Spice Boys (footballers)

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The Spice Boys was a media pejorative used to describe a group of high-profile Liverpool F.C. footballers in the mid-late 1990s, typically Jamie Redknapp, David James, Steve McManaman,[1] Robbie Fowler and Jason McAteer.,[2] but occasionally team-mates such as Stan Collymore and Paul Ince. The name was a play on the Spice Girls, an all-girl band extremely popular at the same time and famed for their ‘Girl Power’ persona.


The term ‘Spice Boys’ was coined by then Daily Mail journalist Neil Harman in March 1997 following (unfounded) tabloid rumours that Fowler was dating Spice Girl Baby Spice (Emma Bunton).[3][4] In addition Spice Girls manager Simon Fuller also managed McManaman.[4] Shortly after Harman first used the phrase, it was used by The Independent to describe Manchester United in a report on a Manchester United home match against Sheffield Wednesday attended by the Spice Girls' Melanie Chisholm and Victoria Adams, where the latter first met her future husband David Beckham:[4] However the term soon became popularly used in the media in relation to Liverpool, and was largely used disparagingly in reference to attention-grabbing behaviour and lavish lifestyles of the players – in contrast to the fortunes of Liverpool F.C., which were in decline following a peak in the 1980s. Various media outlets used the term to highlight the players' perceived focus on partying, sports cars and fame and hairstyles rather than football, making as the Daily Mail described, "inroads in the pages of glossy magazines [rather] than in the league table."[5] One of Liverpool's players at the time, Neil Ruddock, later noted: "We were the first players to get big money, Porsches and Ferraris and get page three birds into bed... We rewrote football history, really. It was great fun, looking back".[4]

In the late 1990s, the influx of television and marketing revenue from the newly revamped and globally marketed FA Premier League saw footballers’ wages soar. Photogenic players such as Jamie Redknapp and Ryan Giggs emerged as merchandising and mass-marketed ‘poster boys’ of the English game, with many players landing high-profile product endorsement contracts, such as Jason McAteer’s with Head & Shoulders, while David James was signed up as an Armani underwear model in 1997[6][7] and Redknapp wrote a column for pop music magazine Smash Hits.[4] With the fame of Premier League footballers reaching unprecedented levels,[8] criticism of the perceived underachievement of the Liverpool squad soon followed. The Daily Telegraph later described the ‘Spice Boys’ as a "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."[9]

The exact membership of the group has been contested: the term has been described as "a label that is used to chastise pretty much everyone at the club at the time except (John) Barnes, (Ian) Rush and Mark Wright, yet the level of culpability on and off the field varied wildly". According to McManaman, "the Spice Boys at one time consisted of eight or nine players and the press just used to change the personnel as they fancied". Most of the Liverpool players of the time used the term in relation to a number of players mostly originally from the South of England who used to regularly go to London for a night out after matches: according to Fowler, the core members were Redknapp, Ruddock, Phil Babb, John Scales and James, with Michael Thomas, McAteer, Mark Kennedy and Collymore joining them occasionally. However Dominic Matteo denied that he and Ruddock were part of the group as they preferred to socialise in Liverpool - although he did describe "a typical night involv(ing) sinking 20-25 pints of Guinness, a bottle of port between us and a few shots", followed by a champagne breakfast and another 12-hour drinking session the following day. Likewise, despite Redknapp's association with the label, Barnes described him as "a manager’s dream. He lives, breathes and sleeps football".[4]


Several incidents around the behaviour of the so-called Spice Boys generated major media attention, notably the squad’s decision to wear matching cream Armani suits to the 1996 FA Cup Final - a game they went on to lose to key rivals Manchester United.[10] Robbie Fowler told the Daily Mirror in 2008 that "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. "[11] Due to his modelling work for Armani, David James was tasked by club captain John Barnes to obtain blue suits from the Italian fashion house: however James was only able to get cream suits as he was told that was all they had in stock. According to the Manchester United squad, their opponents' suits were the subject of ridicule in the dressing room: in his autobiography, Ryan Giggs recalled that "our attitude was: Who the hell do they think they are, poncing around like John Travolta?", whilst Alex Ferguson told his team before them match that they should "keep playing the ball around their area... because David James will probably be waving at Giorgio Armani up in the directors’ box". After the loss the Liverpool players' choice of clothing was the subject of criticism by the media, with Brian Reade describing the team as "a shower of narcissists" in his book 43 Years with the Same Bird.[4]

