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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ex-QPR's Peter Crouch Autobiography 'Walking Tall'

[QPR will of course feature prominently in the book! Crouch is definitely one player that QPR fans have very warm feelings towards: Both for what he did in his year at his club, and for his-post QPR offer of support for the club]

"Walking Tall - By Peter Crouch" from Hodder & Stoughton
'Blurb' - He is 6ft 7in tall but Peter Crouch's height is not the only thing that makes the Liverpool and England striker different: he has a football story like no other player in the modern game. Crouch has risen from humble beginnings at non-league Dulwich Hamlet on loan, and a GBP60,000 transfer to Queens Park Rangers, to be an England striker and the first to score ten international goals in a calendar year. His career has not been the smooth journey from teen prodigy to Premiership star enjoyed by so many of his England team-mates. Booed by England fans in October 2005, Crouch had the same supporters on their feet with a hat-trick for his country eight months later.
"Walking Tall" is about a footballer who has always found himself under intense scrutiny - for the way he looks as much as his ability on the pitch.Crouch's story is also about his constant battle to win over the doubters. He talks about the managers who have backed him - as well as those who have written him off - and relives the pain of rejection at Aston Villa, contrasted with the elation of his GBP7 million transfer to Liverpool just one year later in the summer of 2005. Crouch was a key figure in England's 2006 World Cup campaign and in "Walking Tall" he talks about his famous robot dance as well as the goals and the disappointments of that summer in Germany. For Crouch, the journey continues under Rafael Benitez at Anfield and with Steve McClaren's England team. Funny, honest and open, "Walking Tall" is the story of an unlikely hero. Book Blurb


Table of Contents

Excerpt: "The Early Days" (with QPR references)


The Times - The tall guy
Liverpool and England’s Peter Crouch has fought hard to reach the summit of his sport. Damian Whitworth discovers how a middle-class boy with a quirky robot dance became one of the nation’s best-loved footballersDamian Whitworth

The surprising thing about Peter Crouch is how tall he is. That might sound odd, given that his considerable loftiness is the one thing everybody knows about him. But when you meet him in the flesh it still requires an effort of will not to gawp. Stumbling up the back-streets of Kentish Town in search of the studio where the interview is to take place, I am lost until, in the distance, a human landmark looms, leaning against a wall, having his picture taken by what appears to be a midget, but turns out to be a normal-sized photographer. I am 6ft 1in, but when I go to shake the landmark’s hand, I have to tilt my head back sharply, the way you do when sitting in the front row of the Odeon Leicester Square, in order to look at his face.

The inaptly named Crouch is full of surprises. The chief of these is that a man of his height and slim build should be a footballer at all, let alone a top-class footballer. He also has an untypical background for a professional footballer – he’s middle-class – and has had an unusual career studded with setbacks. In a macho world, he is refreshingly candid about the anxieties that beset players. He’s also a private person who has little interest in the trappings of wealth that so many of his peers flash around and feels uncomfortable with celebrity. Nevertheless, he has a popularity that extends well beyond those who follow football and is in a relationship with a high-profile WAG, Abigail Clancy, who is rarely out of the tabloids.

It is a symptom of his high profile that a publisher believes he is a money-spinner, and so, with the help of a ghost, he has written his autobiography. At 26, he is certainly not the youngest footballer to have done so.

Crouch was born in Macclesfield and after a stint in Singapore, where his father was in advertising and where family adventures included a scrape with the armed wing of the Communist Party of Malaysia (how many footballers can say that?), he grew up in Ealing. His parents wanted him to go to Latymer Upper, a selective, fee-paying school, but he says he deliberately failed the exams so that he could attend the local comprehensive, which had a good football team.

Crouch paints an unsavoury picture of the world of boys’ football. He was a relatively slow starter because he was not attached to a professional club by the time he was nine years old. His father spurned Chelsea and insisted that his son stay with his local team, West Middlesex Colts. “He thought if I had been rejected at Chelsea it would have killed me.” He says that today six-year-old kids at club academies play “in fear of being moved out in favour of another hopeful. Where’s the fun in that?”

