by Thomas Nash
Mention the name Stan Collymore to anyone who watches football, and the first memory called to mind is almost invariably his well taken winner against Newcastle for Liverpool in the 1995/6 season which took the wind out of Newcastle’s title charge. After staring misty-eyed into the middle distance and nodding sagely, the next reaction will normally be a rueful shake of the head and an utterance of “He was fucking mad though” or words to that effect.
Collymore’s first professional club was Crystal Palace, but he made his name at Nottingham Forest in two seasons where he racked up over 40 goals in two seasons.
Nottingham Forest had just been relegated. Their legendary manager Brian Clough had lost his battle with alcoholism, and had resigned just before relegation had been confirmed the season before. Forest needed a new hero, and up stepped Stan the Man. His goals fired them to a promotion straight back to the Premiership, and in the first season after promotion he bagged 22 to help a resurgent Forest finish third, and into Europe. After apparently being courted by Alex Ferguson, Collymore signed for Liverpool in a then record £8.5 million pound deal. (Ferguson plumped for Newcastle’s Andy “Call me Andrew” Cole – and he didn’t do too badly.) Surely superstardom and a bag full of medals would follow?
So up to this point, the neutral fan might have little reason to dislike Mr Collymore. Derby and Everton fans mightn’t buy him a drink but that’s football. It was off the pitch that Stan would start making enemies. As part of the cultural tragedy that was the “Spice Boys” of Liverpool FC, Stan put many a nose out of joint. The tale of Collymore’s decadent arrogance in a Nottingham nightclub is part of footballers-being-idiots-with-too-much-money folklore. Apparently, Collymore was approached by someone who reckoned that anything Collymore could do, he could do too. So, he produced a cigar, and lit it with a £50 note telling the chap “Do that then”. Stan Collymore wasn’t making ironic social comment on the absurdity of modern footballers’ wage;, he was being an arsehole. But at the time, I thought it was cool, and I longed for the day that I could do that. Today, looking back, I still think it’s cool, and still long for the day. I can’t even spare a fiver these days.
Liverpool and Collymore should’ve lasted longer than two years. He was an instant hit on the Kop, his partnership with Robbie Fowler was one of the most prolific in the league. Grand expectation isn’t a rare thing on Merseyside, but with those two up front, there was a feeling that great things would happen. It was not to be. There was a rumoured fall out in the Liverpool camp, with the split roughly Collymore on one side, everyone else on the other. He’d said in a magazine interview that he’d expected better service from the other players when he joined, and was disappointed by the calibre of his team mates. Not exactly a way to make friends, but certainly a way to influence people — he was shipped out to Villa not long afterwards. He would turn up late for training, sometimes not at all, and refused to move to the area. Despite his apparent best efforts to distance himself from the “Spice Boys”, Collymore would later reveal all sorts of debauchery in interviews and a tell-all book. One such revelation was that he had bedded Roy Evan’s daughter in the hotel room next to the manager’s one at an away game — and let’s be honest, you’ve gotta love that, haven’t you?
Front page headlines outnumber his back page heroics: the dogging scandal, the assault on then girlfriend Ulrika Johnson, the mental melt down. He retired from football 5 weeks after signing for Oviedo, and tabloid across Britain were denied numerous permutations of “Stan and Oli” puns.
Only truly bitter people can resent a naturally gifted footballer. Paul Gascoigne, for all of his faults, is loved by football fans across Britain (except maybe the East End of Glasgow) because, despite his addictions, despite his self-destructive behaviour, Gazza always gave his all on the pitch. He never grew up. We could see in him the 8 year old boy, chasing lost causes on the pitch, crying when it went wrong. The yellow card in the World Cup semi-final remains our most cherished moment of him. It was petulant — he lost control of the ball and lunged out. Compare the reaction with the uproar which followed David Beckham’s petulance against Argentina in 1998: Gascoigne’s boyish charm made us forgive his short-comings.
So if Gazza was the school boy of British football, Collymore was its sulky teenager. He’s accused of not caring enough about his football. He had the skills and the power to dominate English football in the mid-to-late nineties, but he didn’t choose to. We don’t forgive. But there’s something about him that resonates with me though. Not the gambling and the drinking, not the sex addiction (chance would be a fine thing) but the lack of effort. Humans are inherently lazy creatures, and inherently fearful of failure. What Collymore embodies for me is the can’t be bothered spirit of Generation X. Lack of effort can be an excuse for failure to achieve. I believe that I’m probably a natural at snowboarding, and golf — and if I can’t be bothered to try, I can always keep that belief. I’d be a great snowboarder if I could be bothered.
Collymore is a hero, because he threw it away. He was lazy, arrogant, indisciplined and erratic. I think if I had any talent at playing football, through gritted teeth, I admit I’d probably have done just the same.