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Dogged by controversy

He was one of the most controversial footballers of his generation and, even after hanging up his boots, Stan Collymore remains front page news.

After the events both inside and out of a prominent Dublin nightclub last week, Collymore is the last candidate you would expect to be handing out career advice to young professionals, but that is exactly what he was offering when Soccernet caught up with him for an exclusive chat.

The former Liverpool and Aston Villa playboy striker has been branded in a variety of ways after a career that lurched from the front to the back pages of the tabloid press with alarming regularity, yet the determination to speak his mind has never deserted him.

It has been a habit that has got him into more than a little trouble over the years, but as he promotes his new autobiography, Collymore is the centre of attention again and using his temporary platform to espouse his views on the modern game. 'I know better than most what can happen if you allow yourself to be walked on in this game,' he begins.

'The explosion of the Premiership at the start of the 1990s took football into a new world. The players were now major national celebrities and anyone who didn't know how to cope with what was coming their way was in big trouble.

'Football is full of people who are scared to be different. People say yes to bad managers just to fit in and hang on to their place in the team. I could never go along with this attitude and would always speak my mind. It went against me at times, but that's the way I am.

'I was a footballer who made mistakes, said some stupid things and got myself into a few crazy situations. As far as the media is concerned, Stan Collymore was fair game and I made it easy for them.

'Their job was picking over the bones of my life from time to time and I couldn't do anything about it. When I was working on the radio, I had to go away on a few trips with the guys who stuck the hatchet into me over the years and it would have been easy to go over and have a pop back. I'd rather just move on with life.

'For a young guy coming through in the game now, I would say look at the mistakes people like me have made and concentrate on your football. The media will do what they need to do and if you keep your head down, they will leave you alone. As far as they are concerned, life is very simple. You are either good or bad and there is no middle ground. The challenge is to handle these judgements.'

From being the hottest property in English football and sealing an £8.5m move to Liverpool in 1995 to his fall from grace, after he struck then girlfriend Ulrika Jonsson in a brawl outside a Paris pub in 1998, and then the aftermath that included a bout of depression and a spell in celebrity treatment centre, The Priory, Collymore has been a walking tabloid headline.

Since retiring from the game after a bizarre and brief stint at Spanish side Real Oviedo, he has brought the seedy world of car park sex known as 'dogging' to the public attention and last weekend's incident saw him drawn into a scuffle with a handful of rugby players in Dublin.

It's the latest chapter in a life that is chronicled in his fascinating and painful autobiography that has recently been released. He was raised in a home where his mother was regularly 'taken upstairs for a beating' by a husband who had a different girl to sleep with every night. It left Collymore spending many an hour of his childhood crying alone.

He has barely had any contact with his estranged father since he hit the big time and when you analyse the harrowing tales he tells in what must be the most brutally frank sporting book released for some time, it is impossible not to link that troubled childhood with his subsequent woes.

Personal demons should not mask the fact that Collymore was one of the most naturally gifted players of his generation.
Personal demons should not mask the fact that Collymore was one of the most naturally gifted players of his generation.

Like his father, Stan had bedded dozens of women, though you suspect the likes of TV presenters Kirsty Gallagher and Davina McCall would not have been in his old man's league! He suggests his bouts of depression and desire to commit suicide from time to time has come from the 'loneliness' he has felt throughout his life and not even the millions of pounds in his bank account have been a comfort.

'If I did an autobiography it had to be like this,' he insists. 'When you read a book from a footballer and he is waffling on about what a wonderful life he has had, it's just dull. For me, it had to be all or nothing and it was hard for me to write. It's also painful for my Mum to read this because I have not had an easy life in many ways.

'But this is a true account of what I have done so far and I didn't do this to please people or keep anyone happy. Everything in my career is included and if people don't like it, it's up to them.'

Collymore has now set his sights on becoming an actor as he accepts the game he made his fortune from will never accept him back. 'I fancied working in the media or going into management, but I have no chance of success in either,' he concludes.

'I was doing some radio work for a time, but the BBC dropped me when a guy rang up and suggested I should be picked for England to play Sweden because I was good at beating Swedes. The Ulrika incident finished me off in many ways and I have no excuse for it.

'I would never be taken on as a manager. When you are labelled a maverick, clubs don't want to touch you and they would rather go for people who are safer, even if they have less talent.

'I have an acting coach in America and I am determined to give my all to another career. It would be an extension of expressing myself and I will give it a crack.'

Stan Collymore has given most things in his life a crack over the years and at the age of 33, he should still be strutting his stuff on a stage he could have made his own. That he isn't means some will forever tarnish his career with the tag of failure.

Stan Collymore's autobiography, Tackling My Demons, is available in all good outlets.

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