Peter Crouch: podcaster, memoirist, television presenter, ex-footballer. There is little argument about his skills as a pundit, a personality, a purveyor of footballing anecdote. He’s got it all – the insider knowledge, the humour, the self-deprecation, the approachability, and his keen eye for the moments of absurdity in the lives and careers of modern footballers.
But before we ask Crouchy to take us inside major football tournaments from a player’s perspective, let’s also celebrate Peter Crouch the top international player who scored 22 goals for England despite starting only 19 matches, with a further 23 appearances as a substitute. He scored a goal every 97 minutes at international level. For comparison, Gary Lineker scored every 137 minutes, Michael Owen hit the net every 151 minutes, and Wayne Rooney’s record 53 international goals arrived at an average of one every 172 minutes.
Although Crouch never appeared at the European Championships – his Euro 2008 dreams washed away in the Wembley rain alongside Steve McClaren’s reputation and dignity – he went to two World Cups.
For the duration of the Euros, the 6ft 7in former Liverpool, Spurs, Aston Villa, Portsmouth and Stoke City striker will be hosting Crouchy’s Year Late Euros alongside Maya Jama and Alex Horne, live from a studio on Wembley Way. Think TFI Friday meets Baddiel and Skinner’s Fantasy Football League show during Euro 96 – with music, celebrity guests, pre-recorded interviews and features with key players from England, Scotland and Wales. Win, lose or draw, it’s the post-match party that might just give football fans something to unite around…
The Big Issue: So, Peter, we want you to take us inside a major football tournament.
Peter Crouch: I never played in the Euros but I played in two World Cups and they are SPECIAL. It is what you dream about as a kid. But I don’t think anything can prepare you until you’re in it. You sense that the whole nation is watching you. It’s a lot of pressure but a real buzz. I wouldn’t change any of it. I feel privileged to have been able to experience it.
Take us back to the moment a player receives their call up.
The last World Cup I played in was 2010 and I remember I was on the golf course with my dad. We were on the 18th tee when I got the call from Franco Baldini, Fabio Capello’s right-hand man. He said, you’re going to the World Cup and we’re going to give you the number nine, if that’s all right? And I was like, deffo, 100 per cent! I missed the last hole out and walked straight into the clubhouse – I was losing anyway to be fair – but it is just an amazing feeling.
The next stage – the training, warm-up games – are you trying to catch the manager’s eye or avoid injury?
If you’re Ashley Cole, David Beckham or Wayne Rooney, you know you’re starting the games. So I think those players are essentially trying not to get injured. I was always on the other side. I want to start the games so I want to catch the manager’s eye. I’m fully in at all the training sessions, every game is a chance to score and maybe get in the team.
Do you still share rooms – and if so, how are they allocated?
That stopped around 2004, although Rafa [Benitez, former Liverpool manager] used to like players sharing. But for England you get your own room and at times it can be quite lonely. You’ve got so much time and you’re not allowed out. So that’s a lot of time to think on your own. Four weeks in a hotel which you’re not really allowed to leave – and don’t get me wrong, it was a nice hotel – but after a while, it’s still four walls, isn’t it?
How do modern players alleviate that boredom?
Lots of players liked watching films or boxsets. That wasn’t for me, I could only do about half an hour then I’d be looking for stuff to do. Thankfully there were loads of players like me – Wayne Rooney was one, he couldn’t sit still for five minutes. So we’d be playing cards or having a table tennis comp.
Who were the best table tennis players?
Rio [Ferdinand] was not bad. And John Terry was always competitive at everything. In 2006 I was constantly playing cards with Michael Owen. Just for the kudos – we don’t gamble when we’re away with England, how dare you!
What about meal times – what you eat, when you eat, where you sit?
We went from being quite relaxed under Sven to very regimented under Capello. You had to wear a tracksuit, no flip flops. There is no wrong or right way. I preferred Sven’s approach because I am more relaxed. I get the whole militant approach, which is what Fabio Capello instilled in us, but I think somewhere in the middle would have been good.
What do you imagine Gareth Southgate’s approach will be?
I think he’s got a really good balance. It feels like a club atmosphere. A lot of those young players have grown up together in various squads. In my day the Premier League was so intense and there was so much hatred and tribalism, sometimes England probably suffered. Now it’s slightly different and they all seem to get on, and I think the squad is better for it.
Have you had much interaction with the current players?
I’ve been around them quite a bit this year. It’s the first tournament for a lot of them and I don’t think even they know what to expect. Speaking to Jack Grealish, he is a real England fan, you can tell. It is all he wants to do. I was talking about the pressure of stepping up to take a penalty, and he was like, ‘Yeah, I would LOVE to’. That kind of mentality is going to help us.
Who helped younger players integrate in your day?
The captain was David Beckham and he was fantastic with a lot of the younger players. And his right-hand man was Gary Neville, who was very vocal in the dressing room. We got plenty of help. I made my debut in New York at the end of the 2005 season, and a lot of players were missing – so that eased me into the squad. But then, for the World Cup qualifiers, it was all the household names – Beckham, Lampard, Gerrard, Rio, John Terry, Rooney, Owen. Massive characters, massive names, it was a pleasure to be part of that group.
Talk us through the build-up to the opening match?
You’ve prepared so long and it is talked about so much in the press, in the country, and around the hotel. With the nerves and adrenaline, it is very difficult to sleep. I remember in 2006, I started the first match against Paraguay. Going from your quiet, lonely bedroom to the madness and the chaos was incredible.
Who chooses the music on the team bus?
We tried to include everyone. And it was a terrible idea. So we got everyone to pick a song. We’d play it before games and the mixture was just ridiculous. We’d have some rap, then Carra [Jamie Carragher] picked some Johnny Cash, I went for a dance anthem – Tina Moore, Never Gonna Let You Go – then it would be Oasis. It was a complete mix of tunes that didn’t get anyone up for anything.
How do you relax between games?
During a major tournament, we would watch every game together. Even if we are not playing, it’s good to study the other teams. It was quite sociable, we would play a bit of pool or table tennis. A bit like the pub with all the lads watching the game, but strictly water.
Do you work on your goal celebrations in advance – you were quite famous for yours?
I’ve interviewed some players who are going to be a big part of the Euros – Mason Mount, Jack Grealish, Gareth Bale, Scott McTominay – and I’ve made them promise on camera that they’ll do a special celebration when they score.
That stuff connects players to fans, doesn’t it?
I’m still dining out on the robot celebration and that was 15 years ago.
Do you think the current international squads have a better connection to the fans, perhaps in part down to what the likes of Marcus Rashford have been doing off the field?
What he’s done has been incredible. From being a footballer to being very much more than that. It’s an incredible journey and story. In the past footballers got a bad reputation, but there’s plenty of players we can relate to in our current squad. Jordan Henderson has been very vocal, Raheem Sterling, Rashford, Harry Kane have stepped up when they’ve been asked to, when there’s been difficult times.
Were the major tournaments you played in a highlight in your career?
I savoured every moment. There’s plenty of players that were all about the next achievement but I knew I needed to enjoy them because I never knew if I’d play another one. It was probably the wrong mentality to have if you want to be a top player, but that’s the way I rolled.
Crouchy’s Year Late Euros: Live starts Friday 11 June on BBC One after the opening match of Turkey v Italy