Book Review: How to Be an Ex-Footballer by Peter Crouch

All good things come in threes, just ask any footballer who’s ever scored a hat-trick. In fact, ask Peter Crouch who has scored many a hat-trick and has just released his third book. So that’s a hat-trick for a England and a hat-trick of books to his name, surely placing the former forward in a league of his own as the only person to have achieved a triumvirate in both fields? Answers on a postcard if you know otherwise. But, either way, both accomplishments are no mean feat and just as with a hat-trick the third goal seals the deal, so too does Crouch’s third book affirm what his previous two tomes pointed towards: Crouch is a natural and compelling storyteller. Having previously covered the weird and wonderful life of being a footballer to great effect, this latest book changes its focus slightly to the weird and wonderful life of being a former football, that is the jobs and careers of retired footballers, and, no, before you ask, it’s not all working on their golf handicap, though, I’m sure, a few of them do that too.

Joking aside, though, Crouch reflects on the fact that life after football often isn’t the fantasy many envision. Despite the money increasingly in football, retiring young comes with very real psychological, emotional, physical and sometimes financial burdens, oftentimes which footballers just aren’t ready for, so while an image of a former tough-tackling midfielder living the life of riley in the Cotswolds may come to mind, in reality the shift into retirement and what that looks like can be much less appealing. Savvy players may head into retirement with a healthy nest egg and with the figures that are banded around the pro game today it seems there should be few excuses for former footballers to have financial difficulties, although the book suggests this too isn’t always the case. Whether for financial reasons or a need to fill the void, many former footballers find themselves pursuing new careers when they’ve hung up their boots and Crouch explores the obvious and not-so-obvious post-football pathways.

From managers to pundits, artists to actors, restaurateurs to teachers, the book concentrates on a number of different professions, with Crouch identifying some of the former players now plying their very different trades and discussing some of these careers with the players themselves, including Gavin Peacock who swapped the penalty box for the pulpit as a priest and Jody Craddock who put down his shinpads and picked up a paintbrush for a successful career as an artist. There are former players who have ditched the glitz and glamour of the global sports business for the nitty-gritty of life as a fireman, van driver or even an undertaker, while other pros have replaced one high-flying role for another as hedge fund managers and Hollywood heroes. There is a tattooist, a sanitation consultant and a president, a vacuum entrepreneur, a detective and a wrestler, and then there’s Tino Asprilla, whose post-football pursuits I won’t spoil for you, but he’s certainly found a niche! It’s an eye-opening exploration of life after football, delivered, as ever, with Crouch’s natural humour and wry observations. However, there’s also a more serious undercurrent to the book, which Crouch touches on in his final chapter.

Titled The Troubled, Crouch explores the darker side of retirement and reflects on those whose paths in and beyond football have been more problematic. It’s a reminder of footballers as human beings, their flaws and challenges, their addictions and struggles, their mistakes and reparations. Yes, football is glamorous, yes, it’s swimming in money and, yes, playing football for a living is a dream many of us wished we’d got a chance to live, but it also comes with a short shelf life, a pool of sharks and scammers and one of the most abrupt shifts imaginable, from superstar footballer to has-been ex-footballer. It’s a lot for anyone to get their head around, but for mostly young men who have only experienced life in a pampered, dreamlike bubble, it’s easy to see how navigating the real world can be a genuine challenge and why some prefer to leave their footballing pasts well and truly behind. For every successful pundit, there’s a footballer struggling to adjust to life; and while some may find a new lease in becoming a painter, a detective or an MP, the path for others isn’t quite so rewarding. In a Jerry Springer-esque final thought, Crouch thus asks of his readers a simple request: to choose a former footballer and give them a day: ‘mark it in your diary and celebrate them as they once were, and as they are now,’ he urges, ‘don’t’ let them be forgotten.’

So, in the spirit of Crouch’s appeal, I allocate today, the 22 October, George Boateng Day. Stalwart of Coventry City, Villa, Middlesbrough and Hull to name a few, Boateng hung up his boots in 2013 and is now assistant coach of the Ghana national team. Happy George Boateng Day, everyone.

