British Sport Has a Knack of Producing' Unlikely Heroes
Blacker, Terence, The Independent (London, England)
How very strange it must feel to be a British sporting superstar. One moment you are remarkable only in that you are above average at running, jumping, kicking a ball or hitting it, the next you have become the focus of a small, desperate nation's ambitions, fantasies and embarrassments. No wonder so many of them behave oddly, storming off golf courses in a huff, sobbing on a pitch in front of thousands of people, drinking too much, "dogging" in car-parks, "roasting" (whatever that may mean) in hotel bedrooms and dictating their memoirs to Hunter Davies. For the past couple of weeks, the sporting media circus has turned its attention to a footballer who has been described as "Peter the Great", "Perfect Peter", "phenomenal", "England's talisman" and so on. His international record of scoring goals has placed him beside Stanley Matthews, John Barnes and Teddy Sheringham. Yet no sporting success has done quite so much to reveal the idiocy of commentators and the fickleness of supporters than the rise and rise of a man called Peter Crouch. I happened to see Crouch's debut as a first-team player not that many years ago. Coming on as a substitute towards the end of a match in England's second division, he provoked unbridled hilarity in the crowd. Absurdly tall, he made his way in a gangly, uncoordinated manner on to the pitch. His legs and arms looked bulimic, his callow teenage features were goofy, and he looked so fragile it seemed as if the slightest puff of wind would blow him off his match-stick legs and leave him in a crumpled heap, like a puppet whose strings have been cut.
"Ah, bless," said a woman, sitting behind me.
The opposing fans jeered. We, the home crowd, were embarrassed that our team was so desperate that they had brought on someone whose only apparent advantage was that he was six inches taller than anyone else on the pitch. Bullying is part of sport, on and off the pitch and, because bullies go for the weak or vulnerable, it is never the thuggish player who is persecuted by the crowd, however incompetent he may be. As in the playground, the person who does not conform to what is expected is the one who will be taunted by the majority. …