Collymore's twitter rant about "football snobbery" was misplaced

The gulf between critic and fan.

When Stan Collymore says something, people tend to listen. More accurately, perhaps, people have no choice but to listen as the former Liverpool striker and enfant terrible has one of the most distinctive styles of any UK based broadcaster.

To be completely fair, such is the vanilla flavour of much of the content available on the airwaves, it is fair to say that Collymore and his talkSPORT radio presence provides good value.

The 42-year-old spent much of 2012 uprooting previously anonymous students and bringing their deluge of racist abuse to light. In many ways, to his vast credit, his one man war has done much to ensure that the casual fan thinks twice before launching into a flow of offensive bile.

In 2013, Stan has a new war, and with it, a different foe. It is increasingly apparent that Collymore’s biggest bugbear is what he perceives as a deep-rooted snobbery from football bloggers masquerading as writers, directed at a wide variety of pundits.

As a relevant, former pro, Collymore has taken upon himself to defend the honour of those pundits who have taken no small amount of stick from the keyboard warriors and blogging snobs; “Whose major selling point is usually a degree of some sort.”

One could argue that perhaps such qualifications are better for a career in sports journalism than ill-fated spells at Fulham, Bradford and Aston Villa but that is neither here nor there.

Collymore has not always been the most self-aware individual. As recently as 2006 he spoke up the prospect of making a return to top-level football requiring, in his mind, only a month of preparation to get back up to Premier League standard.

Nevertheless, despite his dubious track-record for public proclamations, his strangely formatted Twitlonger post, stumbles across a particular sticking point, despite being largely wrong in his conclusions.

He is right to suggest that Twitter provides football fans an unparalleled stage for delivering misinformed, tribalistic and unpleasant comments to an array of public figures, but, having reignited his career on the platform, Collymore is hard pushed to complain when he encounters a bit of non-offensive hostility from his 375,000 followers.

At times, Collymore’s piece is beyond parody- the broadcaster coming across as punch-drunk from the amount of abuse he has endured via social media, to create a paranoid ‘black is white’ argument.

His fierce defence of the football pundit is a perfect illustration of the breakdown between the average fan and any number of bumbling former pros plying their "trade" on TV sofas each weekend.

Are we as consumers and subscribers wrong to expect some sort of quality control from our panellists? Do we not have the right to be a touch embarrassed when Ray Parlour fails to grapple with Guillem Balague over the merits of the Premier League or when David Pleat fails to pronounce the name of a single Juventus player correctly?

Instead of accepting that former players are given a humongous advantage in terms of getting on in the media, Collymore attacks what he perceives as the self-entitlement of the bloggers and writers, many of whom, least we forget, are writing for nothing and to a tiny audience.

“A degree in journalism gives them the belief that their hard University work and study should somehow put them automatically in the front of the line for a plum job in whichever industry they choose. And in football, the number who think this way is increasing.[sic]”

You have to accept his premise that an erudite and expressive footballer with a strong television presence is going to carry more immediate respect from an audience than a journalist without a football background. But what happens when said player erodes that goodwill with season after season of poorly prepared rubbish?

I would like Stan to enter into one of the oft-referenced internships with a site like Goal.com or Football Fancast- websites designed to provide content from football fans and aspiring journalists- the vast majority of whom will never achieve a by-line in a national paper or even attain work experience in a Sky Sports studio.

I know from personal experience that any sense of entitlement evaporates pretty swiftly at 3am on any given Wednesday when you’ve committed to writing three pieces that day and are due at work in less than five hours. If Stan were to complete one of these schemes, all the time watching Jimmy Bullard struggle to string four words together on Soccer Special, he might realign his argument.

Instead, Collymore latches onto Gary Neville as a prime example of a former player turned brilliant pundit, but for every respected former England full back he provides, I could throw Robbie Savage, Don Goodman and Jimmy ‘this is what we in the game call’ Armfield back at him by way of retort.

Despite his merits, had he not been a footballer, Stan Collymore is highly unlikely to have ‘made it’ as a broadcaster- his colourful past and mercurial talents as a footballer remain his unique selling point. That he is outspoken and confrontational is only something he has been allowed to develop once afforded his own platform- obviously something your garden variety graduate is not afforded.

“Well, I've been interested in broadcasting since childhood” proffers Collymore. Well, to be fair, I’ve been interested in cinema since I was a kid- does that entitle me to play Jason Bourne?

Collymore, and others, need to accept that football and journalism are completely independent from one another and to be proficient at the former does not guarantee success in the latter. The ‘entitled’ bloggers know this already- they’re just waiting for Stan to catch up.