Even at the age of 11 or 12 his father would sometimes have to confront parents on the touchline. “They’d shout, ‘Take him out!’ or ‘Break his legs!’ That’s what you are up against sometimes in kids’ football. It’s weird.” Even the protective Bruce Crouch was quite a taskmaster, taking his son to the local park before school at 7am.

At 14, he finally signed to Tottenham and he can recall the “eerie silence” in the car after matches in which he hadn’t performed well. During one game, when he had yet again pulled out of a tough tackle, his watching father left him to make his own way home. That seems like rather a lot of pressure for a 14-year-old. “Of course. But even at that stage if you haven’t got the determination, that will to succeed, I don’t think you are going to make it. When people see Premier League footballers, they don’t realise what the lads had to go through when they were younger. Millions want to be footballers, not just you.”

As a trainee he was at the bottom of a hierarchy, “like a feudal society” in which the banter from peers was relentless and sometimes tipped over into bullying. “You have got to be tough. You had to learn to take the stick and give it out. If you couldn’t, it would affect you and affect your performances.” On a youth team trip to Northern Ireland older players shaved Crouch’s head and urinated in his suitcase.

Nerves got the better of him when he was asked to train with the first team. It was “a nightmare. That’s football: all about impressing at the right time. A very fine line between success and failure.” He was sent on loan to Dulwich Hamlet and a small Swedish club. “There were times when I was thinking, ‘I’m a million miles from the bright lights of the Premiership or playing for England.’”

His career has been very different from the likes of Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen, who were “stars in the making since they were kids”. After failing to make it into the first team at a top club he went backwards to QPR, where he thrived, and eventually went via Portsmouth to a Premiership club: Aston Villa. But his career didn’t take off, and after a spell at Norwich City he went to less glamorous Southampton. Again he prospered, and caught the eye of Liverpool.

Joining a new club, he says, is “very difficult. First day at a new school is probably the closest you can get to it.” He got off to the worst possible start at Liverpool, failing to score in his first 18 games. The media coverage made it feel like his barren spell was “a national obsession. I was getting more and more anxious.” He didn’t go out, avoided newspapers and didn’t watch football in order to avoid reminders of his plight. He became so low that he considered going back to Southampton. “I was happy there, thoroughly enjoyed just playing football. If I was not enjoying it I would rather go somewhere where I earned half the money.” His dad took him out for an all-night drinking session and brought him to his senses. He stayed, broke his duck and went on to score regularly for Liverpool and England.

The day we meet, Crouch is in good spirits, having started the previous night’s game for Liverpool against Toulouse and scored the first goal. Liverpool reinforced their squad over the summer and with four main strikers Crouch has not started in early Premier League games. He says he went to see Rafael Benitez, the manager, and was reassured that he has a future in his rotation system. “I’m at a fantastic club and I certainly don’t want to leave.
Crouch feels he is sometimes regarded as an easy target because of the way he looks, and much of the criticism he has received over the years has been unpleasantly personal. He can see the funny side: “To be honest if I saw me running on and I was an opposing fan I’d probably give myself some stick as well.” But at times it has been over the top.

It started when he was a kid and parents of other players accused him of being over-age because he was so tall. As he began to play professionally the abuse from fans intensified, including, in early QPR days, from his own fans. “Freak” and “lanky w*****” are epithets he has become used to hearing.

“I look different, there’s no denying that. I’m a unique-looking footballer, you don’t see 6ft 7in slim-build players like me. When I first walked on to a pitch, people thought, ‘How can he be a footballer?’ I’ve always been able to convince people with my ability. That’s how I’ve combated it.”

Sometimes, however, he hasn’t been able to convince his managers. And the opinions of other managers haven’t always helped. Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal boss, once called him “a basketball player who can play with his head”. One of the commentators for the Toulouse game said, “He is capable of exquisite control”, in a tone of surprise. Having scored 12 goals for England, Crouch finds it frustrating that people are still taken aback.

