Peter Crouch retires: "Thankfully I stuck it out at Liverpool. At first I wanted to leave as fast as possible..."
It’s baffling to think there was a time when Peter Crouch was not universally loved, but the striker – who has finally called time on a terrific career at the age of 38 – had to work hard to shatter misconceptions... not to mention earn the right to play at the highest level.
We spoke to the beanpole frontman about life across his array of clubs for our January 2018 issue – and of course, he didn't disappoint...
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.
- 1998-2000 Tottenham
- 2000 Dulwich Hamlet (loan)
- 2000 IFK Hassleholm (loan)
- 2000-01 QPR
- 2001-02 Portsmouth
- 2002-04 Aston Villa
- 2003 Norwich (loan)
- 2004-05 Southampton
- 2005-08 Liverpool
- 2008-09 Portsmouth
- 2009-11 Tottenham
- 2011- Stoke
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 gone either way. Paul Sturrock signed me but then got sacked. Steve Wigley came in and wasn’t playing me much.
But then Harry Redknapp arrived, James Beattie was sold and suddenly Kevin Phillips and me were the two strikers up front. Harry gave me loads of confidence and I went out and got 13 goals in the second half of the season. That was when I felt I had arrived in the Premier League, and I got called up by England that summer too.
You didn’t score in any of your first 18 matches for Liverpool after signing for £7 million in 2005. How tough a period was that? What did Rafa Benitez say?
Natasha Woodford, via Facebook
Yeah, I went through a little barren spell – well, quite a big barren spell [laughs] – and I really just wanted to head back to Southampton as fast as possible. I was thinking, ‘What have I done?’ Thankfully I stuck it out. The manager wanted me to do different things to what I was used to. I was doing them and working really hard, but I was trying to score that goal while playing a lot deeper. It got to the stage where I was saying to myself, ‘I’m going to have to start being a bit more selfish,’ so I played higher up the pitch... perhaps against the manager’s wishes.
I finally started to score a few goals and the fans wanted me in the team more, though the manager wanted me in the team less! That was possibly where we clashed a little bit, but I’ve got nothing bad to say about Rafa. He was first class.
What was it like to be on the pitch for ‘The Gerrard Final’ in 2006? Were you always confident that Liverpool would get back into the game, despite going 2-0 down against West Ham so early?
Andy Greenhalgh, via Facebook
Firstly, I had a goal disallowed that was actually onside, so let’s just get that one in there quickly! West Ham and [manager] Alan Pardew had been doing these dances after games, so our team talk at half-time was more or less, ‘We can’t see them all dancing around the cup!’
Stevie won us the game, obviously. He scored two fantastic goals to get us back in it and force extra time. I do look at the medal sometimes and just think, ‘Maybe I should have given it to Stevie!’
There was lots of scepticism when you first got into the England squad. Why was that, and how good did it feel to prove the doubters wrong by scoring 22 times in your international career?
Freddie Tomlinson, via Twitter
It sounds good when you say it like that. I’ve had that my whole career. When I was first starting out fans looked at me and would say, ‘How can he play football?’ I can remember coming on for England at Old Trafford against Poland [in October 2005] and getting booed by the fans. That was quite tough.
At times, there has been a lazy perception that if you play me then you have to play long ball, but over time I have proved that there’s much more to my game than that. I’ve had to work a lot harder, as fans had this perception of me before they’d seen me play. I think David O’Leary wasn’t picking me on the basis of my appearance rather than my ability. I think that I warranted a place in the team near the end of my Villa career before joining Southampton.
How did the robot go down at David Beckham’s digs before the World Cup? Which song were you dancing to and when did those moves last come out?
Jennifer Blake, via Facebook
They still come out every now and again, yeah [laughs]. I can’t remember what song it was back then, but it went down pretty well, which was why it went on to become the celebration.
I think ITV or someone were filming at the party, and when it went out all the lads messaged me saying, “Did you see it? You have got to start doing it as a goal celebration!”
Why did you grab onto Brett Sancho’s dreadlocks to score against Trinidad & Tobago at the World Cup when you were about 2ft taller than the bloke?
Rory Allen, via Facebook
It was like a natural movement. I didn’t even know I’d done it until I saw all the photographs afterwards. When you’re challenging for an aerial ball you’re just trying everything to get above your man.
I honestly didn’t realise I’d done it, but obviously it’s bad when you see it back. He didn’t say anything after the game, but since then Kenwyne Jones has told me I wasn’t particularly well liked over in Trinidad, so I haven’t holidayed there!
Crouchy, do your feet really stick out of bed? And if so, do you wear socks?
Sadie Franklin, via Twitter
They do stick out of hotel beds, yes, and I’ve been able to get an 8ft bed into the house. But actually, because I’ve been so used to it my whole life, I still have to pull the duvet up a little bit and get them out. They have to be out nowadays, even though they fit. Force of habit, I suppose.
Did you reckon you should have come on sooner during the 2007 Champions League Final in Athens, especially as you had an almost immediate impact?
