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Dublin: 15 °C Friday 14 August, 2020

'Our culture was still ingrained with the idea that Real Men don’t show their feelings'

Former Liverpool star Robbie Fowler expresses regret about how Stan Collymore was treated during his time at Liverpool.

The Liverpool team pictured during Jan Molby's testimonial in 1996.
The Liverpool team pictured during Jan Molby's testimonial in 1996.
Image: PA Archive/PA Images

THE FOLLOWING PASSAGE is an extract from ‘My Life In Football: Goals, Glory & The Lessons I’ve Learnt’ by Robbie Fowler.

I returned for pre-season training in July 1995 with a brand new, canary-yellow swede. Once again, I had gone on a genteel summer sojourn with Dom Matteo and my long-time
best mate, Ste Calvey. Someone came up with the inspired idea of bleaching our hair with lemon juice but, by the time the Mediterranean sun set on our respective bonces, we were
more Paul Calf Yellow than platinum blond. I’m saying that Matteo was the big brain behind Operation Lemonhead, he swears it was me … so let’s blame Calvey!

I also came back to a new colleague (or was he a rival?): Stan Collymore. Logic said that having paid Nottingham Forest £8.5 million for Stan, Roy Evans wasn’t planning on
keeping him back as an impact sub. Logic also suggested if anyone was going to be vulnerable to the new arrival, it was more likely to be Rushy, who would turn 34 later that year.

From my first days training with the First Team squad, Tosh (Rushy’s nickname, after the character Tosh Lynes from The Bill) seemed to take to me. I learned countless invaluable tips from him – how and when to bend a run to stay onside, how to anticipate a goalkeeper’s spill, how to defend from the front – and I loved playing alongside him. I thought we made a brilliant ‘Dad & Lad’ partnership (only messing!).

But, playing devil’s advocate, this was the start of Roy Evans’s second full season as manager. He’d had a chance to assess where our strengths and weaknesses lay, he’d won
his first cup with the squad he inherited and now came his big chance to mould his own team, back his own judgement and build for the future as well as the present. One of football’s great truisms is that Goals Win Games and you can’t really argue with that. For Roy, signing one of the most lethal young strikers in the country wasn’t just a bold move, it was common sense.

But, just as in any workplace, in any walk of life, you’re going to have colleagues and employees who don’t get on. It’s human nature. Anyone with their eyes open could see the ridiculous talent Stan Collymore had. He was skilful, he was a beautiful striker of the ball, his movement was graceful, his touch was good — we should have formed a brilliant partnership because, when we were good, Stan and I were very, very good. Yet, in terms of our personalities, we were like chalk and cheese: me being quite lippy and outgoing, Stan almost brooding and insular.

Looking back, we should have seen the signs that Stan had his demons. A few weeks into the new season, we signed Jason McAteer (who had played brilliantly against us in the League Cup final against Bolton, back in April).

Very recently, prompted by the suicides of two greatly loved young Liverpool fans, Mick Woodburn and Neil ‘Yozza’ Hughes, Jason made a thought-provoking, heart-breaking documentary with LFCTV about his own mental health called Through The Storm.

To us, in 1995, part of your rite of passage was to be able to ‘dish it out’ as well as take some stick. We would forever be burning each other with jibes and practical jokes and a lot of that banter came pretty close to the knuckle. To us, everything was fair game and we would do anything or say anything for a laugh. Many of us were fortunate enough to be able to take our share of the stick, but a lot of us found it difficult, too.

To give it a bit of perspective, let me say again how young we were – a group of relatively immature working-class lads, catapulted into the limelight, playing the game we loved for a team we loved and being very handsomely paid for it. Yet we had absolutely no privacy. No normality. This is not a bleat, it’s a fact – people staring at you as you sit down in a café, standing vigil outside your house, beeping you and slapping on your car window at traffic lights, continually shouting out to you – it takes a fuck of a lot of getting used to.

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I’m as ordinary a fella as anyone could ever meet and being absolutely honest, I would far rather be left alone to get on with my everyday life. But I very quickly realised that
waving farewell to any last shred of normality is all part and parcel of the footballer’s contract. There is no preparing for it; it is really, really weird.

Source: Liverpool FC/YouTube

But we develop a shell; we stick together, as players; we take the piss out of the more extreme episodes we encounter, and we take the piss out of each other. That’s the culture.

Unbeknown to the majority of the squad, Jason really struggled with that. It’s only 20-odd years ago, but it was a different era, and no one would ever own up to psychological frailty then. If we’d had an inkling that Stan and Jason were troubled, the sad but honest truth is we probably would have roasted them even more. Our culture was still ingrained with the idea that Real Men don’t show their feelings, so any hint of introspection would have resulted in merciless ribbing. We used to call it ‘slaughtering’ each other.

To me, it was hilarious – I could take it and dish it out, so it never remotely occurred to me that anyone in our position wouldn’t necessarily be loving every minute of it. I have the utmost admiration for Jason, standing up, speaking out and putting a name to his condition (and I’d urge anyone who hasn’t yet seen Through The Storm to look it up on LFCTV or YouTube).

In retrospect, I wish we’d all known more about Stan’s issues, if only for a better understanding of why he seemed so aloof. His coping mechanism was to remove himself from the banter. To us, he seemed to think himself a cut above – and that would never be good for team spirit.

‘My Life In Football: Goals, Glory & The Lessons I’ve Learnt’ by Robbie Fowler is published by Blink Publishing. More info here.

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