The "Spice Boys" emerged as a term coined to characterise the antics and lifestyles off the pitch of the Liverpool 1990s players as high earning playboys who were underachieving in the game, based on a play on words on the name of the hugely popular pop music band at the time, the Spice Girls.
The label is negative and highlights the players' focusing on partying and clubbing, sports cars, dating and groupies, fame and hairstyles rather than football, making as the Daily Mail describes, "inroads in the pages of glossy magazines than in the league table." The term, though harsh, was the media's way referring to the negative side of the manner in which talented English footballers handled new money, popularity and stardom, which the game of football suddenly brought them in unprecedented levels in the 1990s, compared with the 1980s and before.
In 1997, Malcolm Gladwell's landmark article on coolhunting, in The New Yorker discussed how the Spice Boys were seen as making the city of Liverpool "cool" because it involved "soccer blokes in the pubs going superdressy and wearing Dolce & Gabbana and Polo Sport and Reebok Classics on their feet."
The comparisons to the Spice Girls largely emerged in 1996, aided by unfounded tabloid rumours that Fowler was dating Spice Girl Baby Spice (Emma Bunton) and after which, the Daily Mail coined the term, which then became synonymous with Liverpool F.C.'s team of the time, with all the other newspapers following subsequently in using the term. Other reasons for the nickname stemmed from the direct links between some of the players and the actual Spice Girls' members. Jamie Redknapp and Steve McManaman were personally described by Mel C (Sporty Spice) as her personal favourite footballers, and that she would always go to Anfield to watch them play. McManaman meanwhile, had Simon Fuller (the creator of the Spice Girls and Pop Idol) as his sports agent, sealing the links off the field.
The 1990s were a less successful era for Liverpool; in contrast to the trophy-laden 1970s and 1980s, they were cast as "nearly men" and failed to oust Manchester United in both the 1995–96 FA Cup, 1995–96 FA Premier League and 1996–97 FA Premier League challenges, winning little in spite of their talent, widely held to be due to a lack of discipline. Liverpool had in fact started the decade as the superior side, winning the league title in 1990, but the sudden resignation of manager Kenny Dalglish in February 1991 led to the return of former player Graeme Souness to Anfield as manager, and his three-year spell delivered just one trophy (the FA Cup in 1992), and Liverpool rarely looked like title contenders, even spending considerable spells in the bottom half of the league table.
It all began in the early 1990s, where photogenic players (not necessarily tagged as Spice Boys yet as the term had not emerged yet) like Jamie Redknapp and Ryan Giggs emerged as merchandising and mass marketed "poster boys" of the English football game, and fronted many football magazine covers and featured in advertisements. This carried on increasingly through the decade, and many good looking players like David Ginola achieved celebrity fame on unprecedented levels where certain football stars had become idols on par with rock stars and pop stars, by and around the mid-1990s. The Liverpool team of the 1990s seemed to epitomise all the negative combinations of fame and fortune, and because unlike others, were a talented crew with top level potential in the game itself, were criticised for underachievement, and emerged as the face of the label; thus bearing the brunt of the innuendo. More than that however, the Spice boys were noted for also polarising public opinion, as The Daily Telegraph assessed it: "...Group of high-spirited, fun-loving young players who were a central feature of Liverpool's talented and entertaining, but perpetually under-achieving, squad of the Nineties. At least, that's the generous description. Others saw them as just an irresponsible bunch who were a bad influence in the dressing-room and should not be given house room."
The Spice Boys of Liverpool were notable for headlining several scandals covered to great extent in the British Tabloids in the 1990s.
Criticism stemmed from perceptions forged in the media about the Liverpool players of the time. Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler gave raunchy "birds, booze and BMWs" interviews to magazines like Loaded which went down poorly with the media, who labelled them as "scally" and "hedonist" characters shortly after. Despite this, Fowler was a prolific scorer for Liverpool, reaching the 100-goal mark for the club in December 1996 at the age of 21, while McManaman was by this stage a regular member of the England national football team and had played a key role in Liverpool's FA Cup triumph of 1992 and scored both goals in their 1995 League Cup victory.
Meanwhile, Redknapp (who also married pop star Louise Nurding) had already been the face of marketing and already fronted scores of magazines, then stepped up a level when he and James were involved in modelling for Armani. The pair flew over to Milan for catwalk shows, fashion shoots and missed training in the late 1990s, although James claimed the news media blew the incidents out of proportion. McAteer was one of the first footballers to appear in hair shampoo advertisements since Kevin Keegan, and it seemed a new era was dawning. McAteer did commercials for Head & Shoulders, and together with Redknapp, appeared in Top Man catalogues, while James also became an official Armani underwear model in 1997. In the 21st century, it is common for football stars to obtain such commercial deals, but in the 1990s, this was seen as unique, and the Spice Boys were criticised because the media and fans saw these new forays as affecting their results and performances on the pitch, leading to large amounts of criticisms in the press.
McManaman and Redknapp, however, had a different view for their lack of success (compared to players of the 1970s and 1980s Liverpool teams), stating that it was not so much about the discipline, but that they had run into a very good Manchester United side at the time, that was the reason for their lack of silverware in the 1990s. Redknapp said: "United were incredible. They had a crop of players that would never ever happen again: Nicky Butt, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, the Neville brothers, Paul Scholes. That United team came through at the same time as us and we were always second best to them. That's how it is sometimes."
