Among all the hyperbole about the misery chewer of Old Trafford Town and the amazing reformation of Tony the inebriated donkey being nominated in the Queen’s Birthday honours list, another footballing name was mentioned almost as an afterthought in some reports, having been awarded the OBE for services to the Institute of Professional Sport. That name belonged to a Tottenham Hotspur player who was a major factor in the success of the early 1980’s, but who took a back seat in the limelight cast upon Keith Burkinshaw’s side.
Spurs were in need of front men. With Chris Jones having departed for Manchester City and Gerry Armstrong coming to the end of his White Hart Lane career, Garth Crooks joined Tottenham from Stoke City in July 1980 for a fee of £650,000. His move was a typical Spurs style swoop of the time, with no transfer tittle tattle preceding the deal and the surprise with which I heard the news (in the toilet at the old cinema in Enfield) made my heart (and luckily nothing else) leap. An England Under-21 striker (who scored a hat-trick on his representative debut) with a reputation for pace and putting away a half-chance would go nicely with our Scottish acquisition I thought. Little did I know ...
The player settled quickly into the side. Indeed, he scored in his first three matches in the League for Spurs and gelled with Archibald straight away in a partnership which served Tottenham well over four seasons. But what Archie possessed in poaching and power, Garth matched in pace and grace. His goals came from blistering changes of pace which saw him outstrip his marker and leave him in on goal. His strike against Wolves in the 1981 FA Cup semi-final replay at Highbury saw him latch onto Hod’s through-ball like grease lightning, with defenders seemingly running in treacle as they trailed in his wake. The finish was cracking too. He wasn’t just about pace and like all good goal-scorers, he was good at being in the right place at the right time. I particularly remember one League match at his old stamping ground of Stoke City’s Victoria Ground, he followed on as goalie Barry Siddall went to clear a back-pass that was outside the area. The unfortunate keeper completely mis-kicked the ball and Garth was there to put the ball into an unguarded net, looking embarrassed at having done so.
Crooksy soon became a favourite as he not only took the goals, but in the partnership with Archibald, also made many. The goals he did get tend to stick in the memory. The one where he skipped away from hard man Kenny Burns in the box to score against Leeds United in the FA Cup; his mis-hit shot past Pat Jennings to give us victory in the same competition; his jack-knife header from Villa’s cross in the 6-1 home win over Wolves when the West Stand was officially opened. The most memorable is probably the goal that made it 2-2 on the night of Thursday 14th of May 1981. The replay of the FA Cup final, Spurs were behind to Manchester City, when the ball was lobbed over the defence on the edge of the box and Crooks hit the dropping ball past Corrigan to put Tottenham on equal terms. His contribution is not the most remembered thing about the match as Ricky Villa’s winner took all the headlines, but one TV review some time after focused on the actions of Crooks when Villa was on his run. As Ricardo rounded light blue shirt after light blue shirt, Garth could be seen mimicking the run and swinging his foot to replicate the final finish. His complete consumption in the play was there for all to see.
He also played a part in the successful FA Cup run of 1982 and a lesser role in the UEFA Cup victory in 1984. His goals in cup competitions coming at the rate of just about one every two games, many of which were vital in the FA Cup. Unfortunately, during the 1983-84 season, the combination of injuries, new signing Alan Brazil and youngster Mark Falco put pressure on the out-of-sorts Crooks and he went on loan to Manchester United. He returned to White Hart Lane, where he did provide cover for Clive Allen, who had signed for Spurs in the close season in 1984, but it was the departure of Steve Archibald after the UEFA Cup final in 1984 that probably was the beginning of the end for Garth. The two were just so good together and although the injuries made Crooks miss a large chunk of the latter part of 1982-83 and the 1983-84 seasons, it seemed as though he was no longer the striker he was. But what a striker he was. All the songs were about taking good care of Archibald, but Crooks’ record stands comparison with the Scot’s. And his devotion to the cause meant that even though he was a non-playing substitute for the UEFA Cup final 2nd leg at Tottenham, he was one of the first to run on to congratulate the players and feature in the celebrations as if he had been involved on the pitch. His effervescent approach to the game was a constant joy to Spurs fans. Therefore, it was a sad day when he was sold to West Bromwich Albion in 1985. He stayed there for a couple of years and then returned to London, where he helped Charlton Athletic in their struggles against relegation. The effect of his injuries caught up with him and in November 1990, Garth retired from playing and with that he also had to stand down as the Chairman of the Professional Footballers Association - a position he had held with great dignity and honour. He had been involved in a lot of charity work while with Tottenham and his other clubs, especially for Sickle Cell Anaemia.
Whilst at Tottenham, he studied Politics at college and this paid dividends for him, when he went on to present the late night discussion programme “Despatch Box” on BBC2. Always an erudite young man, he subsequently became involved in the sport from a media point of view, carrying out television work, which he still does for Match of the Day now. He also moved into the administration side of the game and he has now established a new career as a broadcaster on Greater London Radio, where he hosts a show interviewing Afro-Caribbean's, who are in the news and playing some of their favourite tunes. For those who haven’t heard his show, it is very highly regarded and this year won a Sony award (a radio Oscar, if you will) something you can’t imagine many footballers emulating. The sheer fact that he has gone into an area of work that would have been thought out of most players reach shows that as on the field, where he rode the toughest of challenges to get what he wanted, he has made similar strides off the field to push the image of the black player further forward and has done so with real success. In doing so he has become a role model for more than one career and long may he continue to do so.
Another article on Garth Crooks
can be found on the PFA website
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