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.
(Publisher: Ebury Press. October 2022. Hardcover: 288 pages)
Buy the book here:Peter Crouch