Jade Craddock

(Publisher: Ebury Press. October 2022. Hardcover: 288 pages)

Other reviews:

How to be a Footballer by Peter Crouch

I, Robot – How to be a Footballer 2 by Peter Crouch


Buy the book here:Peter Crouch

Book Review: The Periodic Table of FOOTBALL by Nick Holt

For some people (me included), the mere mention of the periodic table may bring them out in a rash or at least induce a feeling of dread. Thankfully, there’s no confusing chemistry or strange isotopes in Nick Holt’s The Periodic Table of FOOTBALL, which finally succeeds in making the periodic table understandable, relevant and, dare I say it, fun (apologies to all chemistry fans out there who rather like the original).

Sticking with the table format that has plagued GCSE chemistry students for decades, Holt transmutes the baffling world of cadmium, copernicium and curium with that of Charlton, Clough and Cruyff as he seeks to arrange 108 of the most impactful players, managers, leaders and personalities of the global game into some kind of overarching order. Covering by and large the full extent of footballing history, from the late nineteenth century through to 2016 when the book was published, Holt includes and introduces a smorgasbord of the sport’s memorable (and a few not so memorable) names. And rather than taking the easy way out and dividing the table simply into goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and strikers, which would have been a fair and less taxing course of action, Holt adheres to the chemistry theme by grouping his footballing elements into fourteen categories defined by distinctive characteristics.

As such, there are: the precious metals (football’s biggest stars); the bedrocks (the indispensable players); the solids (the defensive balance); the sustainables (the long-serving reliables); the conductors (namely the managers); the catalysts (the team players); the transmuters (the literal game-changers); the porous (the overhyped); the unpredictables (exactly as it says on the tin); the explosives (the playmakers); the combustibles (the fiery characters); the corrosives (the negative influences); the polymorphs (those who have crossed boundaries) and the trace elements (the good but not the great). And within each grouping, Holt offers a brief introduction before selecting between 4 and 12 individuals that best represent that characteristic, offering a potted biography of each and their suitability to that group. Naturally, the book is awash with some of football’s biggest and best names: Pele, Matthews, Ramsey, Puskas – and in the case of the corrosives, arguably some of its worst – and it’s great to be reminded of these mammoth contributors to the sport, but equally appealing is the inclusion of some lesser-known or remembered names, certainly for younger readers, and there were several that were entirely new to me.

Inevitably, in limiting the selection to just 108 footballing names, and dividing them into categories like this, there will always be room for dispute, but Holt himself is entirely unequivocal in his decisions and opinions. By and large, they seemed generally plausible enough, however, I did struggle with the whole concept of the ‘porous’, which felt a bit gratuitously critical. I appreciate the idea of having players with different values and characteristics – as with the original periodic table, there are the lesser elements – and the addition of the ‘corrosives’ is a refreshing and necessary nod to the less salubrious side of the game, but the porous category seemed entirely counterintuitive. Why include six names just to seemingly snub them, why not instead just choose a further six players who the author feels made a valuable contribution or at least a significant contribution to football? As it is, the scapegoats are Billy Wright, Jairzinho, Mario Kempes, Lothar Matthäus, Roberto Carlos, and – prepare yourselves Liverpool fans – Steven Gerrard who led the Reds to their first European title in 20 years and is generally revered as a great of the Premier League (although his inclusion here is largely on the back of a less consistent England outing). Indeed, all of these players will rightfully feel hard done by and many will challenge their inclusion and it does sit a little uneasily in what is broadly a fair and reasonable selection elsewhere. However, this will serve just to ignite debate about Holt’s inclusions and others may argue equally against – or for – other names in the book.

I also wondered about the exclusion of any female names, particularly in the category of transmuters, but in truth it would perhaps feel a little tokenistic just to include a smattering of women just for the sake of it when a much more appealing option would be for an entire periodic table of the women’s game. In fact, Holt has struck on a format that I could see working in myriad ways – a Premier League table; an England table; a table for every club. I doubt Holt or others would be willing to compile a complete set, but it would make for an interesting series. As it stands, this book is an interesting and engaging concept, which includes and introduces a number of the significant forces – both positive and negative – in the global game and will certainly get readers debating. If only this was the real periodic table, it would have made chemistry lessons fly by!


Jade Craddock


(Ebury Press. May 2016. Hardback 192 pages)


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