Hero of the week: The everyman and yet very special Peter Crouch

Date published: Friday 19th July 2019 1:04

Johnny chooses someone or something in football that deserves celebrating for what they’ve done this week…

 

Who’s this week’s hero, Johnny?
This week’s hero retired this week and is, almost uniquely for an English footballer, universally loved, despite having played for many, many clubs, some of them more than once. Tottenham Hotspur, Dulwich Hamlet, IFK Hässleholm, Queens Park Rangers, Portsmouth, Aston Villa, Norwich City, Southampton, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Tottenham Hotspur, Stoke City and Burnley.

Fair to say it took a little time to really get his career going, and there have been plenty of ups and downs along the way with purple patches following barren spells and periods when he warmed the bench more than he would have liked. He actually holds the record for most Premier League substitute appearances. But he was never short of suitors, which must have been in part for his goals, in part for his team contribution but also because every dressing room needs someone with a good attitude and strong work ethic.

His 6’7″ frame made him a most distinctive figure and he was renowned not just here but across Europe too. Retiring at 38 he leaves the stage with an excellent international goal scoring record of 22 goals in 42 games – his 0.52% strike rate that puts him slightly in front of Alan Shearer, Bobby Charlton and Wayne Rooney. He also holds the Premier League for headed goals, which is ironic really as it was often said that was a weaker part of his game and that his success was more down to having, in the cliched parlance irresistible for some pundits, even now, ‘good feet for a big man’.

He paid his dues in the early part of his career when at Spurs but unable to get a first-team game he was sent out on loan.

“David Pleat came to me with the idea of going on loan to Dulwich. I was a bit unsure at first, but going down there was probably one of the best things that I’ve done. It was an eye-opener – I had huge centre-halves kicking lumps out of me and it definitely toughened me up. I think in academies now, a lot of the young lads don’t want to do things like that – they think they’re playing in big games for the under-23s, but they aren’t really. The best schooling for me came during those loans at the start of my career. They gave me focus.”

He’s spoken well about the pressures of being the centre of attention and the abuse:

“When I first broke into the first team at QPR people judged me on my appearance. I’m the same size, and probably even skinnier than I am now. Although I make light of those things now, no teenager wants to go through these things. I had these hang-ups and I always used to cry. I used to cry at night when I was a kid of 14/15, [saying] ‘dad, why am I not the same as everyone else?’ Football fans can be very ruthless.”

This is the sort of story not told often enough. This is what we do to young people if we abuse them in the way that is so routine in football at all levels, and it is always excused in the name of banter. It is shameful and one of the reasons so many of us are happy to say we are totally anti-banter. Peter, on the other hand, seems so polite and well-mannered.

“The majority of opposition fans tend to be good-natured when I meet them. I don’t turn down photos or autographs and I’m never, ever rude. There is this aspect, though, that because we play football, some people believe they can treat us how they want or say what they want.”

He took part in this excellent documentary about men and mental health which even if you think the idea of a Royal Family is, to say it politely, very odd, is still well worth a watch.

Oh yeah, and he can score with a bloody great overhead kick.

Yeah, that’ll be Peter Crouch, then.

 

What have they done to deserve this then?
He’s retired!

“After a lot of deliberation this summer I have decided to retire from football. Our wonderful game has given me everything. I’m so thankful to everyone who helped me get there and to help me stay there for so long. It’s been an absolute dream come true.”

First and foremost, Crouchy gets Hero of the Week for quite simply being Crouchy. His retirement statement says much about the man. It has always looked exactly that for him: a dream come true. And I think, in a way, that is what we want to hear from a footballer. He is a man who is still, in part, in awe of what has happened to him.

In an era where the football business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, Peter has the one thing no riches can buy, the one thing no-one can fake, the one thing that you can’t learn: authenticity.

Throughout his career, he’s always been unfiltered and genuine. While fame and fortune have obviously shaped his life, nonetheless he still seems to be a man without side or pretension. Unlike some he doesn’t ooze greed and seems to have always kept his (enormous) feet on the ground via a great sense of humour and much self-deprecation. They were obviously his go-to tools for coping with bullies and abusers and it is ironic that these qualities, developed in harsh circumstances, that will serve him well in his post-playing career.

Somewhat more self-aware than the average player, in his later years he’s begun to develop a media career which most notably has seen the high-profile That Peter Crouch Podcast become, over two series, an absolute must-listen. Here we learned that footballers have their underwear provided by the club on match day and other such bizarre facts about the frankly insane world of top-flight football in England. Being on BBC Sounds has given it maximum exposure and they recently concluded the sophomore series with ‘Crouchfest’ (They were warned off using ‘Crouchella’ under legal advice fearing being sued by voracious lawyers for infringing on Coachella’s trademark. Yes, really! This is the shitfest called 2019).

