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Peter Crouch: ‘Being tall was my superpower’

Through idyllic summers and teenage temptations, football was always the focus for Peter Crouch. And aiming high led to dreams coming true

Peter Crouch was born in Macclesfield in 1981. After moving to Singapore for three years, the family returned to England, living in a YMCA for a period before settling in Harrow on the Hill. Aged 10, Crouch joined the Brentford Centre of Excellence before joining QPR in 1994. He then quickly moved to Tottenham Hotspur, where he was offered his first professional contract. He did not make any senior appearances and moved to QPR in 2000, where his career finally took off.

From 2000 through to his retirement in 2019, the 6ft 7in-tall Crouch played for a host of big clubs, establishing himself as an elite Premier League striker. Among the teams he played for were Portsmouth, Aston Villa, Liverpool, Spurs (where he returned in 2009 for a fee of £10 million from Portsmouth) and Stoke City.

Crouch also won 42 caps for England, scoring 22 goals and playing at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, where he scored in a 2-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago, and the 2010 event in South Africa.

After retiring from football in 2019, Peter Crouch has become a familiar face on television, fronts the hugely popular That Peter Crouch Podcast and is now subject of a film documentary – That Peter Crouch Film.

Speaking to The Big Issue for his Letter to my Younger Self, Peter Crouch reflects on a remarkable career which saw him become an icon of the game and one of British football’s best-loved characters.

As a kid, all I needed was a tennis racket and a football. I will always remember those summers where I would grab my tennis racket and my football, get on my bike, and that was me done. It was literally all I needed to have the best summer ever. I didn’t need to go on holiday, I was happy at the local tennis club. We would play football on the pitch, when we were bored of that, we’d play tennis. Then later we would play football again. We might ride to the sweet shop but that was about it. Sport was the main focus of my life – and not really a lot else. 

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I always remember the good times. Never the bad. When I was there [Crouch and his family lived in a YMCA in Tottenham for six months when he was a child], I was too young to remember. My dad was between jobs, but he was very creative and was always going to be successful. My childhood was a happy one and quite a comfortable one.  

Peter Crouch in a purple strip, playing for Tottenham Hotspur reserves
1998: Playing for Tottenham Hotspur reserves against Fulham. Image: Colorsport / Shutterstock

When football started getting more serious, my dad became a bit harder on me. It went from being enjoyment to potentially a career. I signed associated schoolboy terms from 14-16, got on a YTS from 16-18, then I was thinking, I have a chance now. My dad wanted me to be the best player I could be, so he was quite harsh at times. But I thank him every day for it – I wouldn’t have got there without him. 

I was there for a good time, so my school memories are all about fun. I was quite confident, but I wasn’t cocky or anything. The lessons got in the way of having just the best time, because I had a group of mates who I’m still mates with now. I belly laugh when I meet them now and I used to belly laugh every day at school.  

The teenage years are hard – there are lots of temptations. I always had ability, but you would never have said I was definitely going to make it. There were players who were already developed as men. And some players with incredible talent that lost their way. There are so many factors to making it as a footballer. Between 14 and 21, you lose a lot of people. But that was when I was the most dedicated. I’d like to think I had the ability, but my body wasn’t quite there yet. I had to wait for it to catch up, to get stronger, to get ready for men’s football.

There were so many players you would have put ahead of me, but I had a massive passion for it. As many kids do. There’s a huge passion for football that we see at grassroots level every day – the kids, men and women playing football. I had a sole dedication to being a footballer and feel very lucky and blessed I was able to do that.  

What advice would I give my younger self about his love life? I’d say keep working hard at football, mate! That will all come. Because the better you get at football, the more options you will have. 

Being tall was my superpower. I wouldn’t change it for the world. That is me. I have always been a head above everyone else. People find it interesting, but for me it is just who I am. Being different and standing out is all I’ve ever known. It is easier now I’m older – but as a teenager it can be hard being different. I used humour as a defence mechanism. If people were going to take the piss out of me at school, I would say it funnier and quicker. That kills it stone dead. Being good at football helps. But having a sense of humour really helped me as a kid, so I kept doing it. But it came from using it as a shield and protection.  

