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 Schulz: could this man bring an end to the reign of Angela Merkel?

The German Eurocrat is the biggest threat to the possibility of a fourth term for Merkel. 

At first sight, Martin Schulz looks like an unlikely political saviour. Thin of hair and thick of waist, the 61-year-old was a member of the European Parliament for 23 years and its president for five. In an anti-establishment age, it was predicted that Schulz would struggle when he became the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) candidate to replace Angela Merkel as the German chancellor in January. Instead, he is spearheading a remarkable revival in his tribe’s fortunes. On 19 February, for the first time in a decade, the SPD polled above Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), attracting 33 per cent to their 32 per cent. The SPD vote share has increased by 12 points in a month. The cause is clear: “Martin mania”.

For months, it was assumed that Merkel would secure a fourth term as chancellor in September’s federal election. The SPD, the grandfather of European social democracy and Germany’s oldest party (it was founded in 1863), had polled as low as 19 per cent. After forming a grand coalition with the CDU in 2013, Schulz’s party was marginalised as Merkel claimed credit for policies such as the country’s first minimum wage. Voters defected to the far-left Die Linke and the far-right Alternative für Deutschland. The SPD’s future looked to be one of managed decline.

Sigmar Gabriel, the party’s leader since 2009, stood little chance of supplanting Merkel as chancellor. As a result, like François Hollande, he reached for the pearl-handled revolver: he announced his intention to step aside on 24 January after internal SPD polling showed that Schulz would perform significantly better against Merkel. “It was not an easy decision but I’m convinced it was the right decision,” Gabriel told reporters. His judgement was vindicated as public polls gave Schulz an 11-point lead over Merkel (49-38).

The German chancellor’s apparent unassailability owed less to her strength than to her opponents’ weakness. Eleven years after she entered office, voters had grown weary of Merkel’s leadership but saw no viable alternative. In Schulz, they have found one. Having been engaged at EU level and held no domestic office since standing down after 11 years as mayor of the north-western market town Würselen in 1998, Schulz has been embraced by voters as a relative outsider.

Unlike his SPD colleagues, Schulz can criticise the CDU’s record without appearing hypocritical or feeble. He has attracted voters with a centre-left emphasis on redistribution and social justice. “When people see that their taxes are used to give their children a future, they buy into it,” Schulz has said in interviews.

The European Parliament has been a useful platform for his pugnacious style. He is best known for being compared to a concentration camp guard by Silvio Berlusconi in 2003 and for his interjection in 2010 after Nigel Farage branded the then EU president, Herman Van Rompuy, a “damp rag”. Schulz retorted: “It’s not right that this man should be able to trample over the dignity of this house!”

Voters have warmed to Schulz’s personal story as well as his political history. He was born on 20 December 1955 in the village of Hehlrath, North-Rhine Westphalia, to a policeman father and a homemaker mother (he is the youngest of five). Rather than going to university, he trained as a bookseller and was a promising footballer. Two severe knee injuries ended his playing career at the age of 18 and he sought refuge in alcohol after falling into depression. Having contemplated suicide, he recovered to open a bookshop in his home town (which he ran until he became an MEP in 1994) and has been teetotal since 1980.

Schulz educated himself by devouring historical fiction (his favourite writers are John Steinbeck and Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa) and retains the restlessness of an autodidact (he often works 18-hour days). His bonhomie and blunt manner appeal to voters who regard Merkel as aloof.

That Schulz has come to the SPD’s rescue is unsurprising. He joined the party at the age of 19 and became the youngest mayor in North-Rhine Westphalia when he was elected in Würselen at 31. After more than two decades serving the EU, the attractions of a return to domestic politics were obvious. “People must look into your eyes and see that you are a bloody streetfighter,” he remarked in 2013, as he presciently dismissed Ed Miliband’s electoral chances.

Schulz has disoriented the Christian Democrats, who failed to anticipate a centre-left renaissance. In a mark of how much he has unsettled them, the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has denounced him as a Trump-like populist for his slogan “Make Europe great again”. Were Schulz to replace Merkel and Emmanuel Macron to be elected French president, the pair would unite in seeking to impose punitive Brexit terms on the UK.

For Germany’s Social Democrats, the fear is that Schulz’s surge has come too soon – voters could swing back to Merkel and the CDU before polling day. But after years as an emblem of centre-left malaise, the SPD has momentum. Schulz is determined to prove that there are second acts in political lives. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit