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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Martin McGuinness's long game: why a united Ireland is now increasingly likely

McGuinness died with his ultimate goal of a united Ireland arguably closer to realisation than at any other time since the island’s partition in 1921.

In late 2011 Martin McGuinness stood as Sinn Fein’s candidate in Ireland’s presidential election, raising all sorts of intriguing possibilities.

Raised in a tiny terraced house in the Bogside, Derry, he would have ended up living in a 92-room presidential mansion in Dublin had he won. A former IRA commander, he would have become supreme commander of Ireland’s defence forces. Once banned from Britain under the Prevention of Terrorism Acts, he would have received the credentials of the next British ambassador to Dublin. Were he invited to pay a state visit to London, a man who had spent much of his youth shooting or bombing British soldiers would have found himself inspecting a guard of honour at Buckingham Palace.

McGuinness would certainly have shaken the hands of the English team before the Ireland-England rugby match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin every other year. “I’d have no problem with that,” he told me, grinning, as he campaigned in the border county of Cavan one day that autumn. Though a staunch republican, he enjoyed the “Protestant” sports of rugby and cricket, just as he supported Manchester United and enjoyed BBC nature programmes and Last of the Summer Wine. He wrote poetry and loved fly-fishing, too. Unlike Gerry Adams, the coldest of cold fish, McGuinness was hard to dislike – provided you overlooked his brutal past.

In the event, McGuinness, weighed down by IRA baggage, came a distant third in that election but his story was astonishing enough in any case. He was the 15-year-old butcher’s assistant who rose to become the IRA chief of staff, responsible for numerous atrocities including Lord Mountbatten’s assassination and the Warrenpoint slaughter of 18 British soldiers in 1979.

Then, in 1981, an IRA prisoner named Bobby Sands won a parliamentary by-election while starving himself to death in the Maze Prison. McGuinness and Adams saw the mileage in pursuing a united Ireland via the ballot box as well as the bullet. Their long and tortuous conversion to democratic politics led to the Good Friday accord of 1998, with McGuinness using his stature and “street cred” to keep the provisional’s hard men on board. He became Northern Ireland’s improbable new education minister, and later served as its deputy first minister for a decade.

His journey from paramilitary pariah to peacemaker was punctuated by any number of astounding tableaux – visits to Downing Street and Chequers; the forging of a relationship with Ian Paisley, his erstwhile arch-enemy, so strong that they were dubbed the “Chuckle Brothers”; his denunciation of dissident republican militants as “traitors to the island of Ireland”; talks at the White House with Presidents Clinton, George W Bush and Obama; and, most remarkable of all, two meetings with the Queen as well as a state banquet at Windsor Castle at which he joined in the toast to the British head of state.

Following his death on 21 March, McGuinness received tributes from London that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. Tony Blair said peace would not have happened “without Martin’s leadership, courage and quiet insistence that the past should not define the future”. Theresa May praised his “essential and historic contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace”.

What few noted was that McGuinness died with his ultimate goal of a united Ireland arguably closer to realisation – albeit by peaceful methods – than at any other time since the island’s partition in 1921.

The Brexit vote last June has changed political dynamics in Northern Ireland. The province voted by 56 per cent to 44 in favour of remaining in the European Union, and may suffer badly when Britain leaves. It fears the return of a “hard border” with the Republic of Ireland, and could lose £330m in EU subsidies.

Dismay at the Brexit vote helped to boost Sinn Fein’s performance in this month’s Stormont Assembly elections. The party came within 1,200 votes of overtaking the Democratic Unionist Party, which not only campaigned for Leave but used a legal loophole to funnel £425,000 in undeclared funds to the broader UK campaign. For the first time in Northern Ireland’s history, the combined unionist parties no longer have an overall majority. “The notion of a perpetual unionist majority has been demolished,” Gerry Adams declared.

Other factors are also working in Sinn Fein’s favour. The party is refusing to enter a new power-sharing agreement at Stormont unless the DUP agrees to terms more favourable to the Irish nationalists. Sinn Fein will win if the DUP agrees to this, but it will also win if there is no deal – and London further inflames nationalist sentiment by imposing direct rule.

McGuinness’s recent replacement as Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland by Michelle O’Neill, a personable, socially progressive 40-year-old unsullied by the Troubles, marks another significant step in the party’s move towards respectability. As Patrick Maguire recently wrote in the New Statesman, “the age of the IRA old boys at the top is over”.

More broadly, Scottish independence would make the notion of Northern Ireland leaving the UK seem less radical. The Irish republic’s economic recovery and the decline of the Roman Catholic Church have rendered the idea of Irish unity a little less anathema to moderate unionists. And all the time, the province’s Protestant majority is shrinking: just 48 per cent of the population identified itself as Protestant in the 2011 census and 45 per cent Catholic.

The Good Friday Agreement provides for a referendum if a majority appears to favour Irish unity. Sinn Fein is beginning to agitate for exactly that. When Adams and McGuinness turned from violence to constitutional politics back in the 1980s they opted for the long game. Unfortunately for McGuinness, it proved too long for him to see Irish nationalism victorious, but it is no longer inconceivable that his four grown-up children might. 

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution