Bristol Rovers manager Joey Barton turned heads and viewers of Tottenham’s Champions League game tonight – and made a splash on social media too – after he joined Marseille’s Ultras in the bars of North London and then in the stadium.
The Rovers boss took advantage of week without a midweek game for his team to join old friends from his days playing in the south of France.
The midfielder played just 25 games at Olympique Marseille back in the 2012-13 season, and obviously made an impression, because he was given a bit of a hero’s reception by the French Ultras when he arrived in a bar before kick-off.
Barton didn’t particularly set French football on fire in his brief spell – what people remember most from that time ten years ago was an interview with French media where he spoke English in a strange French/Scouse accent, and his on-pitch goading of Zlatan Ibrahimovich, where he drew an outline of the Swedish player’s nose, claiming it was a bit bigger than his.
While Rovers are struggling to adjust to life in League One after last season’s promotion heroics, and are currently 16th in the table, Marseille have qualified for the group stages of this year’s Champions League – and played their first game away at Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium in North London.
But he became a bit of a cult hero even in his brief season there – judging by the reception when he rocked up to a bar in London this evening. A video posted on Twitter showed him arriving for the pre-match atmosphere early – well before 6pm, and the pub full of Marseille Ultras seemed delighted to see him.
On the way to the ground with a bottle of beer in his hand, Barton was mobbed by Marseille supporters, and one grabbed a selfie video with him, and persuaded him to call Neymar – the Brazilian superstar who plays for Marseille’s big rivals Paris Saint Germain – a ‘fils de pute’, French for a ‘son of a b****’, which may well rule out any loan move Rovers make for the Brazilian number 10 in the future.
By the time he arrived in the ground he’d put on a bright orange t-shirt proclaiming his support for Marseille and one of the main Ultras groups, and his arrival did not go unnoticed as he thanked the fans for cheering his name.
He was spotted by the TV cameras, who picked him out regularly as the match went on – and the reaction from most football fans on Twitter – as his name trended on the social media app – was fairly positive, with many seeing his presence there as funny.
Twitter user NB described it as ‘the funniest thing I’ve seen this week’, while Crystal Palace podcaster HLTCO tweeted: “Got a lot of time for Joey Barton meeting the Marseille fans and going into their away end for their game at Spurs tonight”.
Pretty soon, the memes began to flow. Oddsbible thought of the blue and white half of Bristol while all this was going on…
And whether or not Barton seeing Champions League football in person will help him improve his team remains to be seen. Rovers fans will hope it does – they play away to MK Dons on Saturday.