There is a consensus in some quarters that Stan Collymore is one of English football’s great lost causes; a classic case of a man who had it all chronically underachieving and failing to make the most of his undoubted talents.
However, the man himself is in no doubt regarding his legacy: “I overachieved if anything,” he wrote in his autobiography: “Given the problems I had to overcome and my demons, I did magnificently to get where I did”.
He’s not wrong.
For every one supporter holding the opinion that Collymore flattered to deceive there are another two who rate him in the very top bracket of players to have played the modern game.
Collymore made his breakthrough in the professional game relatively late following several false starts. Unsuccessful spells at Walsall and Wolves saw him sign for local non-league side, Stafford Rangers, before a move to Crystal Palace eventuated under manager Steve Coppell.
A largely frustrating time at Selhurst Park ensued before a drop in divisions and a move to Southend United saw his career begin to take off. Fully trusted and believed in by Southend manager, Barry Fry, Collymore started to flourish and his goals in the 1992-93 season were largely responsible for securing Southend’s First Division status.
After less than a season at Roots Hall, Collymore was signed by Frank Clark who had recently been installed in the Nottingham Forest hot-seat following Brian Clough’s retirement. Collymore would spend two seasons at the City Ground in which time he would gain a name for being a prolific goalscorer.
In 1993-94 his goals helped secure an immediate return to the Premiership for Forest and a season later Forest finished third in their first season back.
These goals and performances brought about the attention of Alex Ferguson who decided to swoop for him before transfer day in 1995. Unfortunately, Frank Clark was off sick when Ferguson tried to call to conclude the deal, and so Ferguson simply put the phone down and then picked it up again to call Kevin Keegan at Newcastle and sign Andy Cole instead.
If Collymore was worried his big chance had passed him by, he didn’t have long to wait to be reassured. At the end of the season Newcastle, Liverpool and Everton all made moves for him.
It was to Anfield and Roy Evans that Collymore eventually headed as a supposed successor to Ian Rush in a British record £8.5 million deal.
It is here that many people’s memories start playing tricks on them. It is an often-quoted myth that Collymore’s time at Liverpool was a disaster when in fact it was really nothing of the sort.
Paired alongside Robbie Fowler, Collymore carried on his Southend and Nottingham Forest form and his partnership with Fowler resulted in 55 goals between them. There were allegations that Collymore was ‘unprofessional’ in that he would travel daily from his home in the Midlands every day for training and often would be late or absent, but Collymore countered these accusations by stating that unlike certain other teammates he lived, ate and breathed football.
While some of his colleagues were busy earning themselves the moniker of ‘Spiceboys’, Collymore was banging in the goals that pushed him to the fringes of the England squad.
While it’s true that he struggled to build any lasting rapport off the field with the majority of his Liverpool teammates, together they were to battle to the brink of major trophies. Third place and the FA Cup Final in 1996 were achieved along with a further third place finish the next season.
The highlight of Collymore’s time at Liverpool was probably the classic 4-3 match against Newcastle in April 1996 in which both he and Fowler scored twice. Collymore counts this game as his most memorable in football.
By 1997 however, things were coming to a head at Anfield. Roy Evans felt he was unable to get the best out of Collymore and with a young Michael Owen appearing on the horizon, he decided to cut his losses and sell Collymore to Aston Villa for £7 million.
Collymore spent three years at Villa Park under first Brian Little and then John Gregory. His time there was punctuated by injuries, lack of form and well-publicised battles with depression and anxiety.
It was the beginning of the end for Stan and after further spells at Leicester City and Bradford City hadn’t worked out, Collymore moved to Spain and Real Oviedo. Finally, retirement came at the premature age of just 30.
During his career and afterwards, Collymore was described as one of the most naturally gifted players ever with the talent alone to have put himself up alongside the true greats of the game. What held him back to a degree was his personality issues.
While some have chosen to blame Collymore for these supposed deficiencies, others have been able to see beyond the hype and tired cliches and can appreciate Collymore for the talent that he undoubtedly was.
Collymore was much more than a simple forward or scorer of goals. He had the touch of a midfield maestro in the mould of a Hoddle, while possessing the strength and vision of a Vieira or Henry. He possessed an edge to him in the same vein as a Keane or a Scholes. What he didn’t have, however, was an inner peace or calm about him. He suffered from stress, anxiety issues and later in his career, depression. The fact that he was able to play at the top levels of the game for several years despite these handicaps should be lauded.