemble an entire new squad after relegation from League One. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

What Barton is alluding to is having to persuade the hierarchy at Bristol to completely buy in to his own vision to make his perfect recipe for success.

He first had to persuade Wael al-Qadi to hand him the resources to assemble a completely new squad from scratch, whilst also making himself believe a promotion was possible.

In a period in November, when Rovers were far off from the promotion spots, both director of football Tommy Widdrington and the clubs CEO Martyn Starnes left their posts, which became a moment of change for the football club.

Their departures saw the youthful Tom Gorringe take up Starnes’ place with whom Barton has built up a positive relationship with and will hold a key role in making sure this period of success is maintained.

But at one point of the season there was a feeling that perhaps the scenes at the Mem wouldn’t have happened and that perhaps Barton’s future would lie away elsewhere.

A 3-1 defeat to Leyton Orient back in September, was when Barton almost very nearly consigned himself to considering his future away from the club.

The O’s scored three first-half goals to consign the club to 22nd, where they were level on points and goal difference with Scunthorpe United.

Barton, who applauds the fans after any game, was met by chants of ‘What a load of rubbish’ by the passionate Thatcher’s End who were evidently frustrated and booed their team off of the pitch.

There was a moment in which he told his backroom staff to leave his office and hold a private conversation with the owner.

From al-Qadi’s own accounts, he said that Barton had offered to depart the club if he believed that things weren’t working.

But the thought of sacking his manager didn’t enter his mind and instead the decision to stick with him through the tough times has given him the success he promised to deliver.

“There’s been loads of times that I’ve probably been close to getting sacked,” admitted Barton.

“If you ask Wael I don’t think he’ll say that but I definitely felt that pressure. As I say I’ve put myself in the mindset of ‘if you turn up every day and you put one foot in front of the other and you keep looking after people and your players, they will reward you’.

“Enormous credit to the players if it wasn’t for them and it wasn’t for our fans, all I do is pick the team on a Saturday.”

In the world of football, the sport for many acts as a hobby or a pastime to get away from the harsh reality of the current world situation.

A two-year long pandemic, as well as the aftermath of what, as well as a conflict in Ukraine, has made it difficult for supporters to switch off from the troubles of day-to-day life which has also entered the footballing world.

The cost of living has increased and has affected the average match going fan who may find a dilemma in handing money over for their season ticket or consider racking up miles for those lengthy away trips next season.

There is a belief however that the promotion scenes seen at the Mem on Saturday can at least bring some comfort to what has been a difficult few years for many, whose allegiance is to the blue side of Bristol.

“The world is tough at the minute,” Barton admitted.

There is a war in Europe for the first time in a long, long period. Inflation is on the rise. The cost of living is going through the roof.

“Life is not fantastic for everybody but if we can give a little bit of an oasis in the middle of the week or on a weekend to people, where they can come and release and show that emotion and we can inspire in some way then that’s where football is at its best.

“I’m seeing Jurgen Klopp do that in my city of Liverpool. Unfortunately, the blue half are having a tough year but now I can sit back and hopefully watch Frank Lampard and the boys remain in the Prem. Hopefully, Burnley stay in the Prem as well. We can build for next season.”

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