Crooks lends voice to righteous fight

The ultimate political footballer still has plenty of goals
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Although Trevor Brooking has now dipped his toe – albeit temporarily – into management, Garth Crooks has always aligned himself with the likes of the West Ham idol, Gary Lineker and Alan Hansen as being firmly resistant to taking charge of a football club, preferring to find job satisfaction with the BBC.

"I've got my coaching badge, but I've never fancied management, never applied for a job, never been offered one," he says. "Even though the rewards can be exceptional, I'm not sure I was prepared to take the consequences. Look at Glenn Roeder – he's paid the ultimate price, with his health. It takes its toll in the end, whoever you are."

Instead the former Tottenham striker, the first black player to score in an FA Cup final, has become the ultimate political footballer. He could be termed sport's leading fireman, although he rejects the description. If there's a cause to be fought, a council or a commission to be sat upon, the call goes out: Get Garth.

His latest appointment is to the Independent Football Commission, where he has just replaced Lord Taylor and will chair the working group on racism and equality issues. It is, of course, right up his street, as one who helped pioneer the dismantling of racial barriers within the game. But he does not accept that the reason he is in such demand is because he is one of sport's most articulate black voices, a suggestion that has undertones of tokenism. "Oh I'm bored with that," he responds. "I don't get hung up on it any more. Surely we've moved on.

"I think what it is, is that a lot of sporting organisations did not have people who truly reflected society as it is today – and by that I mean women, the disabled, minority groups. There has been a lot of work done in the last 10 years to change that, and I'm part of that movement, I'm part of the new face of sport in Britain if you like. So is someone like Tanni Grey-Thompson. Why do I join these committees? I'm interested in the way the system works. It gives me a real understanding of corporate governance."

Among a fistful of other bodies, the 45-year-old Crooks is also a member of the Football Foundation, which is responsible for funding the grass roots of the game. "When I joined the Professional Footballers' Association it wasn't with the idea that it would lead me anywhere, all I wanted to do was lead the players – I never thought I would become their chairman or become involved with the Institute of Professional Sport."

He is now chairman of that too, leading a sort of TUC embracing more than a dozen professional players' associations, regularly parlaying with government on issues like drugs testing and work permits. He is also the longest-serving member of Sport England, having been with them since 1995.

"My real worry is that because of the financial cutbacks now being imposed, the concept of Sport for All is in danger of being dissipated. What about those people who just want to play sport, but can't because they can't afford it?

"One of the problems is that when I talk of Sport for All, some people think I'm saying sport for black people. But I'm not. What I want is sport for all people, of all colours, particularly the lower socio-economic groups."

None of these posts are paid. His chief income comes from the BBC, for whom he is a regular interviewer, not only on football but now on other sports, not always to tumultuous acclaim. He laughs off criticism that his interviewing technique is tortuous and timid. "Actually, I think it's very flattering. Who'd have thought that one day this kid from Stoke would be impersonated by Rory Bremner and Alistair McGowan – even if they do take the mickey?

"Sometimes I do have my producer in my ear saying: 'Come on Garth, get on with it', but I'm always trying to find out something that isn't too obvious. I've only ever had one person say to me: 'That was a stupid question, Garth – what game were you watching?' That was Harry Redknapp, when I queried whether his team were worth a draw."

Crooks gained an honours degree in political science (he studied Thatcherism and Marxism – he's no fan of either) while playing out his career with Charlton. He says he has always been fascinated by what goes on in Parliament, and has hosted the BBC programme Despatch Box, though by no means is he a political activist. "I have my own political views, which I've managed to keep private."

So, no chance of him doing a Seb Coe, then? He laughs. "Well the Lords bit appeals to me, but standing for Parliament? No way. Mind you, if I ever did get to the House of Lords I can imagine what the people back home in Stoke would be thinking. Lord Crooks? They'd fall about laughing."