As for the idiots who scream abuse at him from the stands, he began to devise a strategy for dealing with them when he was faced with some particularly ugly characters at Gillingham. “For some reason it’s always been bad there. It’s a strange place. I remember looking at them and thinking, ‘I am way, way above you. I am out here doing it. You are sitting there and paid your money to come in and you are abusing me. You’ve come here to do that! I’ve got to be above you. I’ll show you.’ And I went out and scored a couple of goals.”

Off the field he is conspicuous. “I might as well have a big neon sign above my head. It’s a bit of a ’mare. Other players can put a cap on and walk down the road, but I put a cap on and it says, ‘Peter Crouch with a cap on.’ Sometimes it would be nice to be an average height and walk through the shops and no one know. But personally I’m perfectly happy. I wouldn’t change me.”

He made the crossover from well-known footballer to household name with his body-popping dance, which became known as the Peter Crouch Robot at the World Cup last year. When he performed it after scoring goals for England before and during the tournament in Germany he became an unlikely star, as the media pursued a fun story to counterbalance the bad news about Wayne Rooney’s broken foot. He became internationally famous, to the extent that when he was later on holiday in Miami, Mickey Rourke shouted “Robot Boy” at him as he walked past a bar.

His team-mates persuaded him to perform the dance for Prince William and he still gets demands for “Robot! Robot! Robot!” wherever he goes. He says he will only bring the dance out of retirement if he scores in a really big game, such as the final of a club or international competition. “It was never my intention to raise my profile, so that’s why I became slightly embarrassed.”

Crouch is not shy, but he far from revels in the celebrity lifestyle. He has invested in property and bought his sister a flat, but doesn’t really have any interest in spending cash. “I bought an Aston Martin when I felt I had done well enough at Liverpool to treat myself. But I’m getting rid of it. It’s not really me.” He drives a Range Rover instead and is teased by some team-mates because he has been wearing the same watch, albeit a Rolex, since he was 18. His best mates are still four lads he grew up with: a landscape gardener, a graphic designer, a lighting technician and a gym instructor. He has paid for them all to go on holiday together. After a game he likes a few pints of Guinness.

All this makes his choice of girlfriend seem a little unlikely. Abigail Clancy, a former runner-up in the reality show Britain’s Next Top Model, is a model adored by lads’ mags and the red-tops. She left the World Cup after pictures were published apparently showing her snorting cocaine as a teenager. Crouch subsequently took the unusual step of issuing a statement to contradict her suggestion that they were still an item. The couple later rekindled their romance.

There is not a single mention of Clancy in the book, but they are together, although not co-habiting “yet” and are “very happy”. The scandal is in the past. “Things get exposed and what have you, but I’m certainly happy in my relationship now and try to keep things as private as possible.”

That’s not always easy. How does it feel to find yourself splashed across The News of the World, as he was recently, apparently tweaking your girlfriend’s nipple on the beach. He smiles and raises his eyebrows, but says that it’s “a little bit intrusive, isn’t it? At the end of the day it’s a boyfriend and girlfriend on holiday just doing what any other boy and girl would do. It’s a shame that it’s not quite as private as I would like it to be.”

He agrees that there is a certain sneering stereotype of WAGs and, “I think any of the WAGs as people are embarrassed by it. I don’t think it’s their fault. Players have to have wives and girlfriends.” He points out that Clancy has her own career. “She’s not one of those that sit at home and be a WAG, if you like. She wants to be doing things.”

With that he has to go for a photo shoot with a key sponsor: the manufacturer that keeps him supplied with his over-sized sportswear. There have been occasions when clubs have presented him with kit that looked ridiculous on his frame, “like John Barnes shorts of the Eighties”. He claims that he can find clothes to fit him in the high-street stores. “I’m still retail,” he insists.

Peter Crouch’s autobiography, Walking Tall: My Story, is published on Thursday by Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99 - The Times

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