Offside

'Stan Collymore, the self-confessed therapy case, had the post-Diana world at his feet. So where did it all go wrong?'

Duleep Allirajah

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Topics Politics

On 7 March 2001 Stanley Victor Collymore, one of the great enigmas of English football, announced his retirement at the age of 30.

While many valedictory articles lamented his wasted potential, Collymore will never acquire the cult status enjoyed by wayward talents like Robin Friday or Stan Bowles. Why? Well probably because nobody liked him very much. Managers could not understand him; team mates came to blows with him; and fans just thought he was mad.

Collymore had all the makings of a modern football icon, but not just because of his footballing ability. Sure, he was two-footed, he could run at defenders, and he scored spectacular goals. Frank Clarke, who managed Collymore at Nottingham Forest, believes that ‘Stan should have been a regular fixture in the England team for the past six years. Ability-wise, he was up there with the best of them’.

But it was his off-field problems that could have made Collymore into the perfect role model in the therapy age. He refused to move away from his mother’s home, he could not cope with the pressures of professional football, he publicly admitted to suffering from depression, and he checked into the fashionable Priory Clinic for counselling. When he emerged from treatment he could speak fluent psychobabble: ‘When I was at my lowest, I felt shot full of holes. Any bit of criticism would get inside me and churn me up.’

Even his explanation for retiring – ‘to spend as much time as possible with his family’- chimes with stressed-out Britannia’s preoccupation with the ‘work-life balance’.

Collymore, the self-confessed therapy case, had the post-Diana world at his feet. He should have been a fixture on Kilroy and Oprah. He should have founded a trust to raise public awareness of boot-room depression. But instead nobody has a good word to say about him. So where did it all go wrong?

Collymore’s downfall was not caused by his nightclub brawls or training-room bust-ups, but by his assault on girlfriend Ulrika Jonsson in a Paris bar in June 1998. Earlier that year another ex-girlfriend alleged that she too had been assaulted by Collymore. Any hopes of a career as a professional stress victim were scuppered after these revelations. Sportswear company Diadora swiftly cancelled its lucrative sponsorship deal with the footballer. The new morality dictates that men who wear their emotions on their sleeves are applauded; but men whose unfettered emotions lead to domestic violence are damned.

Unlike Paul Gascoigne, branded a wife-beater by feminists but still admired by football fans, Collymore burnt his bridges with football, too, leaving a succession of frustrated managers in his wake. Aston Villa boss John Gregory was bewildered by Collymore’s ailments: ‘I find it difficult to understand how anyone in Stan’s position, with the talent and the money he has, is stressed. I wonder how a 29-year-old at Rochdale, in the last three months of his contract, with a marriage and three kids, copes with stress. I wonder what he’d be thinking, looking at this.’

The real tragedy of Stan Collymore was that he was not man enough to hack it as a footballer, but too ‘male’ in his relationships with women to make it as a celebrity basket case.

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