Neil Ruddock, a more senior member of the team, spoke in an interview in 2010, saying he was delighted to be in the "Spice Boys" team because "we were earning tons of money, driving Ferraris and bedding Page 3 girls before anyone else". The reason Ruddock and the Spice Boys could say this, was because it is statistically accurate that the English footballers in the 1990s were earning at least ten times the amount footballers before then had been earning, widely due to the influx of television and revenue streams for the newly revamped and globally marketed, FA Premier League. Players' wages swelled to an average of £10,000 to £20,000 per week during the early years of the Premier League, and was constantly rising each season until the present day. With the newfound money and fame, many players had to deal with these issues, but the Spice Boys were notable for their very public controversies related to how they went about it, with Stan Collymore stating in his biography that he believes that the television show Footballers' Wives is based on the stereotypes, many of which were perpetuated from the Spice Boys' antics, and that not only are the depictions very accurate, but that the whole show might have been based on the very idea of dramatising the documentation of the rise of footballers' dealing with newfound fame and wealth having been thrust into these lifestyles in the first place.
McManaman meanwhile, told FourFourTwo magazine that the Spice Boys was based on misconceptions, saying: "The Spice Boys at one time consisted of eight or nine players and the press just used to change the personnel as they fancied. It was unfortunate because when we finished third in the league we got a lot of stick for it. At the time I felt very sorry for some of the lads involved. But it didn't bother me personally as I was playing very good football at the time...When we finished third and people saw us having a laugh and a joke, they thought we didn't care. Nowadays, when you finish third, everyone is thrilled to bits...Everyone's excited about qualifying for the Champions League. Under Roy Evans we did that a lot, and did it by playing fantastic football, but because there were a few young lads who liked to enjoy themselves at times, people had misconceptions."
McManaman also responded to the labelling they (him and Fowler) faced as a result of the Loaded interview, by writing a column for The Times. The Italian media said that doing something like that back in 1996, was akin to being "seen with a book" in the "macho world of football". But McManaman argued that he was not doing so to change public perceptions about him, but that the public had gotten the wrong perception of him and Fowler because of the Loaded interview in the first place. McManaman argued that the interviewer (for Loaded) gave the impression that he had spent an evening on the booze with the players and they had confessed to a life of hedonism. The tabloids lifted the tale, giving it wider currency, and two reputations were stained.
Nonetheless, misconceptions or otherwise, perhaps the most defining moment for the players was seen at the 1996 FA Cup Final, when the Liverpool stars infamously wore cream Emporio Armani suits and paraded around the pitch prior to kick-off, a game which they went on to lose to rivals Manchester United. The suits, in addition to the way McManaman and Fowler were seen on the BBC broadcast of the pre-game reception as carrying themselves- laid back, cavalier and arrogant in their behaviour prior to the match- with McManaman and Fowler interrupting and yelling at McAteer in front of the camera when it was McAteer's turn for an interview- made the defeat even more difficult for Liverpool fans to swallow.
In their defence, McAteer and McManaman both claimed in interviews that they were not doing anything differently from the "lads at Manchester United or Arsenal", but that they were picked on by the media, because of their good looks and because they failed to win the titles and be successful. Robbie Fowler also quipped to the Daily Mirror newspaper about its notoriety in an interview in 2008, 12 years later: "People still remind me about the white suits all the time. It's one of those things - if we had won the game nobody would have mentioned it but we lost and it has become infamous. It was David James' fault we wore white suits, it was his idea. He's bigger than everyone so nobody questioned him and at the time he was an Armani model."
The following season, Liverpool looked to have overcome these criticisms as they topped the league comfortably at Christmas and appeared more capable of winning the league title than they had done at any stage in the previous six years, but were overhauled by Manchester United in the second half of the campaign and finished fourth. They finished third a year later, with the bulk of the "Spice Boys" still at the club.
That year, Jamie Redknapp was also castigated by the media and fans for his reputation as chief prima donna in the Spice Boys team, and Redknapp said it was his good looks that caused deep resentment, even amongst a small minority of Liverpool's own fans. He said: "Don't get me wrong, the Liverpool fans are the best in the world, but there are always one or two who get on your back. They usually wait for it to go quiet then they shout some horrible abuse at you. When you look at them they are usually the ugliest people in the whole of the ground. I'm sensible enough to know that I'm not everyone's cup of tea but I sometimes think the way I look is my biggest problem. I reckon people find it easier to have a dig at a player with long hair because they think you are a bit of a tart. As for the Spice Boys tag - like hell we are the Spice Boys. Let's face it, the Spice Girls are at the top of their profession and we are still trying to get to the top of ours, so I hardly think it is a good nickname."
However, the Spice boys situation was not helped because they also always seemed to get caught in compromising situations by the media, armed with photos and evidence, and because their reputations meant they were targeted and watched, it only exacerbated the negative publicity.
The Spice Boys were largely showcased in the media because they involved high-profile players, many of whom played for their National Teams, where McManaman and Fowler had already been associated with the drinking games and "dentist's chair incident" prior to the Euro 1996 and the trashing of a Cathay Pacific flight cabin with Paul Gascoigne.
