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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France is changing: an army stalks the streets and Boris Johnson wanders the Tuileries

Will Self on the militarisation of France, and Boris Johnson at the Foreign Office.

At the corner of the rue D’Hauteville and the rue de Paradis in the tenth arrondissement of Paris is a retro-video-games-themed bar, Le Fantôme, which is frequented by some not-so-jeunes gens – the kind of thirtysomethings nostalgic for an era when you had to go to an actual place if you wanted to enter virtual space. They sit placidly behind the plate-glass windows zapping Pac-Men and Space Invaders, while outside another – and rather more lethal – sort of phantom stalks the sunlit streets.

I often go to Paris for work, and so have been able to register the incremental militarisation of its streets since President Hollande first declared a state of emergency after last November’s terrorist attacks. In general the French seem more comfortable about this prêt-à-porter khaki than we’d probably be; the army-nation concept is, after all, encrypted deep in their collective psyche. The army was constituted as a revolutionary instrument. France was the first modern nation to introduce universal male conscription – and it continued in one form or another right up until the mid-1990s.

Even so, it was surprising to witness the sang-froid with which Parisians regarded the camouflaged phantoms wandering among them: a patrol numbering eight ­infantrymen and women moved up the roadway, scoping out doorways, nosing into passages – but when one peered into Le Fantôme, his assault rifle levelled, none of the boozing gamers paid the least attention. I witnessed this scene the Saturday after Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel ran amok on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice – it was a little preview of the new state of emergency.

On Monday 18 July the French premier, Manuel Valls, was booed at a memorial service for the victims of the Nice attacks – while Marine Le Pen has been making all the populist running, whipping up anxieties about the enemy within. For many French, the events of the past week – including the failed Turkish coup – are steps along the way limned by Michel Houellebecq in his bestselling novel Submission; a via dolorosa that ends with La Marianne wearing the hijab and France itself annexed by a new caliphate.

Into this febrile drama comes a new player: Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary. What can we expect from this freshly minted statesman when it comes to our relations with our closest neighbour? There is no doubt that Johnson is a Francophile – I’ve run into him and his family at the Tuileries, and he made much of his own francophone status during the referendum campaign. In Paris last winter to launch the French edition of his Churchill biography, Johnson wowed a publication dinner by speaking French for the entire evening. He was sufficiently fluent to bumble, waffle and generally avoid saying anything serious at all.

Last Sunday I attended the Lambeth Country Show, an oxymoronic event for which the diverse inhabitants of my home borough gather in Brockwell Park, south London, for jerked and halal chicken, funfair rides, Quidditch-watching, and “country-style” activities, such as looking at farm animals and buying their products. Wandering among ancient Rastafarians with huge shocks of dreadlocks, British Muslims wearing immaculate white kurtas blazoned with “ASK ME ABOUT ISLAM” and crusty old Brixton punks, I found it quite impossible to rid my mind of the Nice carnage – or stop wondering how they would react if armed soldiers were patrolling, instead of tit-helmeted, emphatically unarmed police.

I stepped into the Royal Horticultural Society marquee, and there they were: the entire cast of our end-of-the-pier-show politics, in vegetable-sculpture form and arrayed for judging. There was Jeremy Corbyn (or “Cornbin”) made out of corncobs – and Boris Johnson in the form of a beetroot, being stabbed in the back by a beetroot Michael Gove. And over there was Johnson again, this time rendered in cabbage. The veggie politicians were the big draw, Brixtonians standing six-deep around them, iPhones aloft.

The animal (as opposed to the vegetable) Johnson has begun his diplomatic rounds this week, his first démarches as tasteless and anodyne as cucumber. No British abandonment of friends after Brexit . . . Coordinated response to terror threat . . . Call for Erdogan to be restrained in response to failed coup . . . Blah-blah, whiff-whaff-waffle . . . Even someone as gaffe-prone as he can manage these simple lines, but I very much doubt he will be able to produce rhetorical flourishes as powerful as his hero’s. In The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, Johnson writes of Winnie overcoming “his stammer and his depression and his ­appalling father to become the greatest living Englishman”. Well, I’ve no idea if Bojo suffers from depression now but he soon will if he cleaves to this role model. His Churchill-worship (like so many others’) hinges on his belief that, without Churchill as war leader, Britain would have been ground beneath the Nazi jackboot. It may well be that, with his contribution to the Brexit campaign, Johnson now feels he, too, has wrested our national destiny from the slavering jaws of contingency.

Of course the differences between the two politicians are far more significant: Johnson’s genius – such as it is – lies in his intuitive understanding that politics, in our intensely mediatised and entirely commoditised era, is best conceived of as a series of spectacles or stunts: nowadays you can fool most of the people, most of the time. This is not a view you can imagine associating with Churchill, who, when his Gallipoli stratagem went disastrously wrong, exiled himself, rifle in hand, to the trenches. No, the French people Johnson both resembles and has an affinity for are the ones caught up in the virtual reality of Le Fantôme – rather than those patrolling the real and increasingly mean streets without. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt