Striker Marlon King has recently been released from prison and after his freedom he conducted an interview with Sky Sports where many thought he came across as quite genuine, although others saw him as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. King still protests his innocence over the offence that saw him given an 18 month jail sentence (reduced to 9), in which he was found guilty of sexually assaulting a female when out at a London night club and he is determined to show that he was mistaken in identity. If King is to prove this then he has a lot of work to do, as his previous 13 criminal convictions prior to this one paint a picture that probably already made up people’s minds that this is a bad apple. Now that King is a free man, his agent wasted no time in trying to find his client a new club, offering him to a number of Championship clubs and even Premier League ones. Neil Warnock is taking him under consideration and some have claimed that Coventry will be King’s next destination. But does the former Gillingham man really deserve another chance to work in this line of work?
King is a striker, but he won’t exactly set the world on fire and he’s unlikely to bag you 20 goals a season, but the job he does up front is important for whatever striker he supports and he can be a useful target man. His most recently club was Wigan, but found himself loaned out to Hull and Middlesbrough when they participated in England’s top league, showing that many managers in the game feel he is a useful player in the Premier League. It is highly unlikely that any Premier League team will take on a 30 year old who has just come out of prison, but it is understandable why many Championship teams may be considering him. He has ability and at the age of 30 he should at the height of his talent and the fact he is on a free transfer makes him even more appealing.
But then there’s that image. I’ve been on an away day to Oldham when they had Lee Hughes up front for them and the amount of abuse he still receives from away fans is intense. In 2004, Hughes was jailed after he caused a fatal car crash which saw one person dead; Hughes fled the scene and handed himself in 36 hours later. People shout things like “They should have thrown away the key” and fans were keen to let Mr. Hughes know that they thought he was a “sick human being” – I could write a number of other things they said, but I’m sure The Gaffer wouldn’t be too happy seeing them on his site! Basically, the majority of football fans you meet will use it against the player and you’ll find few who feel that players who are guilty of such unspeakable crimes should never be allowed to play the game again. King may want to clear his name, but he’ll always be labelled as one of those players.
I’m a Newcastle fan and you’re probably aware that my team has the notorious Joey Barton. Barton receives the same abuse Hughes does, although he hasn’t committed a crime such as murder, he has several incidents that have involved fighting, often fuelled by his alcoholism. I sometimes feel a little bit sorry for Barton (not just as a Newcastle fan), because his half brother was involved in a racially motivated murder of a young boy, something which has led many to label Joey himself as a racist, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The minute you’re a prison alumni, such as Barton or Hughes, then all of a sudden people’s perception of you changes and its a heavy social load on anybody. Barton will always be labelled as a horrible man, but that is because you rarely hear the good he does from the likes of Sky Sports News and the BBC. I don’t say his actions were nothing, it is never right to assault anyone for any reason, but Barton has taken massive steps to improve his life; he hasn’t had a drop of alcohol for two years and the number of charities and good causes he is involved in and contributes to is countless. He rarely speaks about them and they’ll rarely make the headlines because who is interested in that? If you’re reading this Mr. Barton, I’m more worried about what that horrible moustache is doing for your image lately!
I do think at times celebrities and sports personalities are protected too much when it comes to the legal system, but if people are really keen to turn their life around and contribute something to society then why stop them? Craig Bellamy is another example, he is a player that everyone expects is a horrible person due to the fact he is always complaining on the pitch. I’m not a fan of Bellamy anymore (if you know about his bust up with Shearer, you will understand why Newcastle fans don’t respect him), but I had a mate who’s mother worked as a receptionist at a children’s hospital in Newcastle. She wouldn’t have a bad word said about Bellamy because there was one child in particular he would put things off to visit and he was one of the friendliest footballer’s you could ever meet, a lot of the time he wasn’t even going along with the club or to improve his image or anything – he just did it because he wanted to help.
I’m not a believer in capital punishment or the death penalty – you want an eye for an eye then you’re a hypocrite. I don’t think King deserves absolute forgiveness – he was found guilty of a crime and was rightfully punished for it – his actions were disgusting. The fact is most of this could be stopped with the right guidance, players like Barton and King are from areas of the lowest economic class – crime is everywhere in their environment. The majority of people who are in prison come from these sort of areas, as a lack of opportunities and no prospects can lead a number of people to crime and I don’t want to get into the whole “nature/nurture debate” but you basically learn from your environment. Sir Alex Ferguson once said he believed that if Paul Gascoigne had signed for Man Utd instead of Tottenham (he chose Spurs because their chairman bought Gazza’s parents a new house in Gateshead), he wouldn’t have had as many problems with things such as alcoholism and depression as he had. You give some of these lads all this money and put them in a competitive and alpha male environment and they’re going to go on their instincts and act out when things don’t go their way.
To say that Marlon King can’t go back to work is somewhat illegal, but in my opinion he should give proof that he is really making a positive effort to rehabilitate himself and become a positive part of society. We are supposed to live in a forgiving society, but this is the second time King has come out of prison (the first was for purchasing a stolen BMW, he was found not guilty of assaulting a police officer though) and that would lead many to think that he already had his second chance. The money footballers earn make this a difficult subject for many, people do not like the fact that an ex-convict can walk out of prison and then receive their yearly salary in one week and in King’s case, some of his previous offences are disgusting and it is understandable why so many believe he is a terrible person.
For me, I look at the likes of Tony Adams and Paul Merson who made big mistakes in their career but were keen to see that they could prevent this in the future by starting the sporting chance clinic which has helped the likes of Joey Barton get his life back on track. Merson is now a loveable pundit for Sky Sports and Tony Adam’s is managing some Azerbaijani team (success) and their past problems are almost overshadowed by the fact that they now play a big part in helping people learn from their mistakes. Mr. King could take a note out of their book, he is certainly not a household name or what I would consider a role model to young kids (if anyone wanted to put that as their argument then present me the child who dreams of becoming the next Marlon King) but a lot of these players changed their ways and decided they would help others. If you want to get back involved with the profession you love after ruining your chance then why not help prevent this from happening in the future.
I’m all for King returning if he wants to stop young players in similar situations to him make the same mistakes – if he is helping the problem as opposed to being part of it then his past issues and offences should not even come under consideration. But there is always that fear: fool me 14 times, shame on you – fool me 15 times, shame on me.