McManaman and Fowler were also associated with the controversial "dentist's chair" story prior to Euro 1996;[12] and the trashing of a Cathay Pacific flight cabin with Paul Gascoigne.[13] an incident they publicly played up at the tournament with an orchestrated goal celebration. Rumours of a controversial 1998 Christmas party also filled the press.[14][15][16]

Decline of use[edit]

Following the departure of Liverpool manager Roy Evans in 1998, with his co-manager Gérard Houllier taking full charge, the majority of the Spice Boy players were slowly transferred out of the squad or put under greater pressure to perform, described by the Daily Mail as "dragging Liverpool's Spice Boys out of the nightclubs and into the realities of modern football".[17] As such the term gradually declined in media use, although was briefly revived when, in 2004, several of the ex-Liverpool team were reunited at Manchester City FC, under Kevin Keegan.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "LIFE'S TOUGH BEING THE KOP'S SPICE BOY! SAYS STEVE MCMANAMAN. The Mirror (London, England)". Highbeam.com. August 15, 1997. Retrieved 2012-06-14. 
  2. ^ "James suited to dressing down for 'Spice Boys' reunion party". The Independent. London. [dead link]
  3. ^ "Football: McAteer: I was never a Spice Boy but Robbie Fowler could have been. He would be Ugly Spice!; Now and then. - Free Online Library". Thefreelibrary.com. Retrieved 2012-06-14. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Smyth, Rob (22 October 2015). "Manchester United 2-2 Liverpool: the Class of 92, Spice Boys and Cantona's return". theguardian.com. Retrieved 27 August 2016. 
  5. ^ Williamson, Laura (21 January 2009). "Spurs' precious Bent and Bentley aren't on his own: Sportsmail's guide to football's luvvies". Daily Mail. Associated Newspapers. Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  6. ^ Burt, Jason (1 October 2005). "Jason McAteer Management the next big stage for the Spice Boy who had to stop being a clown". The Independent on Sunday. Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  7. ^ Moore, Glenn (17 May 2008). "Spice Boy days distant memory for James". Irish Independent. Independent News & Media. Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  8. ^ "How football became the new rock'n'roll - Rock'n'Goal Week". FourFourTwo. 2009-04-22. Retrieved 2012-06-14. 
  9. ^ Malam, Colin (24 November 2002). "Spice Boys are dancing to a new tune". Daily Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  10. ^ Moore, Glenn (2008-05-17). "James suited to dressing down for 'Spice Boys' reunion party - FA & League Cups - Football". The Independent. Retrieved 2012-06-14. 
  11. ^ James Nursery (2008-05-14). "Robbie Fowler tells David James: I blame you for the cream suits - Mirror Online". Mirror.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-06-14. 
  12. ^ What to do when you stick it away... "The dentist's chair - The best (and worst) goal celebrations of all time - Pictures - Sport". Virgin Media. Retrieved 2012-06-14. 
  13. ^ David Davies (2008-10-01). "It always ends in tears... David Davies on England's beleaguered bosses | Mail Online". Dailymail.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-06-14. 
  14. ^ "Why office Christmas parties are out of favour". The Independent. 2005-11-01. Retrieved 2012-06-14. 
  15. ^ Martin, Ali (2008-02-06). "Fab will end era of Spice Boys". The Sun. Retrieved 2012-06-14. 
  16. ^ "The 10 worst examples of footballers behaving badly". Observer.guardian.co.uk. 2011-02-09. Retrieved 2012-06-14. 
  17. ^ "Football: Liverpool's road to treble cup-winning glory". Daily Mail. 2014-04-19.