I doubt any other footballer could have  been the centre of such a quite bizarre event but Crouchy, as ever, manages to combine looking a little embarrassed, shy and self-conscious with being absolutely amd massively up for it, what ‘it’ is, all the while wearing a look on his face which says “I can’t believe this is happening to me”. This is his unique winning combination and very much at the core of his appeal. If you haven’t watched it, watch the highlights here.

It’s been said he has that much coveted ’everyman’ status and while I can see why people say that, I don’t think it’s quite accurate. He’s a little too special to be an everyman, after all, he once did this.

 

And if we said “bloody hell, Crouchy, how on earth did you do that?”, he’d probably look a little bashful, laugh, shrug and say he had no idea.

Indeed, if more people were actually like Crouchy, the world would be a better place. What has always made Peter so appealing is that he’s obviously very, very good at football, unlike most of us, but has achieved this elite status whilst looking as angular and awkward as most of us actually are. That’s why we feel connected to him. It looks like football doesn’t come easily to him, in the same way it doesn’t to us, but somehow he’s harnessed innate ability, worked hard and made himself into a highly regarded international who has commanded many millions on the transfer market.

Even his trademark ‘robot’ dance was an expression of the exact same qualities. Always joyful and never annoying, he even had the good grace to put it to bed, knowing that these things can become rather stale if over done. Reviving it for his 100th Premier League goal was a typical well-judged move and ensured it lives on fondly in the collective memory.

Players or people in general who give off good vibes are in short enough supply for us to welcome with open arms those who do and Peter is very much one of those. Need some more? Here he is at the Isle of Wight Festival in 2018. Listen to the cheer he gets as he walks out, it’s probably bigger than some of the bands.

 

Anyone grumpy about it?
Literally no-one. But it wasn’t always this way. In 2006 England fan booed his introduction during a World Cup qualifier v Poland. Nice. This is what he recently said about that.

“One of my first England games at Old Trafford I was booed coming on, and my family were in the crowd,” said Crouch. “It was horrible, and I thought of my mum as I was coming on thinking she’s going to be crying her eyes out.”

Again, can we not think about the consequences of our actions? Where does our humanity go once we step inside a football ground? It’s a question we need to keep asking.

These days he’s a bit of a football national treasure but where was this respect when he deserved it playing for his country? Why was it necessary to shout “freak” at him, as many did or “does the circus know you’re here?” It’s not funny and it’s not acceptable. Here was a perfectly decent, hard-working talented lad being abused just for being tall. And that’s just horrible.

As he says, with sardonic acid in his latest book ‘How To Be A Footballer’: “No the weather isn’t different up here, thanks for asking.”

 

What was the media response?
There have been a lot of career retrospectives but in a way, his latest book provides all of that in itself. No-one tells stories about his football life better than Crouchy does. Indeed, in some ways he is an example of how someone with a story to tell and talent for telling it is bypassing the old mainstream media and feeding it directly to us. Newspaper interviews are now pretty much just regurgitating facts, figures and incidents which Peter has, one way or another already documented himself. Indeed, reading career appraisals this week offered nothing that I hadn’t heard Crouchy talk about himself from his times on loan in Sweden to his seven years at Stoke City.

Once upon a time, journalists were information gatekeepers who could unearth facts and do interviews with players and it would all be new to us as readers. Now, that rarely happens when the player is high profile. It is a very 2019 situation where quite often you know at least as much about the interviewee as the interviewer does.

 

What the people say
There’s an irresistible charm to our hero, so this naturally gladdens many a heart. It is very interesting how we take an individual to our collective bosom. It feels as though we really need to like someone, perhaps now more than ever, when not being perfect in the court of social media is proof that you are not merely imperfect, but the worst, most evil creature that was ever corporeally manifested itself on earth. In this context, Crouchy is cool water on our hot parched souls.

As tradition now dictates we start with a @4_4_haiku

Legs and potential
Stretched beyond expectation
Good feet for big man

I was at his home debut at Loftus Road back in 2000 – must have been among the first 15,000 people to think “great touch for a big man”

Not sure if someone mentioned it but the answer he gave to what would you have been if you weren’t a footballer was quality. Big man fired with “virgin”

Reading his book at the moment and it is a wonderful mash of his experiences under various subject headings. Hopefully more to come.

