The Spirit of Crouchy
Peter Crouch (2007) Walking Tall – My Story
I’ve always needed a book to pass the time on the daily bus journey. I have also needed something to take myself away and block out my mind on train trips when my carriage is bouncing to the sound of people’s mobile phone chats, passengers are rowing about their seat reservations, or heading for the loo as the train passes every signal box. For the last couple of weeks, I have been reading Peter Crouch’s autobiography that was released in 2007. The book was developed in collaboration with Sam Wallace of The Independent, and it is a decent book if you have not managed to get your hands on a copy.
When the book appeared on the shelves of the local bookshop, I can remember being totally unimpressed. A friend and myself were killing time by flicking the pages of the offering on the ‘new releases’ table. After one look at the front cover of Walking Tall: My Story, we slipped into a rant about Peter Crouch with particular reference to England’s underwhelming showing during the 2006 World Cup. We were resolute in believing that the words ‘Peter’ and ‘Crouch’ summed up everything that was wrong with English football at that particular moment in time. After a quick flick through the pictures, Walking Tall was thrown back on the table and we were out of the shop without a moment of thought.
I know that it was irrational to think like that about a single player. I had never met the guy. I could plead that we were still suffering misery after that particularly disappointing World Cup in Germany. I believe that Crouch was an easy target for our frustration during those laboured wins over Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago. Friends and colleagues were refused to accept that Crouch was anywhere near the international quality that we would expect from a player that wore the England shirt in the key football tournament that exists on planet earth.
My carping about Peter Crouch had not ended after that miserable quarterfinal defeat against Portugal that sent England packing from another World Cup. When Crouch was signed for Liverpool, I struggled to understand the reasoning behind the transfer. With no evidence to back up my predictions, I predicted that the marriage between Crouch and Liverpool was bound to end in tears.
Time passes for no one and at this turn of my thirtieth year, I have to accept that I have comprehensively failed to make it in the football world to full international honours, or even debuted in a club side that was anything other than a mundane school team. Crouch has achieved this dream and after reading Walking Tall, I have discovered that I have a few things in common with Crouch. Apart from the nice surprise that our birthdays are four days apart at the start of February, we have suffered for being tall for our age.
The six foot seven inches frame of Peter Crouch keeps on coming up as an issue in this book. Even the book title makes reference to Crouch’s build and it is admittedly difficult to think of many other footballers of that height who have reached the top levels of the Premiership as well as receive international honours. On many occasions, Crouch talks about some of the vicious ‘banter’ that he has received across the UK. Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium is singled out as a venue where Crouch caught the most vicious stick. Three pages are given over to the crazy incident of receiving a catcall of boos when Crouch played an England international at Old Trafford although it is unclear whether this criticism was due to Crouch’s height or assumptions about his playing ability.
I have read many of these books and not many players talk about the abuse that they receive from a crowd. A passing reference is made to the ‘banter’ of the fans but there is nothing much else. When certain players raise the issue today, it seems that the general response of the chattering public is that the player should possess the thickest of skins because he is on his multi million pound salary which should stop him from being so sensitive. Players do not want to admit that they are hurt by comments that they are ‘freaks.’
It is interesting that Crouch made a big effort throughout this book to assure his readers that the abuse never got to him apart from during a particular match at Gillingham at the start of his professional career. However, this assurance seems to be repeated in every single chapter, which suggests that it was not quite as easy for Crouch to block out the off-pitch ‘banter.’
Walking Tall seems to be a pretty vivid account in a similar way to the recent books associated with Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard. When I read thoughts like this, I could not help but think about the amount of abuse that I had showered on the heads of players down the years. In the case of Crouch, my previous abuse towards him is even more hypocritical considering that I was subjected to most of the same material. However, I have never had a mass group of people on my back for ninety minutes. It seems that harmless banter, which is common in most football grounds, tipped into something a bit more unpleasant on many occasions.
Despite the pointless and spiteful banter that had frequently occurred in Crouch’s playing career, Walking Tall provides more evidence about a certain something special at Liverpool Football Club. After reading this book, I was reminded about the large number of clubs that included Crouch in their team including Queens Park Rangers, Norwich City, Southampton and Dulwich Hamlet (after being shipped off by David Pleat during his Tottenham youth days.) However, Crouch talks about his Liverpool years with great pride despite good and frustrating times.
The whole book helped me reassess a player that possessed a fantastic touch of the ball, and could play to the highest of standards. Crouch was never just a target man, nor the sole reason that had become lodged in my mind, why England failed to end forty years of hurt in 1966. Why did I think anything else, and why did I jump on the anti Crouch bandwagon in the mid noughties?
If you enjoy football, you will always have opinions about footballers. Some players will excite you and some will force you to wonder what did the manager see when the trial took place. Walking Tall taught me that players do hear the abuse from across the stands and it can have a negative effect on the pitch. This book also taught me the maxim of a devout Liverpool fan to support their own whilst a match is taking place.
One of my favourite parts of this book concerned the struggles that Crouch faced when he was trying to score his first goal in a Liverpool shirt. After the prized goal is scored against Wigan Athletic at the start of December 2005, the weight is lifted off Crouch’s shoulders. One of the pictures in the middle of this book is a heart-warming shot of Carragher, Xabi Alonso and Steve Finnan celebrating with a joyful (if somewhat embarrassed) Crouch. The team ethic was so obvious in this picture and you sometimes wonder whether such a reaction could happen anywhere else other than at Anfield. People whether on or off the pitch were sharing in this spirit of ‘Crouchy.’