Abbey Clancy and Peter Crouch
2023: On The Jonathan Ross Show with wife Abbey Clancy. Image: Brian J Ritchie/Hotsauce

It felt like the whole world was ridiculing me at times. There were some really dark moments in my career. Revisiting those headlines for the new film was a bit weird. I’d forgotten so many of them. I blocked them out. But it was funny looking at [Crouch’s wife] Abbey’s reaction to it all. She wanted to kill people! She wanted to find out the names of the people who wrote those articles. Abbey has got my back. Luckily, it has gone full circle now. I always get a great reaction wherever I go.  

If I could give my younger self any advice, I’d whisper, stop stressing. Just strap yourself in, it’s going to be some ride! Because my football career would have been beyond his wildest dreams. I’d also tell him that when you get to the top level, you are never as bad or as good as people make out. As long as you’ve got your own perception of where you are as a player, you’ll be OK. Don’t lose sight of what got you there and the reasons why you got there. 

There were times I needed an arm round the shoulder. And it was probably a bit less forthcoming than nowadays. That toughened me up. Early on in my career, at QPR, there were times where I really beat myself up about a bad game or the way things were going. I would tell my younger self not to be so hard on himself. But would I have made it if I didn’t beat myself up every time I had a bad game? 

I was so proud that I didn’t hide when I heard groans from the crowd. I remember being on the bench for QPR at Gillingham. This was 2000, I was 19 and in my first year in professional football. We were 2-0 down and when I was coming off the bench, I could hear groans from the stand. Then I chested the ball down and almost slipped and heard another groan from the crowd. But I lashed the ball into the top corner for my first professional goal. Then I set one up for Chris Kiwomya in the last few minutes. So I came off the bench and changed the game – and it was at that moment I knew I would have a career in football. So it was probably the most important moment of my life.  

Me and my dad’s thing was the FA Cup. It was like the world stopped when it was FA Cup final day. Let’s see the players at the hotel, let’s see the bus pull in at Wembley and what suits they’re wearing. The whole day was special. So when I got to the final with Liverpool and we won it [in 2006], that was particularly special. Holding the old trophy in my hand and looking up at my dad – that is a moment I will always remember. 

Peter Crouch celebrating
Liverpool’s FA Cup
triumph with captain
Steven Gerrard
2006: Celebrating Liverpool’s FA Cup triumph with captain Steven Gerrard, who also appears in That Peter Crouch Film. Image: Geoff Caddick/EPA/Shutterstock

Some footballers now look like they are working down the mine. I see that too much in football – players who are not enjoying their work. It is the greatest job in the world. A gift. And scoring a goal is the best part of the best job in the world. So when I see players not even smiling, I can’t relate to them. Because when people saw me play they could see I was enjoying myself, living for that moment.

That is why people love Jack Grealish now. Watching him win the treble and in his interviews – it is more raw and honest, and that is what resonates. That is what I wanted to do as a player. But players are human beings. They make mistakes. It always comes down to the money – “they get paid this much, they should behave this way”. But it is very easy to judge. I have been in their shoes and know it can be hard.  

When I think of my younger self, I just think about how naive that young kid is and how much is in front of him. The innocence of it all. This kid from Ealing who was desperate to play football and had no clue what was waiting for him. I still remember going round to my mate’s house and watching Matt Le Tissier videos when we should have been going out partying. But that stood me in good stead. I look back on my career and have such fond memories. World Cups [in 2006 and 2010], winning the FA Cup, and getting to a Champions League Final [in 2007]. When you think of the history and heritage of Liverpool in European Cups – so that moment Dirk Kuyt scored the winning penalty at Anfield [in a shoot-out against Chelsea] and we knew we were going to the final? That was some buzz. There were so many special days. 

That Peter Crouch Film is available on Prime Video 

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play

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