One-on-one: Peter Crouch talks robots, boo-boys and go-karts
WHAT’S IT LIKE BEING BOOED FOR ENGLAND? IS IT TRUE HE NEARLY KILLED DIRK KUYT? DO HIS FEET REALLY STICK OUT OF BED?
It’s baffling to think there was a time when Peter Crouch was not universally loved, but the man we’re crowning our People’s Champion of 2017 has had to work hard to shatter misconceptions – not to mention earn the right to play at the highest level.
Fortunately, 2017 has been a vintage year for Crouchy. Not only has he forced his way back into contention at Stoke at the of age 36, he’s also scored his 100th Premier League goal and been given his own radio show, briefly. Music is clearly a big passion, as he’s spent the evening before our chat at a Liam Gallagher gig in east London, although he’s willing to admit his guilty pleasure is Jimmy Nail. “We’ve cleared many an after-party with Crocodile Shoes,” he laughs. Not so easy to do the robot to that one... You were a Chelsea ball boy as a kid – do you remember any of the games? Claire Harrison, via Facebook I remember Dennis Wise coming over to abuse me for not throwing the ball back fast enough, and then Chelsea turning the game around and Dennis giving me a right rollicking for throwing it back too quickly! So I probably wasn’t the best ball boy in the world, although it was a great experience to be so close to the action.
How did you did you find being loaned from Spurs to Dulwich Hamlet? What was it like for a kid from a big Premier League academy to suddenly be taking on physical non-league centre backs? Seb Pring, via Twitter That was a massive culture shock. I was at Spurs, training with the reserves, and it seemed I had so many players ahead of me in the pecking order that I wasn’t going to get a game. 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.
Do you ever get annoyed with people asking you questions about being tall? Alan Wooldridge, via Facebook [Laughs] Well, yeah, obviously I’ve had that for my whole life. I’ve actually had some cards printed up answering all the usual suspects - ‘What’s the weather like up there? Why didn’t you choose to play basketball?’ - and at the bottom it says: ‘I’m glad we’ve had this conversation’. I must get that about three times a day.
What was it like playing with Robert Prosinecki at Portsmouth and is it true he would smoke 20 cigarettes a day? Rich Cook, via Facebook Playing with him was amazing. He was a real character, but what a player. He didn’t really move very much, although he didn’t need to. I think I scored about 19 goals that season and he put pretty much every single one on a plate for me. He didn’t speak much, but you knew he understood far more than he was letting on. You could speak to him one-on-one and he’d answer in perfect English, but as soon as you told him to track back he would reply: “I don’t understand.” He’d smoke before the game, at half-time in the showers and after the game as well. Red Marlboros, too. The real heavy stuff.
You had a few good moments at Aston Villa, though it never quite worked out. What went wrong, and was it difficult when the supporters got on your back? Jamie Berger, Worcester I wouldn’t say the Villa fans got on my back, really. In the first full season it was tough. I was coming up against players like Tony Adams and Sol Campbell, and I was the same sort of height that I am now but about three stone lighter. I can still remember making my home debut for Villa against Newcastle, looking down the other end, seeing Alan Shearer and thinking I was a million miles away from the level that he was at. I wasn’t really ready for the top flight then, but Graham Taylor really believed in me. Then David O’leary came in and didn’t fancy me at all. I went on loan to Norwich and came back brimming with confidence, but still didn’t play regularly – I had to move on.
Your stock was quite low upon arriving at Southampton in 2004, but you had a pretty good season despite the team finishing bottom of the league. Would you say it was a career turning point? Paul Woollard, Winchester Yeah, that season was massive for me. I went there and my career could have