Peter Crouch, the Affable Beanpole who Won over Fans Everywhere
With the possible exception of Brent Sancho, the Trinidad and Tobago defender whose dreadlocks he grabbed when leaping to score a header for England in the 2006 World Cup, no one in football can have anything but happy memories of the remarkable career of Peter Crouch.
The 38-year-old striker who on Friday announced his retirement played for a lot of Premier League clubs – Tottenham, Portsmouth, Aston Villa, Liverpool, Stoke and Burnley among them – and managed the not inconsiderable feat of remaining popular wherever he went. Partly this was due to his affable disposition, partly to his distinctive physique and partly to his surprisingly effective impact and evident enthusiasm for the game. Mostly, however, Crouch was admired up and down the country for making the absolute best of an unusual skill-set.
No one could ever describe him as the complete footballer, just as no one designing a player from scratch would come up with a 6ft 7in beanpole, but Crouch cheerfully overcame preconceptions and prejudices to win the admiration of a nation. As he has just said, if someone had told him at the start of his career he would go on to win 42 caps for England and play in a Champions League final for Liverpool he would have assumed they were bonkers. Crouch did all that and more, yet crucially retained his sense of humor and proportion.
An ability to poke fun at himself was evident quite early in his career and that lightness of touch served Crouch well towards the end of his playing career, helping him branch out into media work and showcase his wit and repartee via books and a successful podcast. Just as his 20-year playing career brought him very few enemies, his articulacy and accessibility in projects away from the pitch won him even more friends and followers.
Most successful footballers are loved by their own fans and hated or feared by supporters of opposing teams. Crouch has an everyman appeal that borders on the unique. Even though he barely got a kick at Burnley in the last part of last season, the home fans were as pleased to see him as Stoke had been sorry to lose him. There is always a feeling with the very best footballers that it is a privilege to see them in the flesh because one may never see their like again, and perhaps the highest compliment to pay to Crouch is that though he is clearly not in the very top echelon of players this country has produced the same sort of affection followed him around.
He first came to prominence at Queens Park Rangers in the 2000-01 season, after two years at Spurs without a senior game. A combination of Crouch’s height and Loftus Road’s compactness meant the forward was always going to get noticed, and after 10 goals in 42 appearances he was soon en route to the Premier League with Aston Villa via a season with Portsmouth.
Harry Redknapp took him back to the south coast for a season with Southampton before European champions Liverpool came calling, and though Crouch was not an unmitigated success in his three years at Anfield the chant “He’s big, he’s red, his feet stick out the bed” suited him down to the ground. Two more seasons at Portsmouth and three at Tottenham followed, with Crouch proud of scoring the goal against Manchester City that put Spurs into the Champions League for the first time, before he found regular football in his 30s at Stoke and stayed for eight years.
His international career was arguably more famous for the robot dance he introduced as a celebration after scoring a hat-trick in a friendly against Jamaica than any solid achievement with England, though his goalscoring record stands up to scrutiny even if some of his attempts at overhead shots in Germany in 2006 did not go as well as the stunner he scored for Liverpool against Galatasaray the following season. His 22 goals in 42 England appearances amounts to a fraction better than a goal every other game, a 0.52% strike rate that puts him marginally ahead of Alan Shearer, Bobby Charlton and Wayne Rooney.
That is not bad for a player initially unable to make his mark at Tottenham. “When I was a trainee 17-year-old there were 10 forwards blocking my route to the first team,” he said. “They loaned me out to Dulwich Hamlet and then to IFK Hässleholm in Sweden. It wasn’t the most promising start, let’s be honest. You would not take odds on me making it then.”
The Guardian Sport