This media focus meant that players were caught each time they were behaving like this and their behaviour and lack of decorum - such as their antics at the Liverpool Football Club 1998 Christmas party with drinking, sex toys and strippers (labelled as the "most debauched Christmas party in the world...ever" by The Independent) highlighted for the nation their infamy, and got them castigated by the media to such a large degree that it warranted national attention and outcries for lack of discipline and effort, on the basis that these players owed a duty of care to their national team, and that their lack of discipline would affect their professionalism. Older players like Ince and McManaman were also blamed for being a negative influence on the younger stars, like Jamie Carragher, who was photographed stripping his Hunchback of Notre Dame costume and cavorting with a stripper and wielding whipped cream, before having sex in front of revellers in Liverpool's 1998 costume party- an incident marked by newspaper The Guardian as one of the top 10 examples of footballers behaving badly. In the aftermath of that notorious night at the Pen & Wig pub, press reports ran stories filled with lurid details of men tearing off their clothes to have full sex in the name of "unwinding" and "festive fun" in front of guests; the obscenity of which shocked the nation and even Liverpool's own fans claimed that Bill Shankly's original purpose of Liverpool's Christmas party (to "bond" the players) had been lost in a new generation, focused on debauchery.
And it could scarcely have come at a worse time for Liverpool, who were enduring their worst season for five years, finishing seventh and missing out on a UEFA Cup place.
Fowler and McManaman were also labelled for being serial pranksters with a scally sense of humour that was not appreciated, reported widely in the media, with reports of them cutting up teammates' shoes, destroying teammates' rooms, and doing pranks at Bisham Abbey before live cameras, which did not help their shedding of the negative labels, and earned them a cult following of fans. Fowler was reported in the media for several controversies, some of which were on the pitch- including his sending off during an Under-21 game in Austria for swearing; getting punished by the FA for baring his backside to Leicester fans; and an incident on an Under-21 trip to Portugal when a hotel room shared by Kevin Gallen was damaged, plus an infamous airport punch-up before tabloid cameras with teammate Neil Ruddock in 1995/96 where Ruddock punched Fowler up for cutting up his £300 Gucci shoes, when Fowler claimed he only did that because he thought Ruddock had instigated players to urinate into his footwear. Ruddock and McAteer meanwhile had also been making several tabloid headlines following a widely reported "Porsche incident" involving a coat hanger where Ruddock called the police over to McAteer's house to help him with his car, and the police told McAteer to get a coat hanger so they could help him open his car doors as he had locked his keys inside, and he went and brought out a wooden one. McAteer was also notorious for several other such stories that filled the tabloids, including a "pizza" story, where McAteer was asked if he wanted a pizza cut in eights and replied, "Nah, I'm not that hungry, just cut it in fours please", where after which, McAteer obtained a new nickname instead of "Dave"- "Double Trigger" (both based on Only Fools and Horses characters) for his perceived lack of intelligence.
The Spice Boys were also popular for their tongue in cheek antics that were ahead of their time, with them ranging from anything from having half the squad dye their hair platinum blonde or with blonde highlights as part of summer pranks before the 1996 and 1997 seasons, spending countless hours practicing orchestrated goal celebrations (unheard of at the time), allegedly driving round the city singing whilst sitting on the bonnet of a stretch limousine, to antics at horseracing festivals, such as the Cheltenham festival and Aintree, where McManaman and Fowler led the Spice Boys to collectively purchase two thoroughbreds and called them "Some Horse" and "Another Horse", just so they could have a laugh (to the commentator's chagrin) when results and the commentary was broadcast.
In the 1995–96 season, Ruddock was famously involved in an on-field scuffle with Manchester United star Eric Cantona. Ruddock responded to Cantona's taunts about his weight by turning down the Frenchman's collar (in his after dinner speaking, Ruddock says of the incident- "trust me to pick the only Frenchman around who wanted a tear-up"). Ruddock said in 2011, that Cantona actually made up with him in 1996, by giving him his FA Cup Final shirt in the tunnel after the game, as he must have felt sorry for Ruddock not playing nor winning.
In the autumn of 1996, Ruddock also admitted to deliberately executing a malicious tackle against Andrew Cole, breaking both his legs, in a reserve game between Liverpool and Manchester United, saying he "hated Cole". This revelation shocked many fans of both clubs.
In 1997, Fowler was fined by UEFA for pulling up his shirt after scoring against Brann Bergen, in a European game, to reveal a mock Calvin Klein T-shirt in support of striking Liverpool dockers. McManaman was wearing one, too, and they had agreed between them to swap shirts with the opposition at the end of the game to register their support for the dockers, but subtly. Fowler and McManaman had also become infamous for pioneering (in the Premiership) several T-shirt related celebrations with political or arrogant slogans such as "God's Job's A Good 'Un", largely in reference to Fowler's nickname, "god", and, together with a message, the pair would scribble these on T-shirts hidden under their shirts, and unveil them before live television cameras after they scored goals; something unheard of at the time. Fowler and McManaman were infamous for writing on their shirt, a good few years before many other players started imitating them, though manager Roy Evans did threaten to inflict club discipline on them if they continued with it. The trend eventually led to FIFA and the Premier league's banning or punishment with a yellow card for the removal of shirt tops during a goal celebration a decade later.
In 1997, a spate of defensive errors in the run in for the 1996–97 FA Premier League title race, saw Liverpool fall away badly having led the league for much of the season until late January, with David James earning the nickname "Calamity James" for a series of howlers, which helped end Liverpool's title challenge. James responded by putting down his spate of errors to an overindulgence in playing computer games on his Sony PlayStation that in turn affected his concentration, due to his gaming addiction.
In 1999, Fowler celebrated a goal by mimicking the action of snorting cocaine on the goal line, leading the Football Association to charge him with disciplinary action. Fowler rebutted by saying that he was merely responding to opposition fans from local rivals Everton FC, that had repeatedly taunted him with drug abuse remarks and even vandalised his home.
