Former Liverpool and Nottingham Forest Star Is Right: The Working Class Isn't Represented In Sports Journalism

Stan the Man opened a can of worms yesterday, but amongst the shouting and occasional incoherence of his argument, he hit the nail bang on the head...
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Stan the Man opened a can of worms yesterday, but amongst the shouting and occasional incoherence of his argument, he hit the nail bang on the head...

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The Former Liverpool and Nottingham Forest Star, Stan Collymore,  Is Right: The Working Class Isn't Represented In Sports Journalism

Good god, Twitter and sportspeople… If you laid all the inane tweets they make from end to end you could make a chain of shit that would wrap around the Earth seven times. Whether it’s the increasingly demented Joey Barton bleating about some wider reaching FA-come-Illuminati conspiracy, views on the real perpetrators of September 11th from Liverpool youth player Nathan Ecclestone, or ill advised comments about immigration policy courtesy of Carlton Cole, it’s almost as if they think they are well informed enough to have these opinions. More often than not they should stick to what they’re good – or decidedly average – at doing.

There is on occasion a rare glimmer of truth, an alarmingly honest and applause inducing outburst that is on the money that it stands out as the exception that proves the rule. And so it came to pass that former Nottingham Forest star Stan Collymore, seemingly at random, set aside the issue of depression of sport to address an issue that many more of us could relate to – namely the lack of representation of the working class in sports writing.

It would be easy to think this is the usual axe to grind from a former Liverpool striker who spent as much time in the front pages as he did the back of many a red-top rag. Yet this isn’t a plea for privacy, or an attempt to re-write the history of his deplorable behaviour. This is instead a diatribe aimed at the sports press that is undeniable, even from people who work within it. Simply put that there’s a lack of real working class sports fans that are ever given a chance to write about it, despite possessing the ability, knowledge and authentic love of the game.

A case in point would be Ian Wright’s column in The Sun

It’d be easy to sneer at Collymore. Most of us have at some point and the press that he is criticising will waste no time in pointing out a thing or two. For starters, is it not equally the case that ex-players get a leg up when it comes to earning money from papers, their dreadful “columns” clogging up the back pages like sick down a drain. A case in point would be Ian Wright’s column in The Sun where he labelled Davide Santon, a former Inter Milan prodigy and full Italian international, an “unknown”. It seems even basic research isn’t necessary as long as it has a player’s name plastered across a set of inane opinions. In that sense perhaps Collymore is missing the fact that he is too part of the problem he is looking to highlight.

Yet, love him or loathe him, Collymore has forged out a solid career as a pundit, tackling some of the bigger taboos in the game with a bullish authority and now seems unphased at calling out some of the sports-writers who enjoy privileged positions without the ability and knowledge to justify being there. The issue of class reared its head many times during his frenetic tweeting and it’s understandable why. Football is a sport that nets billions on the aspirations of young men from poor working backgrounds, be it the slow-dying colliery towns of the North East or the brutally impoverished slums of South America. In the sport class is no hindrance. Even if the vast majority end up on a scrapheap with no aftercare, sorted through and selected like fresh produce, the undesirables cast back without a second thought… The point is that the best do get there, they are given their opportunity to shine. Can the same honestly be said about the people that we expect to cover the beautiful game?

“My contention is that working class writers aren't getting enough of a chance” was the Tweet that summed up his entire, sometimes incoherent, argument. “Some incredible bloggers out there that will never get the chance. Why? They sound and feel like fans and don't lay on grand superlatives.”

Their work is simply a cynical way to induce debate, something the footballing community thrives on

He even took to listing some examples and it was hard to disagree with many of them. Anyone who has had to suffer through a sycophantic Phil McNulty blog, or the near insufferable Manchester United bias present in almost every word penned by the Daily Telegraph’s Jim White, knows that there are some people there that do not represent what the average football fan is about. Equally, they do not convey any higher knowledge of the game or possess any real insight. Their work is simply a cynical way to induce debate, something the footballing community thrives on. Any merit past that is negligible even if they did attend university and have a ream of other supplementary experience and qualifications. Simply put, others could do it better.

By the time the debate had taken to the radio on Talksport it started off as little more than a shouting competition, Stan palpably angry from the offset. While he bemoaned the lack of opportunity for genuinely talented writers from working class backgrounds, his counterpart Mark Saggers seemed content to play the Thatcherite “everyone has the same opportunities card” time and time again. It was a popular defence from those who already had been in the industry for some time, people happy to come on air and state how they had worked up from nothing, starting their first job for free before they got a break.

There’s no doubting that breaking into the industry really separates the wheat from the chaff. Speaking from personal experience if I thought about all the words I had written for free, all the stories I covered out of my own pocket for no return, all the couches I had slept on, all the spare rooms I had nested in down the years… All for a chance to write about something that mattered to me personally. Their stories were indeed the inspiration I had to go down that route, proof that it wasn’t a rigged game and good things come to those that wait and work.

You need a public school hook-up and a famous parent just to get a runners job.

Of course, after having seen some of my colleagues pass me by because they possessed plummier accents, or still lived at home and could afford to take unpaid internships, or they knew someone in the business, my views changed somewhat. I could never put it down to a qualification issue. I did everything I thought you were supposed to, attended university at great expense, edited the student magazine, wrote for the NUS. It all seemed to lead nowhere. My conclusions are, and have to be, that maybe forty years ago the things that I’d read about and hoped to emulate were possible. Today they don’t seem to be. You need a public school hook-up and a famous parent just to get a runners job.

Back on the radio, Collymore – who was still shouting – mentioned some of his favourite bloggers and said that they were as good as anything he read in the mainstream media and yet somehow more relevant because they were written by people who were passionate, something he also said was lacking amongst those who had been given a leg up, especially when they were treating their Saturday session at a football ground as part of the grind as opposed to living the dream.

“Why should aspiring writers be prevented from having the opportunity to write about their primary passion by papers preferring writers who care about football as their third or fourth game."

No-one is expecting prawn sandwiches in the directors box

It was another point that seemed to mostly fall on deaf ears, drowned out by rhetoric about versatility being a desirable quality and talent being the true determining factor. Perhaps most patronisingly of all came the argument from Collymore’s on air counter-balance that bloggers simply didn’t want to write about the unglamorous games in order to get their break. It completely underpinned the class issue in a nutshell. It’s far from true that most aspiring sports writers would want to jump in at the highest level, writing about Arsenal and Man United. For many of us the modern game has lost its soul and what sports is all about is found elsewhere, away from the all-seaters that we attend through loyalty rather than contentment at what became of the beautiful game. Most of us are grass roots, follow our local clubs, have coached local teams, have played or play Sunday league and don’t think much beyond that. No-one is expecting prawn sandwiches in the directors box. I think that sort of sense of entitlement is the preserve of those who did walk into those jobs and they are out there.

Everyone knows the media thrive on cronyism. It is a land of secret handshakes, school friendships and nepotism. If you can’t swim in these circles then you are doomed to failure and it is made unbelievably hard for you to even tread water. Unless you’re willing to go for broke and risk everything to get an opportunity, then it seems you are labelled as not good enough… Then again, it’s easy to talk about “half measures” and “determination” when you’ve got a safety-net or two waiting for you. If there’s nothing to break the fall, who would really risk the tightrope?

Proof in itself that the game of getting into reporting on the game is stacked against the very same that make it what it is. Shouldn’t it be a case of for the people by the people? There’s no denying the talent is out there, the hunger is out there. Why is it then that so few will get to showcase that?

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