Despite the recent successes under Poch, his goal against Man City is still probably my favourite ever moment supporting spurs. It’s not a trophy but meant the world at the time. Great man, great player.

He’s is a talented, bright, self aware, self deprecating man, would there were many more in football. I especially like it when he is talking about his frugal things-small savings add up! Also the man who revealed footballers don’t even supply their own underpant

Genuinely seemed to understand how lucky he was to be good at football. Which is all we really want from players isn’t it?

Most awkward player I ever saw. A body, which does whatever it wants with little control from Peter and one of only 28 players scoring >100 goal in PL! He stood by goal during corner kick & as ball came, do some strange contortions which would result with ball in net. AWESOME player!

One of the funniest, oddest things I have ever seen is a sea of England fans all joyously doing that robot celebration. I have Crouch, who was joining in from his hotel window, to thank for this alternative perspective on the Reebok Army

His goal vs AC Milan is probably my favourite moment as a spurs fan. Sandro wins the ball, sprays it out to Lennon to cross for Crouchy to put us 1-0 up at the San Siro against a team we never should have beaten. That moment has only been eclipsed by Moura’s winner vs Ajax

Hugely talented, doesn’t take himself too seriously in an age when a lot do, sense of humour, will be overlooked in lists of England’s great footballers but has a goals/games ratio for his country better than most. Didn’t look like a footballer, but played like a champion.

A footballer who lived the dream and loved it..a smiling light in the age of corporate brand dullness

Not many players are universally liked but Crouch is definitely one of them, he seemed to play football like a fan, just happy to be out there and always came across as quite humble as well. The only time I have liked a dance celebration much better then what Sturridge did.

Goalscoring record for England is superb and doesn’t get the credit it deserves. His perfect hat trick against Arsenal lives long in the memory, as does his header against United in the cup and overhead goals against Galatasary and Bolton. Don’t know anyone with a bad word about him

He’s big, he’s Red, his feet stick out the bed – Peter Crouch, Peter Crouch.

He made us all feel like we could do sensational things. Those scissor kicks inspired many bruised hips and damaged egos on pitches around the world but everyone wanted to be like Crouchy! Unreal international goals rate, could have been more but he bemused foreign refs!

*That* volley was entirely meant. I know it’s cliche to say “good feet” etc but really, he was very technically gifted player.

Rarely can the phrase “good feet for a big man” have been more apt. I always thought his aerial abilities were inferior to his footballing skills. Underrated link up play, was so much more than you’d ever imagine a 6’7” striker to be. And just a top bloke. Loved him

Scorer of ridiculous goals, backed up by the absolute best in celebrations. Seems astonishingly likeable and funny. That Peter Crouch podcast is worth the license fee all on its own.

 

What does the future hold?
Right now, the Crouchy strong cards are less to do with analysis of football as a pundit and more as a raconteur. Indeed, I do remember him being on the sofa for a tournament, possibly in 2016, and he seemed to be neutered of his natural charm and wit in that environment. So I don’t see him being the next ex-pro super-analyst in the mould of his former teammate and excellent performer Danny Higginbotham. Of course, he may feel this is a route he wants to go down and will educate himself into it. But for some reason, I just can’t quite imagine him doing the homework that is essential now. The likes of Danny, Andy Hinchcliffe and many others have taken the real-time analysis of football to a new level and basically, with a few notable exceptions, you’ve now got to have serious broadcasting and analysis chops to get a gig.

I suppose the tricky thing for him is eventually he will run out of ‘my life in football’ stories after a couple of books and a few dozen podcasts. And then what? There is always the Freddie Flintoff route I suppose, which is to do a lot of reality shows on ITV4 or Sky 2 and then land a bigger gig on a channel that people actually watch. But that really doesn’t seem his thing and it would be a waste of his better talents.

There’s talk of him following his wife Abbie Clancy onto Strictly, and that isn’t hard to imagine as it isn’t as crass as some of the absolutely mindless dreck that passes for entertainment at the dusty end of the control box. But his talent is for humour, empathy and communication. I suspect this is because he’s a good listener and not entirely fuelled by the sort of ego that always wants to be mouthing off and shouting. So you’d hope he might go down the broadly football-related documentary route, making use of his intelligence as well as his insider knowledge to entertain and inform.

Whatever route he takes, I’m sure it won’t be too long before we see his self-effacing charm and hear his rather wheezy laugh again. Thanks for all the fun and the goals, Pete. It’s been a blast.

 

John Nicholson

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