Also in 1999, Fowler was charged for deriding fellow England colleague Graeme Le Saux with homosexual taunts on two occasions, with a report detailing Fowler's words- responding to Le Saux's statement about his sexuality, "But I'm married!" with the quip, "So was Elton John, mate!" Fowler was fined and banned by the FA for this behaviour, while Paul Ince also joined the stir when he too was penalised for his homophobic taunting of Le Saux during a 1997 Liverpool – Chelsea match- a verdict which resulted in a long running coolness between the two players, despite the fact that Le Saux is not actually gay.
In 2001, just before he was sold to Leeds United Fowler was assaulted and left with a broken nose in a Liverpool nightclub for the third time in four years, and though Fowler was hardly at fault in these incidents, the constant media and tabloid exposure to such stories describing off the pitch incidents, affected his reputations both at the club and international level, and some believe that Fowler's departure from Liverpool and lack of recognition with the England team in latter years were related. Fowler also claimed, largely in controversial circumstances, both in his autobiography and in news reports, that a concerted media attack on him was waged by certain sections of the media, and by certain people who were out to slur his reputation and create an image of a person who was a drug abuser, when in fact, he stated, it could not be further from the truth and that he would never take drugs and knew its effects as he had a cousin who died from a drug-related illness.
Stan Collymore, notorious for failing to turn up for training, refusing to play for the reserve squad, and simply ringing up the coach to inform him he was not showing up meanwhile, claimed he was not one of the Spice boys, and left the club a year after the labelling began, but was still often lumped with the likes of Jamie Redknapp, Jason McAteer and David James even though he constantly attempted to distance himself from associations with them. Collymore famously tried to argue that he was not like the Spice Boys at Liverpool and gave several press interviews where he bashed the Spice Boys culture, saying: "At Liverpool I sometimes felt I had to pretend to be somebody else. If I was out with the lads there, I felt I had to be like a 'Spice Boy' or something to conform to that image. Robbie Fowler and Jamie Redknapp had people around them I imagined were there just because of who they are, the reflected glory thing. I am not confident with that, trying to be something I am not.
Collymore's statements angered some of his ex-Liverpool colleagues at the time, and Collymore constantly distanced himself from the Spice Boys image in the late 1990s. When Collymore played against Liverpool for Aston Villa in the two seasons after he left, he ended up having scuffles with the Liverpool players during matches in 1998, getting sent off in one of the three games, against his old team mates, and being charged by the FA for baiting Liverpool fans the following year in 1999.
Collymore chose to honestly speak up about the issues he faced in a Channel Five television show Confessions of a Premiership Footballer in 2004, and once again talking about the extent of the issues at the club at the time in his autobiography titled Tackling My Demons, in 2006- on both occasions revealing sordid details about a lack of discipline at the club, the Spice Boys' hedonistic sexual romps with women, threesomes in hotel rooms, and the problems they all faced, stressing his sexual addiction and confessing even to having sex with manager Roy Evans' daughter while the manager was next door in a Knightsbridge hotel where the team was staying, on the night of the 1996 FA Cup Final.
Whilst not nearly as controversial, most of the remaining "Spice Boys" had left Liverpool too by the 2000–01, as new Liverpool coach Gérard Houllier undertook a radical reordering of the club and slowly transferred most of the Spice Boys out of the squad, or, reforming them, as the Daily Mail called it: "dragging Liverpool's Spice Boys out of the nightclubs and into the realities of modern football.". In reality, the Spice Boys had been broken up. Many of those who departed the club remained in the public spotlight though, and had their own different sets of problems to cope with. In late 2001, McManaman (who had joined Real Madrid in 1999 and stayed in Spain until 2003) and Fowler were reported to have gone out drinking late, the night before an England game, and this was reported in all the media as a betrayal of duty and role model leadership example setting, and an affront to the honour of playing for England. However, Robbie Fowler and McManaman both claimed in their biographies that the media had made a mistake based on the past innuendoes they had associated them with, and they had merely gone out for dinner that night, though it is widely believed that their collective lack of squad selection in the England setup, was directly correlated to their Spice Boy image of the past. It is widely believed that controversies like these, regardless of the players' claims to innocence, did nothing to help the public image of both the players and their club, as well as the game of football's reputation. The fact that these controversies arose constantly in the national media concerning the Spice Boys shaped public opinion, and arguably affected the players' England and club careers.
Over the decade ahead in the 2000s, many revelations were made by the Spice Boys as they reflected on their time in football.
Even the players themselves were open about their own admissions, where Stan Collymore himself described the lack of authoritative respect for the management of the club, with the likes of players including seasoned non-Spice Boy professionals like John Barnes, walking out of training when they did not agree with the regimen for the day, to players like Ruddock dousing himself with water just before the physio returned so as to pretend to have "trained", or of players like Fowler just playfully grabbing a hold of manager Roy Evans before gripping him in an armlock and then ruffling up his hair- ultimately saying that such behaviour would never happen under Alex Ferguson and that this summed up the difference between the talents on both sides and how they ended up. Doubtlessly, such stories led to some outcries of lack of effort and letting down the Liverpool fans by taking the club and the fans for granted.
Yet, stories continued to emerge. In 2013/14, Jason McAteer (long since retired as a player) told a bizarre story about Neil Ruddock urinating during an important Premiership game against Arsenal or another top team during the 1990s, while the squad were defending a corner, while widely spread stories of players playing games like "pass the pound" (where players allegedly passed a coin to each other during Premiership matches and the player who ended up with the coin by the 90th minute would have to buy drinks at the pub after) did not go down well with the media. Rio Ferdinand added that Fowler brought the "Pass the Pound" game to Leeds United when he moved there as the Leeds team began playing that game during Premiership matches in the 2001–02 season.
