Education: Passed/Failed: Garth Crooks

Interview Jonathan Sale
Sunday 23 October 2011 08:08

Garth Crooks, 40, is a broadcaster and ex-footballer. A striker with more than 200 League goals to his credit, he played for Stoke City, Manchester United, West Bromwich and Charlton; with Spurs, he became the first black footballer to score in a Cup Final. He was chair of the Professional Footballers' Association and is now on the Sports Council Committee and on the Lottery Sports Panel. He interviews for Football Focus on BBC1 and is one of the presenters on Despatch Box, the new Monday-to-Thursday political discussion programme at midnight on BBC2.

Kick-off: I went to St Peter's Junior School, a church school next to the old Victoria ground (of Stoke City FC, now demolished). Butler Street, where I was born, was almost adjacent to the Butler Stand and you could hear the roar of the crowd. I found education difficult. It was sport, especially soccer, that became my emancipation. When I was about seven, I found myself playing in the school team with 11-year-olds. Teachers said that if only I applied myself in the classroom as I applied myself on the soccer field, I would reap rewards and benefits. I thought: "I don't believe you!" It took a few more years to be convinced.

Taking one book at a time: I sensed a lot was resting on the 11-plus but I failed and went to Penkhill Secondary Modern. It was a pretty good secondary modern and I was fortunate to get there. I focused on sport for about two years. However, I suddenly discovered education at 14. I discovered things I didn't know; reading was boring - but I was led to read because that was where the information was. The more I looked to books, the more I found them fascinating. The school looked to pupils to give their views on social and political issues and on how the school should be run. We were a church school: how relevant was a religious institution in a society that was becoming multi-cultural? I found myself becoming very vocal. The school gave us the sort of debates that we heard our parents having at home.

The result we came for?: I was put in the CSE stream, being considered not good enough for O-levels. I got two CSE grade ones, the equivalent of O-level passes, and just missed out on a third. The staff said: "If we'd pushed you harder, you'd have got more." A lot in the higher streams flunked.

Getting my Spurs: I went straight into football, on the basis that I would continue my education later; a lie, but my mother fell for it! I played football for 17 or 18 years - and behold, I kept my word! In 1981, when Tottenham Hotspurs reached the FA Cup Final, I came into contact with the media. I became fascinated by the way it worked, radio in particular. I did a foundation year at Tottenham Tech and then a general degree in applied social sciences, a BSc specialising in politics, at North London Poly, which changed to the University of North London while I was there. They were six great years - but extremely demanding. It was all part-time. I started at 27 and finished when I was 33, just as I retired from professional football. I got a 2.2.

Playing at No 10: The team didn't know about it; it was something that I did for me. The Professional Footballers' Association paid for two-thirds of my fees and books. When I was chair of the PFA, we had a pounds 100,000 bill for the education of players. There were times when I'd come from the House of Commons or No 10 and go to the classroom, into debates about Mrs Thatcher - and I'd think, "If only they knew where I've just come from..."

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