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12th Jul 2019

In tribute to Peter Crouch, a daddy long legs in ballet shoes

Wayne Farry

‘Great touch for a big man’

Peter Crouch’s career as a professional footballer has come to an end at the tender age of 38 this week.

20 years, 11 clubs and one loan spell in Sweden after signing his first professional contract with Tottenham Hotspur, the enigmatic striker has decided to hang up his boots, presumably somewhere very high up, like a tree or a street lamp.

His retirement doesn’t come as a shock to anyone. In the last year Crouch has played fewer and fewer games as his playing career has winded down and his media commitments have increased, with a national newspaper column and a podcast with the BBC.

His bubbly personality and openness and humour in talking about football – as well as making fun of himself – make him an extremely likeable figure.

Clips from his show regularly go viral, and comments from his column are often syndicated by media publications in the United Kingdom. Simply put, people want to hear what he has to say.

One inadvertent consequence of this growth in his media persona however is that, for some reason, it has sort of made people forget just how good he was at football.

Let us establish at first, that this is a man who – on the surface – should probably not be able to play football. He is 6 foot 7: taller than the average female ostrich, and throughout his career avoided the modern footballing trend of cultivating mass upon his body.

He should, probably, fall over whenever he moves – as if permanently walking on earthquake-shaken ground. But he doesn’t.

Instead, he moves with a surprising amount of grace, marauding around the pitch like a very tall version of a table football player; always strafing, elbows always out.

His first experience of first-team football came at Dulwich Hamlet, before moving on loan to Sweden with IFK Hässleholm.

An inauspicious start, it’s fair to say, but one that led him to Queen’s Park Rangers in the 2000. One season at Loftus Road would attract the attention of Portsmouth, then just a season away from reaching the Premier League for the first time.

They would do that, thanks in no small part to Crouch’s 18 league goals. Things then got a little tricky though, and Crouch would find himself at Pompey’s rivals Southampton, via a loan spell at Norwich.

This would be where things started getting exciting for Crouchy, despite Southampton’s relegation from the Premier League in his solitary season at the club.

He scored 12 Premier League goals that season, gaining him the attention of both his country and a club called Liverpool.

Eyebrows were raised when Liverpool signed on a four-year deal for a fee of £7 million, eyebrows which only went higher after he went 19 games – four months and 24 hours of football – without a goal.

Maybe he was just a gangly, uncoordinated big man, more cumbersome than accomplished. Had Twitter been around, weirdos everywhere would’ve called him a fraud from their accounts called things like @Cheryouology and @HenchozEffect.

But it all fell into place with a goal – originally ruled as an own goal – against Wigan Athletic, and it would be at Liverpool where would prove that he was far more than the cliche of ‘good touch for a big man’ which followed him everywhere.

Yes, Crouch was a big man. He is a big man, very big in fact. But that was not a negative, preventing him from being able to move around in an adept manner like his more child-sized teammates.

No, instead it was a secret weapon; a smokescreen to hide his other talents. The sight of Crouchy – standing there looming and limbs everywhere – concealed his qualities and, crucially, made opponents assume he wasn’t capable of more than being a very large handful.

It was this level of technical skill that allowed him to flourish at Anfield in a spell that saw him hand Liverpool their first FA Cup win over their rivals Manchester United since the Second World War ended.

He would also, of course, score that bicycle kick against Galatasaray in the Champions League. I mean, just watch it.

Perhaps the moment that best summed up Crouch’s time as a Liverpool player, and as a professional footballer in general, was the perfect hat-trick against Arsenal.

The first goal was a right-footed dive into the bottom corner, the second a soaring, floating header into the top corner, and the third was a thing of beauty.

A ball sent over by the legendary Jermaine Pennant bounces into the box. Crouch raises his foot, takes a touch and sends Sol Campbell out to Aldi. With Sol out of the way, Crouch flicks the ball onto his left foot with his right and places an unstoppable shot past Jens Lehmann.

Positional awareness, strength, skill and technique in one goal from one giant man to seal a perfect hat-trick; the sort of footballing achievement that many of the best to ever play have never come close to accomplishing.

Crouch would go onto play for Portsmouth (again), Tottenham (again), Stoke City (where he scored that stunning volley) and Burnley, but for many it was his time playing for Liverpool and England that will be the moments worth savouring the most.

It was in these times, whether it was setting up Steven Gerrard in the FA Cup final or becoming the first Englishman since silent movie era Dixie Dean to score 10 goals for England in calendar year, that Crouch proved what a player he was.

Underneath the jokes, beyond the robot dance, there was a player worth watching and one that, now, is worth remembering – a daddy long legs in ballet shoes who was better than anyone realised.