Stories of players allegedly parking their sports and luxury cars in the manager's parking space, writing cheques and placing it on the manager's table for a laugh (after directly asking the manager how much the fine was for missing training), or, of burning pound bills as part of "dares" in the pubs in front of fans, upset the Merseyside media further, with Daily Mirror reporter Brian Reade also heartbreakingly noting in his book, 43 Years With The Same Bird, that one of the final straws was when some of the Spice Boys mocked Roy Evans' tears (for the sake of a laugh) on the day he resigned in November 1998. Many of these revelations left many fans upset with the state of the 1990s team's attitude, and justifying for them, Gérard Houllier's continental revolution of the early 2000s, which saw Liverpool instill much needed discipline in attitudes and diets and the way the players were managed, resulting in three cups being won in 2001, and a second-place finish in a hard-fought title challenge (finally won by Arsenal a year later.
David James, meanwhile, stated that all the Spice Boys had in fact, always known that they should have been achieving more. "On paper, man for man, we were as good as United...We allowed ourselves too many distractions and once we'd won the League Cup all but switched off. We were seduced by things peripheral to football. I remember Robbie Williams travelling down to Aston Villa with us on the team coach, and he was strolling about on the pitch before the game. He was a decent bloke but what the hell was he doing being allowed on the team coach? Unlike Roy Evans, Fergie would never have let that happen."
However, John Scales (who was at Liverpool from 1994 to 1996). also said the players were not free of blame as well, and whilst it was a combination of all these factors, "certain things just shouldn’t have happened," citing Robbie Williams' appearance on the team coach before and after a defeat away to Aston Villa in 1995. "Robbie was a great lad and we had some laughs. But why was he there on match days? He was going through his exit from Take That. His drink and drugs problems were well known. How can you have someone in that situation on the coach going to games? Why the hell was it allowed to happen? It fuelled the whole Spice Boy thing. We all hated the tag but the truth always hurts, doesn't it? I know I could have done more to avoid it. All the boys could have."
Robbie Fowler, though, gave his reflective take on the Robbie Williams incident in his biography in 2008, saying that the players were the ones at fault for that: "We'd already qualified for Europe so the game wasn't that important as we couldn't get any higher in the league, so Phil Babb persuaded the gaffer to let his mate Robbie Williams come on the team bus with us to the ground. He even walked on the pitch when we got there to take in the atmosphere, and that was wrong, because it was saved up and used against us and the boss as an example of how we were running the show. It shouldn't have happened. We should never have put the manager in that position. He has got so much stick for that, but it was the fault of the players, pure and simple."
By 2004, several of the Spice boys of the ex-Liverpool team had found themselves reunited at Manchester City, under ex-Liverpool legend, Kevin Keegan, and the media were quick to point out that the "Spice Boys were reuniting", but Kevin Keegan refused to comment and David James told reporters they had become "old spice": 'We may as well get the Spice Boys nonsense dealt with right from the start because I get the feeling it might be mentioned in a few headlines. Even if it was justified in the first place, and I don't think it was, it is now ancient history. Call us Old Spice.' That year, McManaman and Fowler also got caught up in a sex scandal with a single mother of three, after a failed attempt at obtaining an injunction, with facts emerging in the case that suggested that the pair had well rehearsed their routine of getting the woman in bed, with her saying: "They think they are gods, but they're vultures", which then led to a naming and shaming scandal for both players, that further tainted their reputations.
Also in 2004, a now-retired Collymore, who had already been steeped in controversy over his career moves and over assault allegations surrounding his hitting ex-partner Ulrika Jonsson in Paris years earlier, appeared in the press once again after he was involved in a court case where police had investigated CCTV footage amid proceedings where Collymore was allegedly assaulted by Bath Rugby players in Dublin after they accused him about his comments in his bestselling biography that year about an affair that took place years earlier in the 1990s with Kirsty Gallacher (who was now dating a Bath Rugby player). Collymore's sordid revelations in his biography about the affair led to the rugby player gathering his mates, and Collymore was later then assaulted by six of them. In the case investigations, facts also emerged stating that Collymore had been pre-warned by Princess Anne's daughter Zara Philips that the Rugby players were "out to get him" that very evening, but the case was dismissed after a Garda investigation. A year later, Collymore found himself in the media again, this time for more controversial reasons again, after he admitted to having sex in public places with strangers in acts known as dogging, as well as for his battles with ongoing depression and having been a victim of child abuse and racism abuse throughout his teenage years. Collymore continues to battle depression and has been writing columns on the illness. Collymore also spoke of the incident where he hit Ulrika, saying, "I lost it...I did something I will regret for the rest of my life." Yet, Collymore was also reportedly the victim of a smear campaign, and hypocrisy from the British media, who portrayed him as a serial abuser, which was in his view, down to the fact that when the incident in Paris happened, Collymore was already seen to be failing on the pitch, with the Spice Boys' image not helping.
