After Ronny Rosenthal last week, position four on my top five of Liverpool cult heroes during my match-going days was a £7million signing from Southampton in the summer of 2005.
IT so easily could have gone wrong for Peter Crouch at Liverpool.
His signing had all the hallmarks of what tabloids love to label a “flop”. Rafa Benitez had to negotiate hard to sell it to the suits that a 6ft 7ins striker from relegated Southampton was just what the newly-crowned European Champions needed.
And even Harry Redknapp was surprised, remarking: “I can quite understand why the club sold him – £7m is a terrific fee for a player that not many would have given £700,000 for six months ago.”
Crouch had also worked hard to make it happen after being told he was going nowhere by the Saints. As he put it: “The opportunity to move to Liverpool and play on an even bigger stage was something that no-one could realistically expect me to turn down.”
From a fans’ perspective, there were stylistic concerns. Liverpool has never been about winning anyhow, anyway – there’s always been expectations of certain football. Pass and move it’s the Liverpool groove. Roy Hodgson was once overheard during his ill-fated spell to bark “just f***ing launch it”. It didn’t go down well.
So buy a beanpole forward and supporters worry what’s next. Jamie Carragher had no such concerns though. Carragher said on Crouch’s signing: "Besides Thierry Henry, Peter has been as good as any striker in the Premiership in the second half of the season.
“He was outstanding even against the top teams. His performance against us at Southampton was probably sufficient to get him a move.”
Crouch arrived with solid stats. Despite the bull about his body, he posed for photos on his unveiling having scored 15 goals in 30 appearances for Southampton. Not bad for a striker in a side that had gone down. Yet it wasn’t exactly the dream debut at Liverpool.
Nine starts yielded no goals and Crouch started to flirt with the bench as those watching on from press boxes began to wonder. Fans could see he was putting it in. Everyone could see he had the cliched “good touch for a big man” and, more, he was genuinely unlucky on a string of occasions in front of goal. It said much for the man that he shrugged off the noise from the naysayers.
He needed to be Teflon – because as the drought rolled on, plenty of stick came his way. Sub appearances, starts, but still no goals – it became a “thing”. A huge thing. And it reached the point where team-mates were trying to tee him up. Crouch even took a penalty against Portsmouth at Anfield in November 2005… and missed, his best performance in red overshadowed.
From August until December 2005 the man who scored 22 goals for England and was capped 42 times could not find the net. And then, finally, it came – after 18 appearances, after 1,229 minutes of football for Liverpool FC – Crouchy finally scored in a win over Wigan. You could say there was relief – for him, for Rafa, for us – and there was. But it was also a lovely moment of shared joy. We liked Crouchy. And everyone couldn’t have been any happier for him.
The goal, perhaps fittingly, had some comedy value. Crouch tried his luck from 20 yards, and for once fortune favoured him as the ball looped into the sky off Leighton Baines’ back. It should have been snapped up by goalkeeper Mike Pollitt but he only helped it into the net.
It was initially given as an own goal but the dubious goals panel eventually did the right thing. From there, Crouch was off. In the same game he chipped Pollitt for a goal that was undoubtedly his. And after three months with no goals, Crouch scored seven in the month of December alone.
He soon had a song of his own, too, one of the Kop’s finest. “He’s big, he’s Red, his feet stick out the bed, Peter Crouch, Peter Crouch.”
Later that season, he further sealed his place in our hearts – scoring the goal to knock Manchester United out of the FA Cup; Liverpool’s first FA Cup win over United in 85 years. A grumpy Alex Ferguson moaned: “They have got height up front, get balls into the box and make it an aerial battle.”
Glorious. Thanks, Peter.
Crouch ended his first season with a respectable tally of 13 goals. And in every season he was with Liverpool he hit double figures – 18 in the campaign that followed, 11 in his last. His highlights reel includes some golden goals – overhead kicks against Galatasaray and Bolton, the perfect hat-trick against Arsenal of header, right foot and left foot.
There’s also all the stuff you can’t really look back on. He grafted, he had flicks and tricks in his locker, and you suspect he was a great lad to have around – a never-should-be-underestimated quality in any environment.
Ultimately, the arrival of Fernando Torres coupled with wage bill worries for Benitez did for Crouch. But he left for Portsmouth an FA Cup winner, a Champions League finalist and a runner-up in the Premier League.
“I’ve only got fond memories,” said Crouch.
Same, mate. Same.