Crouch celebrates scoring the winning goal for Liverpool in the 2006 Community Shield.

Peter Crouch is listing the sporting legends you might expect to have a film made about them. “Alex Ferguson, Usain Bolt, Steven Gerrard, that kind of thing,” he says. “It did make me think: why would anyone want to make a film about me?”

And why did they, I ask.

“Well,” he says, clearing his throat, pausing dramatically. “I dunno really!” A huge burst of laughter spills forth, rippling around the room containing his agent, a press officer and me. “Still haven’t got a clue!”

This is Crouch in his element – holding court with a bunch of guys, playing the jester, extremely at ease with the self-deprecation. Because of course he does know really why they’ve made That Peter Crouch Film, a documentary that charts his life from gangly kid who “didn’t have the right body” for football (he was 6ft 5in by the time he was 15, finally adding another couple of inches) to Premier League icon, scoring more than 100 top-flight goals, winning the FA Cup and becoming an England regular.

“My story is a bit different,” he reflects, once the laughter has died down. “With someone like Michael Owen it’s like: I was good … and then I was brilliant. Whereas mine is very much up and down. I played non-league, I went on loan to Sweden. I always knew I had ability, but did I think that I would go on to play in the Champions League or score in a World Cup for England? I would have said all of those things were mad!”

The focus of the documentary is Crouch’s height. Being tall is often seen as a good quality to have in a footballer. But being unusually tall? Like, 6ft 7in tall? Crouch remembers walking on to the pitch after signing for QPR and hearing the laughter in the stands. At Dulwich Hamlet fans called him the “20ft chicken”. It never seemed to go away, no matter how much he achieved. When he made his debut for the national team, you could hear the boos from England fans echoing around the stadium. The press were no less forgiving, either. “I was always ‘lanky hitman’ or ‘beanpole striker’,” he says. “I was never just ‘Peter Crouch’.”

It must have felt like being bullied.

“Yeah, well I was being bullied. On a global scale!”

To an outsider, Crouch seemed to deal with it remarkably well – letting the jibes bounce off him, making sure he shut the crowd up with his goals. But it still hurt in those early days, and sometimes he would cry at night. Like almost every teenager, he just wanted to be normal. Was it hard opening up about this stuff?

Crouch celebrates scoring the winning goal for Liverpool in the 2006 Community Shield. Photograph: Mark Leech/Offside/Getty Images

“It was a bit,” he says. “Being 16, 17, just kind of breaking through, and being abused just for the way I looked. It was tough. But I’d never let that show. Especially not in football, because it was so macho. I wouldn’t tell anyone how I was feeling. Not my mum, dad, friends, no one.”

The thing is, he says, he doesn’t want this film to be seen as a sob story. And to be fair, it’s not. That’s not really Crouch’s style. For one thing, he likes to laugh at himself. A line he once delivered on Graham Norton’s chatshow (replying to the question “What would you be if you weren’t a footballer?” he said, with impeccable timing: “A virgin”) was deemed by one British newspaper to be the best sporting one-liner of all time.

In the film we see him celebrating a goal for Portsmouth against Manchester City, an initially graceful forward roll that goes catastrophically wrong the moment his legs are required; instead of seamlessly returning to his feet he staggers back up like a drunken Bambi. Being able to mock himself has allowed him to get one over his tormentors – “If anyone was going to take the piss out of me, I would take the piss out of me better than they were about to,” he says – but it also set him in good stead for the stellar post-football career he’s had as a media figure: That Peter Crouch Podcast, a gently laddy banter session that launched in 2018, not long before his official retirement from football, is one of the most popular in the country, featuring guests including Prince William (recorded at Kensington Palace) and Idris Elba (a studio selfie of them together shows a starstruck Crouch with his trousers riding halfway up his legs). He’s written several humorous books detailing the ludicrous lives of players, and earlier this year launched a second podcast, The Therapy Crouch, with his wife, the model and TV personality Abbey Clancy; in it they dissect various intimate aspects of their relationship. None of this would have happened, if he hadn’t learned how to make people laugh.

Now 42, he has always had an extremely positive attitude, he says. Frequently, his anecdotes end with “but at the end of the day, that just made me a stronger person” or “that’s when I knew I had to prove them wrong”. In the film, the abuse he receives is often framed as something that was good for him.

With his wife Abbey Glancy, 2018.
With his wife Abbey Clancy, 2018. Photograph: David M Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images

“I think it did actually help in lots of ways,” he says. “Look, when I was coming on for England, with my mum and dad in the crowd, that should have been the pinnacle of my career. Instead, I’m getting booed by my own fans. But it made me go, right, I’m going to fucking show you. You can either go under or you can fight it.”

Crouch was born in Macclesfield in 1981 and, although the family spent a brief spell living in Singapore, grew up in Harrow on the Hill in north-west London. A good indicator that his home life was perhaps more coddled than the average footballer is that his dad sometimes did his paper round for him. “He did, yeah,” he admits. “I was getting 15 quid a week and it was a real struggle, to be honest. There’d be days where I’d be like: ‘Dad … what do you reckon?’ And he’d say: ‘Don’t worry – I’ll do it.’ At the time he was, like, creative director at BBH ad agency in London. And I remember this article about him, I think it was in the magazine Campaign, saying he must be the only creative director of an ad agency doing a paper round as a second job.”

“I wasn’t from a council estate,” he continues. “Lots of players I played with had real tough upbringings. They were fighting for their lives, for the lives of their entire families. I didn’t have that.”

Paper round aside, his dad was no pushover. After Crouch pulled out of a tackle during a game when he was on the books at Spurs, his dad abandoned him there, leaving him to make his own way home. “Harsh,” agrees Crouch. “But I never jumped out of a tackle again. I learned that lesson quickly. And the next game I played, if anything, I should have been sent off!”

His dad doesn’t actually come off as the most sympathetic character in the film – he’s constantly critical, urging his son to work harder, be tougher. It leaves you wondering if it spoilt their relationship. “But I thank him every day for what he did,” says Crouch. “I genuinely wouldn’t have got there without him. Look, if I was crap he would have just let me go and play with my mates. But he knew that I had a chance.”

When his schoolmates – many of whom he’s still close friends with – were out partying or off traveling, he was dedicating himself to working on his game, trying to make his unusual body shape work to his advantage. Despite his height, he was terrible in the air: “So I worked my jump, I worked my leap, I worked on my leg strength, I worked on direction, I worked on the angle of my head, I worked on timing. There are so many factors to heading but people just think: ‘He’s tall, he heads the ball.’”

Crouch would head balls repeatedly, until all he could see was stars. Looking back, he worries about the dementia risk, of course. “But I can’t do a lot about it now. I’ve headed them!” he says with another big laugh. “And you know what? I’ve got the Premier League record for headed goals [Crouch scored 53 with his head]. So I wouldn’t take even one of them back.”

‘Lots of players I played with had real tough upbringings. I didn’t have that’ … Crouch.
‘Lots of players I played with had real tough upbringings. I didn’t have that’ … Crouch. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

That doggedness has come in useful for Crouch. After signing for Liverpool in 2005 for £7m, he failed to score for 18 games. His profile was rising and his strike rate had never been worse. He wanted to hide. But he kept believing, eventually delivering what is described in the film by the Guardian’s Barry Glendenning as “the shittest goal I have ever seen, and I’ve been watching football for a long time”, a speculative long-range effort, which deflects off a defender’s heel and loops into the air, only to be palmed by the goalkeeper into his own net. It may have been rubbish, but it sparked a run of goals. He is still thankful for the fans who stuck with him during his darkest moment in football. “I don’t think there’s another city in England, or a club in England, that having just won the Champions League would have accepted and stuck by a player like me. It’s what Liverpool is famous for, really, an us v them, siege mentality kind of thing. So I feel incredibly proud to have represented them.”

The same night Crouch ended his drought he went out to a bar and was approached by Clancy. “I should have done the lottery that night too,” he says. Despite not being a football fan, she had seen him being teased in the press and identified him as a sweet guy who needed a bit of looking after. Their relationship garnered some raised eyebrows, from the press and Crouch’s mates – their gangly pal who, as he admits in the film, “couldn’t pull a hamstring” at the time, was dating a star of Britain’s Next Top Model. Even Prince Harry asked him how the hell he’d bagged Clancy. “And I wish I’d come back at him now!” he says, the reference to Meghan prompting another big round of laughter to peel around the room.

Crouch and Clancy live in Surrey now with their four kids, and their podcast together can be surprisingly revealing. Sometimes it feels as if you’re nosing in on a couple’s passive (or not so passive) aggressive rows. “We don’t actually argue that much,” says Crouch. “But if you sit down and discuss what pisses you off about each other, you can easily get into an argument.”

The first episode talked about Clancy’s horror to find that her new man still lived like a student – a Premier League star sleeping with mismatched pillows and nothing in the room besides a PlayStation. “I just lived how my mates were living,” Crouch protests today. “Some of them were at uni, they had no money, so I was like them. These days you hear of young players hiring chefs and things like that but I didn’t do any of that. I didn’t even think to spend it.”

Clancy soon gave him a bit of a spruce-up. “I tend not to dress myself any more,” he admits. “Well, I do physically.”

One thing revealed by Clancy on a recent episode was that Crouch prays every night. As a child he would beg God to make him into a footballer. These days it’s less aspirational.

“I’m not religious, but I’ll pray, and these days it’s more about being thankful for the things I have achieved.”

If he’s not religious, who is he speaking to?

“Well, that’s private, to be fair,” he says, looking a little uncomfortable. “It’s something private that I do … that Abs went and exposed on the podcast. And now I’m talking about it in interviews!”

It’s not hard to see what endears Crouchy to a certain type of man. He’s the gawky kid done good. In the film we see punters at Crouchfest, a ridiculous and somewhat improbable live event that somehow managed to fill the 12,500-capacity Wembley Arena in its last instalment. Some of them are – in the nicest possible way – a bit nerdier than your average fan, talking about how seeing such a tall figure make it in the Premier League helped with their own issues about not fitting in. Has he stumbled on a way of being a lad without as much of the toxic masculinity?

He’s not sure. Big themes like this aren’t his forte. “I didn’t make the film to change anything,” he says. “I’m just telling my story.” What he does know is that he’s extremely lucky to have had the career he has had, and to have found something many would say was elusive: a post-football career that gives him the same buzz as he used to get playing.

“Like the anticipation of what will people think about this film, that’s the same thing,” he says.

“Or I did live TV for the BBC after the Euros and I’m on telly with someone in my ear counting down to being on air. It’s kind of like being in the tunnel before a game,” he says, before glancing up at his little audience again and delivering one last self-deprecating gag: “Only this time I haven’t got any of the skills.”

That Peter Crouch Film is available on Prime Video on 22 June

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