In Collymore's infamous interview in 2006 with The Guardian, it was reported that: 'A brilliant footballer who hits his girlfriend is one thing; a failing one who does so is another. I ask him if he thinks it unfair that while Paul Gascoigne - who in his memoir admitted not only to punching (partner) Sheryl but to head-butting her and smashing her head on the floor - is still a tabloid hero, he, Collymore, is uniformly characterised as a scumbag. "Yeah, and it's made me really angry. Whenever I get mentioned, it's like, 'wife-beater'. In the broadsheets, too." His voice takes on a plaintive edge. "But whenever Paul Gascoigne is mentioned - and he serially beat up his wife - it's never mentioned. Whenever his name is mentioned, it's 'football legend Paul Gascoigne', whereas I get, 'shamed Stan Collymore'. And I think to myself, why is that? And I've been very loath up until now to say this - but I can only see it as being a racial stereotype. George Best was exactly the same. 'Football legend George Best.' He got caught nicking, [and there was the] same thing with his wife, and he got sent down. I've no problem with people saying 'He was dogging', or 'This thing happened with Ulrika Jonsson', 'cos it's fact, and I put my hand up and apologise and genuinely try to make amends to Ulrika and my ex-wife. But Paul Gascoigne and George Best have been totally absolved on the basis that they're cheeky chappies. How can that be right? For Mike Tyson [after his rape conviction] it was 'primitive, animal, beast', things like that. Compared with, say ... " - a weird, off-key analogy, this .. " the Alan Clark diaries; a lot of his behaviour was appalling, but because he was middle class and drove an open-top MG, it's different. And I find that hard to take."'
Collymore continues to pay for the consequences of that incident till this day, with both fans and total strangers insulting him with heckles like "He hit that shot like you hit Ulrika" and so on, constantly directing abuse toward him, while even former players have not spared him as well with his overall reputation affected notoriously by the labelling and trolling till this day.
It is widely believed today by football fans, especially of Liverpool, that the Spice Boys of Liverpool remain a reminder to this day to the club, of a very prescient metaphor for what Liverpool Football club (as the epitome of success of traditional 20th century English football) was undergoing in terms of transitioning into the 21st century, and coping with the globalisation of the sport. It is also argued that the trajectory of the Spice Boys 1990s Liverpool team and the Manchester United team of the 1990s were metaphorical for the direction the two clubs took - one remaining in the traditions and not moving with the times, and failing to discipline and prepare the players for the 21st century pressure of a global sport, while the other (Manchester United), rode the wave of commercial capitalism and soared into the business and mass marketing and media side of things, compounded with discipline of a very similar core group of young players. One group developed into a trophy-winning machine which won at least one major trophy virtually every season for more than 20 years, while the other ended up as a tragic footballing metaphor which only achieved a fraction of the success.
In 2005, a 30-year-old Robbie Fowler responded by summing up the trappings and mistakes he made, and whilst he did not deny nor excuse the Spice Boys' behaviour, he explained the situation as part of "growing up", to The Guardian newspaper, saying it was only going to get worse with future generations of footballers: "When you're a teenager from inner-city Liverpool, you don't have any training on how to deal with the sideshow that comes with success. 'I've made plenty of mistakes, I know I have, and during my time as a footballer things have changed so that the spotlight is now even more intense. You have to be even more of a role model, a sensible, mature, intelligent professional, even if you're a cheeky little lad who's come from an inner-city council estate and put football before his studies...It strikes me that these days, clubs don't even want players who can truly play any more; they just want athletes, quick guys who don't have a football brain, can just run and run; some of them, Jesus. I can never imagine acting like that. Have a laugh, yeah, dick about, but don't give it the Charlie Big Bollocks. It's inevitable now, because everyone is a superstar, even if they're just an average player, and maybe that was part of the process set in motion when I signed that contract in 1994."
In 2011, Dominic Matteo also explained this behaviour by the team of the 1990s (in his autobiography), as a result of the "traps" that befell many players from the era, saying: "I think lots of players from my era will read the book and relate to what I am saying. It was a time when there was lots of money flying about. Add that to the spare time a player has, and it is easy to fall into the traps I did."
Also in 2011, due to widely fired protests by Liverpool fans regarding the antics that the Spice Boys were accused of, Neil Ruddock appeared on LFCTV's 60 Minutes, the club's official website television program, and categorically said that the game of "pass the pound" exclusively took place only during training, and not in competitive games. Some fans however, highlighted that this was in stark contrast to what Ruddock had ghost written in his own autobiography years earlier where it was recorded that "pass the pound" took place during competitive matches "for a laugh", because it was there that the revelations came to light in the first place. The issue continues to upset or cause dissension amongst Liverpool fans till today, who are eager to find a scapegoat for the failures of the 1990s.
The Irish Examiner, however, wrote that "The White Suit Final" was hardly Liverpool’s lowest ebb, with Jamie Carragher stating that the definitive soundbite of the era — Alex Ferguson’s greatest achievement was knocking Liverpool off their perch — did not ring true either. “Liverpool slipped away and United took advantage of the space at the top. Liverpool’s fall was self-inflicted,” argues Carragher.
In his reflection in 2015, John Scales, the only member of the Spice Boys' team who had also experienced being in Wimbledon's Crazy Gang side of the late 1980s, said that the reality was that Liverpool was in a time warp, and this was not entirely down to the Spice Boys' players but the system at the club. “Wimbledon were a ragtag group of lads playing football at a high level,” he says. “To me, Liverpool were a sophisticated club with an incredible organisation that was underachieving but could get back to where it wanted to be. What I quickly discovered was Liverpool was not sophisticated and the club was caught in the 1960s...Ronnie Moran’s training had not changed since that time. The wooden target boards were still used and they were rotting away. There was no tactical or technical analysis. Diets did not come into any discussion. For away games, we’d turn up in jeans – just as all the players had done in the ’70s. There were so many bad habits...Liverpool was caught in a time warp. Melwood was undeveloped. The only official merchandising at Anfield was a small shop in the corner of the car park. Whenever the team bus rolled into Old Trafford, there was a megastore and thousands of fans queuing up to buy shirts. United also had [Alex] Ferguson in charge, who instilled the discipline and focus that was needed to be successful. In Roy Evans we did not have that...In any walk of life, if you give people an inch they’ll walk a mile, especially young lads. Roy wasn’t necessarily too nice. But maybe he was too lenient. Above Roy, the chairman David Moores could have been more forceful on a lot of issues. If a club does not have structure, then it’s not going to function on the pitch in the long term. The whole approach at United was more professional from top to bottom.”
