PARTICK Thistle women’s manager Brian Graham has savaged Joey Barton for his online criticism of promising young Firhill goalkeeper Ava Easdon and called on social media companies to start putting the mental wellbeing of their users ahead of profits.

Barton posted a snide comment about the performance of teenager Easdon on X (formerly Twitter) when part-time Thistle played full-time Rangers in the SWPL Cup final at Tynecastle back in March.

The former Ibrox midfielder, who is facing legal action from several high-profile public figures because of his inflammatory output, was widely condemned, including by the player’s seven-time world kickboxing champion father, for his ill-considered remark at the time.

Graham, who will line up for Thistle in the second leg of their Premiership play-off quarter-final against Airdrie in Maryhill tonight, was proud of the way the gifted youngster, who he believes is capable of representing Scotland one day, handled the furore.

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The PFA Scotland Championship Player of the Year, though, has branded Barton “out of order” for his attack on Easdon and hit out at big technological businesses like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and X for failing to do enough to tackle the growing problem of online abuse. 

The Herald: “Ava’s a fantastic talent and there is no point even mentioning his name,” he said. “You just put him in the bottom of the bin because he’s irrelevant in this situation.

“We’ll just look after the young girl and she’ll look after herself. She has a good family behind her as well. She took it in her stride, she didn’t let it distract her and she has carried on training well and working hard.

“Ava is 17 years of age and she was up for Young Player of the Year. She has a long future in the game and I am delighted she has signed her first professional contract with Glasgow City off the back of this season. It shows you how well she has done. 

“People will always make comments, it doesn’t matter if it’s the male game or the female game. You’re in the spotlight and young players need to deal with that. People will have a shot at you, but you have to put it over your shoulder and forget it. It’s water off a duck’s back. But his comments were out of order.

“Listen, she’s 17, but she’s such a mature girl. She’s placid, so quiet at times you wouldn’t know she’s in the room. But on the pitch, you don’t get many 17-year-old’s barking orders and she’ll do it at her experienced captain in front of her.

“And she’ll develop and get even better the next couple of years. Fingers crossed she can be Scotland’s No 1 one day.”

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Graham continued: “I firmly believe that for all these social media companies, it’s all about making money. People talk about mental health, that’s why so many people are having issues because every time they look at their phone they are doing something bad.

“There are so many people criticising them. It’s over the top at times and I believe these companies could do something about it and they don’t.

“You can’t tell people to stay off it. Everyone has a phone. My wee boy is asking me for a phone and he’s nine. No chance. But I look about the school playground and they all have phones, there’s no hiding away from it.

“The big companies need to do something for this generation because if they don’t there will be a lot of mental health cases these next few years.”

The Herald: Former Morton, Raith Rovers, Dundee United, Hibernian, St Johnstone, Ross County forward Graham was made manager of the Thistle women’s team back in 2020 and has combined playing and coaching since.

He led his girls, who take on title-chasing Celtic at the Excelsior Stadium on Sunday, into the Scottish Women’s Premier League at the end of his first season and has helped them to secure a top six place this term.

However, the 36-year-old confessed that he found handling the fallout to the Barton controversy to be challenging.

“You don’t learn that on coaching courses!” he said. “You just have to deal with the person and speak to them and try and help and advise them as best you can. First and foremost you make sure they’re okay, that’s it.

“When we asked her she said she was fine, she hadn’t been paying attention. I’d spoke to her parents about it and they were concerned, I don’t think her wee mum slept for a couple of nights because she was on trying to delete so many posts. But, again, that’s where these companies could do something about it.”

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Graham, who has scored 24 goals in all competitions during the 2023/24 campaign, admitted that he has revelled in his role with Thistle’s women and explained how it has helped him with his own football.

“A lot of people might not have tipped me to do so well at the start of the season,” he said. “But to finish top goalscorer in the division has been a special moment in my career. I was over the moon to win Player of the Year, especially at 36 years of age.

“When I took the womens’ job I had one eye on the boots going on to the peg and taking my first step into management as that’s what I want to do. I have passion for the game and I wasn’t taking myself away from football, but I was setting myself up for when the day comes that I have to retire.

“I wanted to have a bit of background behind me so that when I’m applying for jobs I have something behind me. I wanted to build up my CV and the women’s job was the perfect role for me. I have been through all my coaching badges and I’m doing well with them. I think it has taken pressure off my own game. I don’t really care now.

“I wish I had this mentality when I was 21, 22, because at that age I worried about absolutely everything, went over every game, every mistake, what I could have done better. Now at my age I just enjoy my football, you enjoy every goal you score because you never know if it is going to be your last.

“I wish I had that mindset when I was younger because I might have gone further in the game. But I have no regrets.”

The Herald: