Not quite Oscar Wilde (nor the new Buford Pusser) former QPR striker / current Liverpool benchwarmer Peter Crouch’s autobiography, ‘Walking Tall : My Story’ hit the shelves this week, and the Guardian’s Simon Hawkins finds the England international with an unusual axe to grind.
Across two pages of his new autobiography Crouch (above) sticks the boot into Gillingham. Not just the club and its fans, but the whole, unsuspecting community.”Dad remembers his first visit to that Medway town in Kent quite clearly,” writes Crouch, embarking on a memorable scene-setting stanza. In it, his father – high-flying advertising executive Bruce – visits a pub where the locals are “watching ‘Supermarket Sweep’ on television and betting on it with cash.” He then observes a chap pouring oil into a drain while his child gambols merrily with a Staffordshire bull terrier. “If you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting Gillingham,” he concludes, “I hope that puts you in the picture.”
Why the rather classist hostility? Well, Crouch goes on to recount a nasty experience at the Priestfield early in his career when, playing for QPR, the distinctive young colt received an unpleasant reception from a group of home fans he likens to “the hillbillies in the film Deliverance”.
He was unimpressed with the aesthetic qualities of the clientele in general, in fact. “Looking around at the faces of the home support at Gillingham, the irony was never lost on me that these people had the cheek to call me a ‘freak’. Perhaps they should have taken a look at themselves first,” he says, still in the highest of dudgeon, seven years on.
Of course, Crouch didn’t actually write the book. It was ghosted by the Independent’s Sam Wallace, and you do wonder how such curiously contentious passages actually came into being, an Everton-baiting extract having already hit the headlines in the run-up to last Saturday’s Merseyside derby.
What do the good people of Gillingham – club and town – make of their unpleasant cameo?
“I support the club, I work for the club and I’m not going to let people drag it down when it shouldn’t be dragged down,” says an indignant Steve Lovell, Gillingham’s football in the community officer. Lovell is one of Gillingham’s favourite sons, having played and coached at the Priestfield, and he’s a little bemused by the big lad’s continued anguish, looking back at the game in question.
“I was actually sitting in the stand near where he was getting this stick, but it was only normal stick that any person would get,” he says. “You’ve got to rise above it; if you’ll excuse the pun.”