Garth Crooks opens up to the Sports Gazette by discussing his insights about the state of football punditry, and reflects on his professional career which spanned for 14 years in the English game.
Tottenham supporters will surely have fond memories of the striker as he helped the North London club secure back-to-back FA Cup success in the early eighties, which also included an equalising goal in the 3-2 victory over Manchester City in the 1981 final.
Crooks was also part of the Spurs squad who lifted the 1984 UEFA Cup, and he ended his five-year stint at White Hart Lane the following season with a total of 75 goals scored for the club.
Described on Tottenham’s official website as being a ‘real opportunist in the box’, Crooks also enjoyed spells at Stoke City, Manchester United, West Bromwich Albion and Charlton Athletic, notching up more than 200 goals in the process.
“What I learnt (about playing at all of these clubs) was invaluable and I met some amazing people,” he said.
Crooks was part of a generation of black footballers who suffered horrible racist abuse from the stands, but the former Under-21 England international revealed that the insults made him stronger on the pitch.
“Lots of black boys just as good and some better didn’t make it due to the abuse.”
He added: “They just weren’t prepared to put up with it. I, on the other hand, seemed to revel in it.”
Although he refers to that era as “challenging”, Crooks stated that he took inspiration from fellow black footballers in a time which included two-time European Cup winner Viv Anderson, and West Brom trio Laurie Cunningham, Brendon Batson and Cyrille Regis.
The extent to which he was influenced by Regis in particular can be seen in his personal tribute on the official Kick It Out website, and Crooks explained to us how he felt about the response to the former England international’s sad passing two months ago.
“If people are going to discriminate in life they can at least have the decency to be respectable in death.”
At the age of 32, Crooks decided to end his footballing career in 1990 due to injury and although management was a potential option, his passion was to work with the media.
“I discovered I could do other things,” he said.
“I wanted to write and talk about football and I thought joining the BBC was the best way of doing it.”
The former striker quickly slotted into his role as match analyst and he went on to cover the 1990, 1994 and 1998 World Cup for the BBC.
Crooks was rewarded for his on-screen analysis in 1999 when he received an OBE in The Queen’s Birthday Honours List for his services to the beautiful game, specifically citing his ability to bring passion to football.
Crooks stated to us that he felt “embarrassed and flattered all at the same time.”
The 59-year-old has been giving his thoughts and opinions about football for almost three decades now and explained what he found irritating about TV punditry nowadays.
“Watching pundits who think that dressing room banter is what the public want to hear.
“People pay subscriptions and licensing fees to hear articulate insight, the how and the why, not dressing room diatribe.”
He also stated that punditry is “too critical and lacks balance all too often by people who have had less than ordinary careers.”
Crooks is someone who doesn’t seem afraid to give his honest opinion, being a regular on the BBC’s Final Score programme on Saturday afternoons, and he admitted to us that tensions can run high in the studio.
“You might get the occasional row on air but that is often good tele but that very soon evaporates.”
Crooks’ straightforward views on our TV screens have often been met with strong reactions on social media and he even revealed that he has encountered a response from players as a result of his public criticisms.
“Yes. If you are honest and fair I think they give you a decent hearing.”
However, it’s not only on the television where the two-time FA Cup winner has become renowned for his viewpoints, as his ‘Team of the Week’ has become an essential read every Monday.
“The BBC asked me in 2010 to make a few comments and it has developed into an opinion piece.”
It turned out to be a masterstroke by the broadcaster as the column has produced some unforgettable insights; from Crooks’ annoyance at Paul Pogba’s eccentric haircuts to his decision to add Wayne Rooney instead of Aaron Ramsey thanks to his uncle Ben.
It has become so popular that several national and regional newspapers can be seen quoting the best bits at the start of every working week.
In his most recent team of the week, Crooks selected four Liverpool players for his team of the week following their 4-1 victory over West Ham United, and he told us there’s one man at Anfield who has caught his eye.
When asked whether there was a current player who reminds Crooks of himself, he replied: “Sadio Mané.”
Crooks looks set to continue sharing his insights on football for many years to come and in his typically bullish manner, he is adamant there must be change concerning the future of football punditry in this country.
“(We need) better insight and pundits putting themselves into the position of the referee, and calling decisions in real time instead of waiting for the replay and see how they like it!”
Photo Credit @ Kick It Out