Stan Collymore. Photograph: Getty Images

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A father’s murderous rage, the first victims of mass killers and Trump’s phantom campaign

From the family courts to the US election campaigns.

On 21 June, Ben Butler was found guilty of murdering his six-year-old daughter, Ellie. She had head injuries that looked like she’d been in a car crash, according to the pathologist, possibly the result of being thrown against a wall. Her mother, Jennie Gray, 36, was found guilty of perverting the course of justice, placing a fake 999 call after the girl was already dead.

When the trial first started, I clicked on a link and saw a picture of Ben and Ellie. My heart started pounding. I recognised them: as a baby, Ellie had been taken away from Butler and Gray (who were separated) after social services suggested he had been shaking her. He had been convicted of abuse but the conviction was overturned on appeal. So then he wanted his daughter back.

That’s when I spoke to him. He had approached the Daily Mail, where I then worked, to tell his story: a father unjustly separated from his beloved child by uncaring bureaucracy. I sent a writer to interview him and he gave her the full works, painting himself as a father victimised by a court system that despises men and casually breaks up families on the say-so of faceless council apparatchiks.

The Mail didn’t run the story; I suspect that Butler and Gray, being separated, didn’t seem sufficiently sympathetic. I had to tell him. He raged down the phone at me with a vigour I can remember half a decade later. Yet here’s the rub. I went away thinking: “Well, I’d be pretty angry if I was falsely ­accused and my child was taken away from me.” How can you distinguish the legitimate anger of a man who suffered a miscarriage of justice from the hair-trigger rage of a violent, controlling abuser?

In 2012, a family court judge believed in the first version of Ben Butler. Eleven months after her father regained custody of her, Ellie Butler was dead.

 

Red flags

Social workers and judges will never get it right 100 per cent of the time, but there does seem to be one “red flag” that was downplayed in Ben Butler’s history. In 2005, he pleaded guilty to assaulting his ex-girlfriend Hannah Hillman after throttling her outside a nightclub. He also accepted a caution for beating her up outside a pub in Croydon. (He had other convictions for violence.) The family judge knew this.

Butler also battered Jennie Gray. As an accessory to his crime, she will attract little sympathy – her parents disowned her after Ellie’s death – and it is hard to see how any mother could choose a violent brute over her own child. However, even if we cannot excuse her behaviour, we need to understand why she didn’t leave: what “coercive control” means in practice. We also need to fight the perception that domestic violence is somehow different from “real” violence. It’s not; it’s just easier to get away with.

 

Shooter stats

On the same theme, it was no surprise to learn that the Orlando gunman who killed 49 people at a gay club had beaten up his ex-wife. Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group, looked at FBI data on mass killings and found that 16 per cent of attackers had previously been charged with domestic violence, and 57 per cent of the killings included a family member. The Sandy Hook gunman’s first victim was his mother.

 

Paper candidate

Does Donald Trump’s presidential campaign exist if he is not on television saying something appalling about minorities? On 20 June, his campaign manager Corey Lew­andowski quit (or was pushed out). The news was broken to the media by Trump’s 27-year-old chief press officer, Hope Hicks. She was talent-spotted by The Donald after working for his daughter Ivanka, and had never even volunteered on a campaign before, never mind orchestrated national media coverage for a presidential candidate.

At least there aren’t that many staffers for her to keep in line. The online magazine Slate’s Jamelle Bouie reported that Trump currently has 30 staffers nationwide. Three-zero. By contrast, Bouie writes, “Team Clinton has hired 50 people in Ohio alone.” Trump has also spent a big fat zero on advertising in swing states – though he would argue his appearances on 24-hour news channels and Twitter are all the advertising he needs. And he has only $1.3m in his campaign war chest (Clinton has $42.5m).

It feels as though Trump’s big orange visage is the facial equivalent of a Potemkin village: there’s nothing behind the façade.

 

Divided Johnsons

Oh, to be a fly on the wall at the Johnson family Christmas celebrations. As Boris made much of his late conversion to Leave, the rest of the clan – his sister Rachel, father Stanley and brothers, Leo and Jo – all declared for Remain. Truly, another great British institution torn apart by the referendum.

 

Grrr-eat revelations

The highlight of my week has been a friend’s Facebook thread where she asked everyone to share a surprising true fact about themselves. They were universally amazing, from suffering a cardiac arrest during a job interview to being bitten by a tiger. I highly recommend repeating the experience with your own friends. Who knows what you’ll find out? (PS: If it’s juicy, let me know.)

Peter Wilby is away

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain