Offside, 11 November

We'll stop booing lanky Crouch when he starts scoring some goals.

Duleep Allirajah

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To boo or not to boo, that is the question. Sven Goran-Eriksson wants England fans to stop booing Peter Crouch? Okay then Mr Eriksson, here’s the deal: we’ll stop the booing if – and only if – Crouch starts scoring goals. Give us goals or else the beanpole gets it.

Sven no doubt means well by trying to protect goal-shy Crouch from the boo boys but his unfortunate choice of words has not done the gangly Liverpool striker any favours. ‘It’s a pity that he is being booed like that’, complained Eriksson. ‘I would ask the fans to leave him alone. He will not get better by being booed.’ Leaving aside the question of whether booing could be considered a legitimate coaching method, fans might justifiably ask why the England coach has opted for a striker who, as he himself admits, needs to ‘get better’. Surely, at international level, we need the best not the must-do-better?

The truth is that Crouch’s selection highlights the paucity of striking options available to England. ‘I would like to have Crouch in the World Cup squad’, said Eriksson. ‘I don’t say that will happen and it depends how he gets on. But he is very special and I should like to have him.’ Eriksson’s use of the word ‘special’ has raised a few eyebrows. Did he mean ‘special’ in the José Mourinho sense or was he using the word as one might do to describe, for example, a child with ‘special needs’? Whatever Sven meant by the word ‘special’, if Crouch doesn’t start finding the net soon, the current murmurings of discontent could well develop into a full-blown ‘Bring Back Emile Heskey, All Is Forgiven Campaign’.

Some critics have suggested that Crouch has been singled out for abuse because of his 6ft 7ins frame. It’s certainly true that, in league games, Crouch has always been greeted with chants of ‘freak, freak, freak’, but the abuse dished out by England fans is of a different order altogether. England supporters don’t boo Crouch because they think that all tall skinny people should be deported, but because he isn’t scoring goals. Or as one Crouch-sceptic fan put it to me, ‘he’s a useless lanky streak of piss’.

Eriksson’s primary justification for picking the non-scoring Liverpool striker is that it gives him ‘options’. ‘He has something other players don’t’, Eriksson has said. Presumably he wasn’t talking about Crouch’s extra-long inside leg measurement. ‘He’s such a different kind of threat to what you encounter elsewhere and he does it very well’, concurred England team mate Frank Lampard. ‘You know when he’s in a team that he’s going to be hit with a lot of long balls and the opposition has to deal with that.’ Lampard’s remarks inadvertently confirm what many England supporters have long suspected: namely that beneath Sven’s urbane, sophisticated continental coaching guru image lies an unreconstructed hoof-and-hope long-ball merchant.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that Peter Crouch is a poor footballer. Every time I’ve seen him play against Crystal Palace he has caused problems for our defence (although, to be fair, a circus stilt-walker would have troubled our defence). Crouch, as the old cliché goes, has ‘got good feet for a big fella’. He holds the ball up and links play well. However, he does not score enough goals with his head – pretty much an essential part of a target man’s job description, one would have thought. In recent games for England and for Liverpool, Crouch has been presented with decent goalscoring chances only to fluff his lines. Crouch is a decent Premiership striker and, by all accounts, a nice bloke too, but an international footballer? I don’t think so.

I won’t be booing Peter Crouch in the friendly against Argentina on Saturday, but that’s only because I’ll be watching the game on TV and I’ve always thought that shouting at your television set is what mad people do. But while I won’t be jeering Crouch nor will I be subscribing to the Endangered Lanky Footballers Preservation Society. I feel it is our inalienable right as football fans to mock, goad, and ridicule oddly shaped footballers.

Chanting ‘Who ate all the pies?’ at a portly player is as much a part of the traditional match-day experience as Bovril and soggy meat pies. Football stadiums are cruel and unforgiving places if you happen to be the wrong shape or size or else if you’re just plain useless. Peter Crouch had better rediscover his shooting boots soon because, as the Bible says, woe betide the footballer who is both freakishly tall and Heskeyishly inept in front of goal.

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spiked-issue: Sport

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