Jack Harris, via email
I’d say my biggest regret in football was not starting that game. I felt I should’ve been in the team. There was myself and Craig Bellamy on the subs’ bench, with Dirk Kuyt up front on his own. I’ve looked at the Milan team and it was almost the same as 2005, but just older.
I thought that if we attacked them, we could hurt them, but we didn’t really go for it and maybe played into their hands a bit. I’d scored a load of goals that season in the Champions League and played in pretty much every game, so not getting picked to start the final was devastating for me.
Dirk Kuyt claimed you almost ran him over at a go-kart track in a One-on-One interview with FFT. What is your side of the story – did that really happen?!
Greg Vaughn, London
That happened just before the Champions League final. We were all at a training camp in Portugal and went to a go-karting track. I’d pulled into the pits and realised my brakes weren’t working. I saw Xabi Alonso and Dirk Kuyt standing there, knew I would hit one of them and thought, ‘Who’s the most valuable?’
So, I swerved into Kuyt and, credit to him, he jumped out of the way. I pulled back out onto the track, panicked and jumped out. The kart hit the wall and then burst into flames. I have no idea if it was a factor in Rafa’s team selection ahead of the final...
Do you think you were harshly treated by referees in European matches and internationals? It seemed every time the ball went near you, the ref blew...
Shaun Sawyer, via Facebook
That was something I had to adjust to when I signed for Liverpool and first got a taste of the Champions League – and I found it really difficult. The referees in England were more lenient with me and in Europe it seemed like they were just blowing up for everything.
Apparently at the 2006 World Cup, all the referees had a meeting about me and said: “You have to watch out for Peter Crouch – he does this and that with his arms.” So I had to adapt. There’s not much point being on the pitch if you just give free-kicks away.
Which was more difficult: playing for Southampton after you’d played for Portsmouth, or going back to Pompey having played for Saints in between?
Leo Howard, via Facebook
I think signing for Southampton having been with Portsmouth. I’d made a name for myself at Liverpool and was playing for England by the time I went back to Portsmouth for a second time, so I think they thought it was a good signing. But joining Southampton after being a bit of a failure at Aston Villa... that was tough. I was booed by my own fans in my first match. I had to show a bit of character to win them all over, and thankfully I did.
You were in the Portsmouth side that nearly defeated Milan in a 2008 UEFA Cup clash. How gutted were you when Pippo Inzaghi levelled in injury time? And given what’s gone on at Pompey since then, is it mad to think you were pushing European greats to the wire?
Darren Walters, Fareham
Yeah, it was frustrating, as we had them beat – I think the fans would probably still say it was one of their greatest ever moments. We absolutely battered Milan at Fratton Park that night and that’s not something you can take lightly. It was only when they brought Ronaldinho off the bench and he scored an incredible free-kick that they got back in the game.
You played under Harry Redknapp at three clubs – Spurs, Southampton and Pompey. Could he mix it in the Premier League now, given he’s so old school?
Lloyd Irwin, via Twitter
People do Harry a disservice when they say that. People say he’s old school, but it’s only because he’s that little bit older. He certainly moved with the times and adapted – you don’t last that long in the Premier League if you aren’t able to. He’s always adapted to whatever players he’s had at the club and I think his ability to keep doing it is sometimes overlooked.
Did you appreciate the significance of the header you scored for Tottenham at Manchester City [in May 2010] that meant they clinched fourth spot and qualified for the Champions League?
Alex Richards, Durham
Yeah, of course. It had been a long time since Spurs had played in the European Cup, and that was the goal that got us back there. We’d had a brilliant season and deserved to get there as well.
It was a great performance and, if I was being honest, that moment – scoring the goal and running behind to celebrate – was probably the best feeling I’ve ever had on a football pitch, seeing all the players celebrating and the fans’ faces. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an away end erupt like that one did, and knowing my goal had done it was a really special feeling.
Be honest: Did you think you’d messed up that chance to score against Milan in the 2010/11 Champions League last 16 first leg at San Siro? The ball only just crept inside the post!
Kris Grant, via Twitter
No, I knew exactly what I was doing... To be honest, Aaron Lennon had put it on a plate for me. He beat two men and cut it back brilliantly. I knew the keeper was out of position, so I thought I’d just get it as close to the bottom corner as I could. It went a little too close to the post for my heart, maybe, but it was a great feeling to see it creep in. To go to the San Siro and win with the team they had – Nesta, Gattuso, Ibrahimovic, great players – was a real achievement.
In the two years you were back at Spurs, Gareth Bale went from a fringe player to one of Europe’s best – did you see that coming?
Rickie Cockburn, via Facebook
Yeah, we honestly did all see it coming. Gareth was usually playing left-back at first, and it was only when he was pushed further forward that you could see what he was capable of. But even back then he would be the best player in training every single day.
The way I would often explain it to people is that it was like if Cristiano Ronaldo had been told to play right-back: he’s going be to be amazing going forward but he’ll get exposed at the back. The defensive frailties played on Gareth’s mind quite a bit, and it was only when he was free of that stuff that he was suddenly able to express himself in the attacking third of the pitch.
