Things I really shouldn’t love but I do: All the Police Academy films (including Mission To Mos-cow), Club Tropicana by Wham! and administering injections, a worrying penchant I recently discovered after Nina gave birth to our son. I admit, all of these are deeply wrong. Perhaps I really am a highly disturbed individual who needs years of therapy to untangle this unholy mess but they’re nevertheless true, so here I am, prepared to be open about these guilty little pleasures I indulge.
The same, of course, applies to football. There are myriad aspects of the game that I revel in which I wouldn’t necessarily be so unabashedly gleeful of celebrating in polite circles but I just can’t resist a proper ten man brawl or sitting through the classified results in their entirety so as to hear such exotic names as Dumbarton, Kidderminster Harriers and Hamilton Academicals be read aloud in the plummiest of Received Pronunciation tones.
The title of my most guilt-ridden of footballing guilty pleasures however, rests with one man and one man alone. The quixotic legend that is, Garth Crooks. This though, has nothing to do with the fact that he played for Spurs because I was just a little too young to really remember his endeavours in that memorable Keith Burkinshaw side of the early eighties. No, my love of Garth Crooks stems wholeheartedly from his work as a “vocal analyst of association football founded on expertise and assiduously garnered experience across various social and political strata over an extensive period of several earthly cycles”. In other words, his work as a pundit.
That’s the thing about Crooks. He is not one for brevity when he can just as easily crowbar at least one mixed metaphor and several enthusiastic platitudes into a sentence. And it’s because of that, that I find him so utterly compelling. Whenever he speaks, he always strikes me as grasping for a better way of expressing a thought but just falling short of finding the appropriate level of verbal dexterity. Like the bright kid from the local comprehensive who will never fit in with the public school twerps from up the hill with their ‘posho’ patois and polo lessons, he regardless knows he’s a cut above the monosyllables uttered by the company he is forced to keep. Make no mistake, Crooksey is no Alan Shearer and for that I give thanks. Unlike Shearer, he’s not a bland, primetime taste. He’s hidden away during teatime whilst we’re all busy preparing food or tidying up toy-strewn living rooms. He inhabits the world behind the red button and thus if you really want to find him, you have to really make the effort. And I do. Every week.
I do so because I love his propensity for a soundbite however misguided it proves to be (“Spurs have sold Elvis [Gareth Bale] and signed The Beatles”), I love the way he feels the need to lean forward and gesticulate as he gets swept up in the emotion of making his views known whilst simultaneously failing to make any sense (Brazil playing a “4-2-1-3-1” formation) and I particularly love the way his brow furrows when he gets annoyed and he ends up resembling an irritably evangelical Baron Greenback from Danger Mouse firing off apocalyptic warnings and unforgiving critiques of those who have strayed from his footballing outlook. He usually concludes with something emphatic like, “let there be no doubt” or something equally bombastic. That’s right, Garth! Sock it to ‘em!
If I could re-make Being John Malkovich, Crooks would be the person whose body I’d like to enter via a portal in the back of his head. I’d be with him, walking down those BBC corridors like Alan Partidge incarnate, exchanging platonic double entendres with Gabby Logan whilst hearing him internally curse at Martin Keown’s every utterance. I’d do all this whilst miming possibly the greatest ironic lyric committed to song by Half Man Half Biscuit:
“There is surely nothing worse than washing sieves, with the possible exception of being Garth Crooks”
Oh, what bliss it would be!
I fully appreciate that some of you might not necessarily agree with my abiding appreciation for Crooks. Some of you might even be tempted to tell me exactly why he’s a minion of the fallen angel doing his evil bidding on Earth and you’d certainly be entitled to that opinion. You’d be wrong, so very wrong but you’d be entitled. But the point of this trifling frippery that I’ve written this week isn’t about assuming some imaginary mantel of self-regarding coolness. It’s about the eccentric aspects of football that continue to make it such an enduring pursuit. Imagine a studio of Gary Neville clones. The analysis would undoubtedly be of the highest order but we’d be the poorer for the absence of the more acquired tastes that more esoteric individuals such as Crooks bring to the whole endeavour.
There’s a tendency for everybody involved with football to take it all a bit too seriously at the moment. I’m not exempt from that, I freely admit, but having been accused by Manchester City fans this week of being derogatory towards them for referring to their club as ‘Citeh’ and having watched the venom which a female journalist had spat at her for having the temerity to appear on last week’s Sunday Supplement, makes me think we should all just lighten up a little bit. After all, isn’t football meant to be fun?
With that in mind, I asked the good people of Twitter to tweet me their own football-related guilty pleasures this week. From Liverpool fans admitting a love for Eric Cantona to people acknowledging the fact they can’t get enough of players celebrating with gusto against former clubs, it was proof, if any were needed, that football can transcend the narrow parameters of tribalism. We all know what’s wrong with the game. But ensuring that we can laugh about it it is just as important as railing against the ineptitude of club owners or the desperate scrabble to finish fourth in the Premier League.
So, that’s it. I do and will always love Garth Crooks. And for such an admission, Nina has consigned me to washing sieves for the entire month of January. Tonight however, we feast on Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach. I have no shame.
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