According to the Telegraph newspaper's interview with Scales, the Telegraph writes that before Evans, "a fissure had opened up in Liverpool’s squad during Graeme Souness’s ill‑fated spell in charge and spirit had dropped to the point where only six players turned up to the end-of-season trip to Tenerife after winning the FA Cup in 1992. Evans attempted to address the issue by liberating the squad socially. Liverpool’s players seemed to enjoy spending time together once again, just as they did in the 1980s. Evans must have considered this a positive development that would improve results on the pitch, just like in the 1980s."
In 2013, David James told French football magazine, France Football that he hoped to use the mistakes he'd seen during the Spice Boys' era to make him a better future coach and manager. "As someone who wants to be a manager in the future, I can tell you that one of the worst things is to see players waste their talents and not do everything in their power to win games. I was one of those players. All of this is very ambivalent. You want to win; you just do nothing about it. At Liverpool, there were some really talented guys. In 1996, we played a Cup final vs Manchester United (Liverpool lost 1-0 to a Cantona goal). We were rubbish. People only remember our pre-match creamy white suits. This Spice Boys image didn’t come out of thin air, it had some foundations. You never once saw the Manchester United boys in the clubs. They didn’t have women surrounding them, never had any pictures in the press. We were everywhere. Even on television shows, on a Friday night before a game. The worst was the fact that no one was telling us anything, all the while losing games. Had I been the manager (Roy Evans at the time), I’d have said: "Guys, you will have fun when you win.""
Former Liverpool defender and senior player to the Spice Boys team of the time, Mark Wright, slated the Spice Boys, saying the tag caused them to fail: "I think they liked the tag. Some of them were good-looking lads. They revelled in it and they were having fun. They thought they could just switch it on on the football field and that doesn't happen. Of course the rest of us had nights out but I think some people forget how lucky they are to play for Liverpool and some of them took it for granted."
Renowned Liverpool journalists like Paul Tomkins, Tony Evans, Tony Barrett and the like have been critical of the Spice Boys, saying their tomfoolery was linked to their priorities to make money and have fun in the game, and their tendency to "wash up and head on the highway to London" each Saturday after games.
Prominent Liverpool reporter, Brian Reade had a much harsher take on the Spice Boys' lack of success, attributing the players' constant blame shifting as the very source of their entire problem in the first place. Using David James as his example, Reade wrote: "James also explained why he didn't get a look-in when Glenn Hoddle was England boss. Because they didn't get on. Glenn would offer James objective criticism and it shattered his confidence. So it was Hoddle's fault all along. We also heard from the great sage why Manchester United beat Liverpool in the 1996 FA Cup Final. Eric Cantona's goal, maybe? No. 'One group of young players was being given good, strong guidance and the other was not,' said James. Which dovetails with this assertion when Gerard Houllier showed him the door: 'All the mistakes I made at Liverpool were because they neglected crosses in training.' A statement which came as a surprise to Roy Evans, who had been told by the Armani model that it was down to playing too many games of Nintendo. Being David James means never having to take the blame for your calamitous nickname. So when the going gets even tougher at City, how quickly will he remind us that the problem with Keegan is that he's a smashing gaffer but he's too soft on the lads entirely."
Reade also added that overall, on reflection, it would seem that the Spice Boys' fundamental problem was one of attitude, ego, pride and mentality. Using McManaman as his second example, he writes: "NOW that the final Spice Boy has sashayed out of Anfield it's time to put on a Kate Thornton mask, waffle about why we all loved 1997, and ask where are they now? Whatever happened to Jamie Redknapp's white-suited compadres, whose alleged Saturday-evening ritual was to wash 'n' go straight onto the Manchester-Heathrow shuttle while the Kop was still emptying? Steve McManaman? Sat in his sumptuous villa on the outskirts of Madrid, refusing to watch England's under-strength midfield attempt to cope with the loss of David Beckham. Chewing over the fact that just as he reaches his peak, his England career is finished. And probably not giving a flying Figo. If McManaman was half as proud as he is gifted, he would have been devastated to know that when Beckham's broken foot set a nation talking, his name never once cropped up as the man whose talent and experience could fill the gap. He would feel ashamed that with Paul Scholes and Steven Gerrard the only proven international-class players in midfield, Sven Goran Eriksson hadn't asked him to lead his country out at his old stamping ground and show us why a few years ago Pele called him one of the best players in the world. But that's our Shaggy. So laid-back he's doing a permanent limbo dance...When it has come to showing he is worthy of his shirt his attitude has been: "I scored in a European Cup Final for the biggest club there is and I can't see why I'm sitting on a bench behind the likes of Nick Barmby. If you throw me on as sub, I go on with nothing to prove. And if you don't like my attitude, fair enough." Nowhere did that come across more than in his 25 minutes against Albania when his apathy was so great, every time he went down the paramedics did not know whether to bring on a stretcher or sun-lounger. He has complained that Eriksson only plays him in fits and starts and thus hasn't appreciated his true quality. But a player of his class should never have allowed that to be a problem. He should have been bursting a gut to embarrass the coach whenever he got the chance. It seems baffling that the most successful Englishman to play abroad (medals-wise) had his international career terminated at 29 when his country was crying out for his brand of skill. And it begs the question - have England made a blunder by discarding a world-class player? Or is the fact that he couldn't care whether he's discarded or not proof that McManaman never had the mental toughness to be a world-class player in the first-place? Like Sven, I'll plump for the latter."