It’s all been a natural progression. Seeing him win those Champions Leagues titles at Real Madrid hasn’t been a huge surprise to me.
What was Benoit Assou-Ekotto like at Spurs? He came across a bit strange in interviews, but was it all for show?
Louise Paine, via Facebook
I wouldn’t know where to start with him! You could do a whole documentary on Benoit. He was very, er, different. He hated playing football, even though he was so good at it. One time, I was sat in the players’ lounge about an hour-and-a-half before kick-off, and he came over asking which team we were playing that day.
I told him who it was and he just replied, ‘Oh, right’, and went straight back to eating his croissant and drinking his hot chocolate. He was a bit strange. He would drive these weird cars to training every day and wouldn’t ever do a warm-down. He was a diva!
[FFT: There was a rumour he was going to go into porn…] Really? Well I’d say he’s got all of the attributes, to be fair…
After seeing red within 15 minutes of Tottenham’s Champions League last eight tie at Real Madrid in 2011, how annoyed were you with the way that Marcelo celebrated? Did you take any satisfaction from seeing the Brazilian have a stinker at Wembley last month?
Clinton Mitchell, via Facebook
There was a little bit of pleasure there, yeah. It was obviously my fault – maybe I was a bit naive. I was probably a bit over-excited to be playing inside the Bernabeu that night and was too eager to make a quick impression.
For the first yellow card, [Sergio] Ramos hit the deck quite easily, though it was a foul. Then Marcelo just did the exact same thing, really. Obviously he realised the match was pretty much done there and then so he started to celebrate while he was still sat on the ground, which was very frustrating. But it was totally my fault.
Do you remember seeing Harry Kane much in the Tottenham youth team? Did you have any idea that he would go on to become such a great striker?
Joanna Alexander, Essex
Well, I taught him everything he knows, so I knew he was going to be quite good! In all honesty, though, we saw him training quite often back then and I don’t think anyone would’ve said he’d be getting 25-30 Premier League goals every season. He has improved year on year and now he’s one of, if not the, best in the Premier League – he’s incredible. We did a lot of work together when I was at Spurs and you could see that he was hungry and had great desire to learn and get better.
Is your goal for Stoke at home to Manchester City [in March 2012] the best in your career? You’ve scored a few belters.
Guy Owen, via Facebook
I think so. That scissor-kick for Liverpool in the match against Galatasaray [in 2006] plus the overhead-kick for Portsmouth against Stoke [in 2008] were really good too, but I think for one moment when everything came together, the Man City goal was the best.
I had actually tried it against Blackburn a few weeks before. The ball dropped to me and I tried to pop it up and volley it, but I didn’t catch it right and the keeper saved it. But I thought, ‘I’ll try that again’ and sure enough I got another chance against City. I tried to pop it up again – I always feel like I’m better striking the ball on the volley than off the floor. You don’t catch them like that every day, so it was great to watch it flying in the net.
How hard was it to go through a spell a couple of years ago when you didn’t play much? Did you think your career was nearing its end, and how did you fight your way back into contention?
Aaron Wade, via Twitter
There have been a couple of periods at Stoke when I’ve not been playing much. Sometimes a club will try to find some replacements, but I just make sure I’m ready to play if they don’t work out. I’ve knocked on the manager’s door a few times, but I’ll never go in shouting and screaming when I’m not being selected.
I always want to be involved, but I also want the team to do well. When I was at Liverpool and Fernando Torres came to the club, I couldn’t really bang down the door because he was scoring goals every week. But when I can see people being picked ahead of me and I feel like I can offer more, that’s quite frustrating.
Do you regret taking yourself off the Euro 2012 standby list? With the injuries they had ahead of the finals you may have been called upon for one last England hurrah...
Stuart Steelyard, via Facebook
I was frustrated – I’d just had a great season and been in all the England squads, then [Roy] Hodgson wanted me to come along and train for a few days, and then go home again. I felt like I’d warranted a bit more respect than that. I’m not the type of person to turn down my country, but I felt that was a bit of a kick in the teeth.
Do you think you will ever go into management once you hang up your boots? What type of gaffer do you think you would be?
Gareth Jackson, London
Yeah, I’m doing my A Licence now and really enjoying it. I don’t know whether I’d be a manager or a coach, or at what level, but I would like to be a manager.
I’ve played under many great managers so I’d take a little bit from each of them, although there’s definitely a few things I’d do different.
[FFT: Will you be a teacup chucker?] There are times for that. Some players need kicking up the arse; some need an arm around the shoulder – I’ve seen some managers get that wrong...
Seriously, if you hadn’t become a pro footballer, what would you have been?
Junior Leoes, via Facebook
I’d like to think I would’ve had options... maybe. But seriously, I think I’d have worked in advertising with my dad.
While you're here, why not take advantage of our brilliant subscribers' offer? Get 5 issues of the world's greatest football magazine for £5 – the game's greatest stories and finest journalism direct to your door for less than a pint in London. Cheers!