The Tomkins Times also reported about Gerard Houllier's thoughts on why a change in mentality was needed at LFC back in 1999. According to Tomkins, Houllier 'described the difficulties he encountered upon arriving in England. “The problem here is that players think they can drink. Maybe they could once, but the game demands so much more now, not just physically but mentally because of greater tactical awareness. If you drink, you lose half an inch, then an inch, then half a yard, then a yard [ –– of pace; he didn’t mean the players all ended up resembling Sammy Lee]. Your brain also becomes gradually slower to react. And in the process you lose the chance to progress from being a Premiership player to a top-class player. I compare top-class players to racing cars. Drinking alcohol is as silly as putting diesel in a racing car.”
Houllier also felt that the younger players in England were susceptible to bad influences. “What stuns me here: a young player comes into the game, looks the part. He’s not a drinker, looks after himself. Then, as soon as he gets into the first team, he thinks that to show he’s a man he has to drink. In probably every other country, the young player actually becomes more serious about the game. He’ll do anything he can to improve and stay in the team.”'
Finally, in page 41 of his bestseller, "44 Years with the Same Bird", Reade also stated that he believed that critics who labelled them the Spice Boys had got it absolutely right: "Look at Liverpool's Spice Boys who turned Wembley into a catwalk in 1996 to model cream Armani suits. Jamie Redknapp, David James, John Scales, Stan Collymore. They may well have been Calvin Klein model material, who had women swooning in their Paco Rabanne tail-winds, but as a team they stank. Now look at those great Liverpool sides of the 1980s filled with the likes of Ian Rush, Steve Nicol, John Wark, Peter Beardsley. Uglier than all of the seven deadly sins, as the Manchester Evening News often used to point out, but they rarely ended a season without seeing their less-than-gorgeous looks reflect at them back from polished silver.(As the Manchester Evening News used to avoid pointing out)."
At the time the Spice Boys emerged, certain players like Lee Sharpe, Jamie Redknapp and Ryan Giggs had become icons in football already, and football stars had become idols on par with rock stars and pop stars, in and around the mid- to late 1990s. Though this trend has largely carried on and is normative in football these days and where it is common for modern day footballers to be associated with scandal, women and drinking culture, the reason why the Spice Boys are notable is largely down to the fact that they were doing this en masse in the public eye for the first time, and a good decade before concepts of footballers exploiting their fame, getting caught up in scandal and doing modelling became mainstream media material and widely accepted in football culture. The obsession with celebrity, fashion and hairstyles also raised a new side to footballers as icons, a decade before the era of the metrosexual and several years before the rise of David Beckham, and a decade before the rise of Cristiano Ronaldo and the era of the marketed footballing fashion icon.
According to the Irish Examiner, the Spice Boys era highlights for the world of football how a group of footballers can be defined by a single image, stating that: "Those were the heady, early days of ‘controvassy’, when the age-old business of shaming footballers was really only beginning to sort itself out into an industry. We can only imagine what might have replaced the white suits in our minds had there been smartphones loose on Merseyside."
The Spice Boys of Liverpool have been listed alongside some of the most widely known scandal hit footballers in the history of world football, in a list of the Top 50 Most Controversial Players of All Time.
In recent times, the term has become a conjectural phrase associated with humour today, rather than pejorative innuendo, and has even seen fans of the popular social networking site Facebook, launch an application for it.
In 2014, Jason McAteer appeared (to great laughter) on BeIN Sports' coverage of the 2014 FA Cup Final in his white suit from 1996.
In 2015, exactly 20 years from whence the term was first coined, several journalists and writers examined the overall significance of the sociological, psychological and prescience of the Spice Boys' phenomenon and its impact as an emblematic marker of the shifting sands in the game of English football. Arguments were made as to whether, on reflection, 20 years on, the label was indeed too simplistic or too harsh. Simon Hughes published a book that year titled, "Men in White Suits: The Players' stories", and examined the issues from a less opined; more matter of fact approach, stating that no matter whether you agreed with the term or felt it was harsh, the white suits had become a symbol; "an image that will forever be associated with Liverpool FC in the 1990s." On the Official Liverpool Football Club website, it also states that Roy Evans accepted the label, albeit reluctantly.
Meanwhile, an article that same year (2015) by Rob Smyth in The Guardian (adapted from The Blizzard) received rave reviews, and examined the two sides to the story - stating that: "while it does contain an essential truth about the fundamental differences between the sides (Liverpool's Spice Boys and Manchester United's Class of 92), it is also a little simplistic. The undeniable greatness of The Class of 92 needs little further exploration, but the story of that Liverpool side is more complex than the received wisdom would suggest. There are multiple interpretations of that era, one of which is that most of the players and the manager Roy Evans should be allowed to embrace and celebrate some of the happiest memories of their life without them being compromised by the phrase ‘Spice Boys’."