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Down memory Lane - the King and Crouchy: From the ballcourt to the Champions League...

Posted on 25 February 2017  - 15:00

A player who scored some of the most important goals in the Club's modern history returns to White Hart Lane on Sunday.

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Peter Crouch will be in a Stoke shirt this time and likely to lead the line having scored four goals in his last seven appearances for the Potters.

A product of our Academy system, 'Crouchy' left us for QPR in 2000 and had spells with Villa, Southampton, Liverpool and Portsmouth before returning to Spurs in 2009.

He went on to score 24 goals in 93 appearances in all competitions, including...

- The winner at Manchester City to clinch fourth and a place in the Champions League in May, 2010
- A hat-trick in the second leg of the Champions League play-off against Young Boys to secure a place in the group stage
- Our first Champions League grouop stage goal at Werder Bremen
- A goal in our memorable 3-1 win against Inter Milan at the Lane
- The icing on the cake, the winner as we toppled AC Milan in the San Siro on February, 2011

Now 36 and recently celebrating reaching the 100-goal milestone in the Premier League, Crouchy was best friends (and remains so) with the one and only Ledley King during his time in the Academy in the mid-1990s.

Having got through the Champions League play-off against Young Boys back in August, 2010, Crouchy and Ledley sat down with

Hotspur magazine to recall the days of playing together as youngsters in the old indoor facility at White Hart Lane and dreaming of the first team.

As Crouchy returns to the Lane, here we re-run that feature and it's worth noting, Ledley never did make it to the San Siro, injury sadly kept him out of both the matches against Inter Milan and AC Milan in 2010-11.

Below: Crouchy and Ledley shoulder to shoulder as we prepare to face Young Boys in the Champions League play-off, second leg at the Lane in August, 2010 - Crouchy scored a hat-trick that night

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HOTSPUR MAGAZINE

September, 2010

From the ballcourt to the San Siro...

Two 14-year-olds used to dream of playing in the Champions League when they trained together at the ballcourt facility twice a week at White Hart Lane in the mid-1990s.

They went on to make the grade, progressing from schoolboy to the youth team, going from the ballcourt to Spurs Lodge and then into the Premier League, England and the World Cup.

Now they are going to achieve that childhood dream by walking out together at the San Siro to face holders Inter Milan in the Champions League on October 20.

They’ve come a long way - but both Ledley King and Peter Crouch remember those nights at White Hart Lane as if they were yesterday...

What do you recall about those early nights in the ballcourt at White Hart Lane?
Crouchy: “I remember it well. It was quality to play in there when we were kids. I remember every Tuesday and Thursday getting a train, getting off at White Hart Lane. We must have been 13, 14 at the time. We even used it when we were YTS at the club. We’d train at Mill Hill, as it was then and then do another session in the ballcourt. We used to love it. The parents used to watch us from the balcony.”

Leds: “As a group we connected really well. I remember how quickly we became friends and that was really important at that age. The ballcourt was fun back then. It was new, to play indoors on a new surface. It was like our own little Wembley! We had a lot of fun in there.”

Below: Ledley gives his team talk ahead of the huge game at City - May, 2010

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What did you think of each other back then?
Crouchy: “Ledley stood out a mile. He was always going to play at the top level. He was probably as big as he is now back then at the age of 14. He had so much ability. He was the best player in our youth team by a mile and he was always going to make it. He was ready for the reserves just about straight away after we’d joined in YTS. He was playing reserve games at 16. We were good friends even then and we’ve always talked throughout our careers. I’ve gone around the houses a little but Ledley remained here and it’s a pleasure to be back here with him all these years later.”

Leds: “As you’d expect, Peter stood out, even then. We became great friends straight away, a great lad with a lovely personality. To this day, we’re still good friends. Looking back, the first thing that stood out to me was how nice a person he was. When you are young it’s all about making friends and feeling comfortable in the environment you are in. We definitely had that and everyone loved him, no-one had a bad word to say about him. Playing-wise, you could see that he would become a top player as long as he found people to believe in him and give him time to develop.”

Below: Crouchy celebrates a famous goal against Inter Milan at the Lane - November, 2010

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What was your training routine before you joined the club full-time and were still training at the ballcourt and then Spurs Lodge as youngsters?
Crouchy: “I used to come in from Ealing, so quite a way away. I would get the Central Line to Oxford Circus, then to Seven Sisters on the Victoria Line and then Seven Sisters overground to White Hart Lane. It took an hour-and-a-half, at least."

Leds: “I used to travel straight from school. I’d travel with Wesley Jones, James Carter and Stephen Nelson, all lads I still talk to now. We used to travel from Cambridge Heath Road and get an overhead train to White Hart Lane. We then got a lift home.”

Crouchy: “When we moved to Chigwell I took the Central Line from Ealing Broadway all the way. It was a bit of graft, but well worth it. We all used to meet up. Leds would sometimes get on at Mile End and a few of the lads got on here and there, so I would start the journey on my own and by the time we got off there would be about 10 of us.”

Leds: “I remember that well, by the time we used to get to Chigwell the whole youth team was on there! I’d get on at Mile End or Bow. One thing I’ll never forget is how long it used to take us to get home after training. We enjoyed each other’s company so much and we’d dilly and dally on the way home, sometimes letting trains go past at Chigwell so we could sit on the platform and continue playing games. We’d sit there for hours having a laugh between ourselves.”

Below: Early days - Ledley takes on Liverpool's Robbie Fowler - November, 2000

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What do you remember about the moment you were taken on?
Crouchy: “We went away to Northern Ireland to play in the Milk Cup (1996), we actually won it that year and I can remember the lads well, the likes of Nicky Hunt, Nerada Barnard, Ledley, we were with a few lads from the year above and when we were out there we were told that we were being taken on. It was fantastic, great news. I absolutely loved it but I had to move to QPR to get my chance. I had a lot of players in front of me in my position like Chris Armstrong, Les Ferdinand, Steffen Iversen, Paul McVeigh, Neale Fenn. I just felt I had to go away at that time. Thankfully I’m back now and playing Champions League football here.”

Leds: “I got my YTS early. As a schoolboy, I signed one year YTS and a three-year professional contract. I was a little different in that respect to the other lads. I’m sure I didn’t change me at all. Okay, maybe in school a little bit!”

Below: Ledley and Crouchy face other for the last time - Spurs v Stoke - March, 2012

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Crouchy moved on - what do you remember about playing against each other?
Leds: “It was a funny one. I never enjoyed playing against Crouchy because we were such good friends. It’s never easy to play against a good friend, although myself and Crouchy have never been the most aggressive on the pitch, maybe that made it a little easier."

Crouchy: “Yes, it was always difficult. It’s weird, growing up with Leds, I knew him so well. He’s always been one of the best defenders around. If he hadn’t had the problems with his knee he would have been one of the world’s best, I full believe that, but he’s still a top, top player."

Leds: “Playing against Crouchy was tough. I had to switch on and make sure there was no talking! As a defender, you don’t want to get caught out while you are talking to the forwards you are up against. He would always have a friendly chat but as a defender, you can’t afford to switch off at any moment.”

Below: Crouchy's away after heading home at City - May, 2010

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Crouchy scored one of the most important goals in the club’s recent history at Manchester City, clinching fourth place. How did it feel to score that goal, Crouchy and Ledley, what can you remember about it?
Crouchy: “It was certainly a special goal. I’ve been lucky enough to score a few important goals in my career but that one is up there as one of the most vital. The lads had put in so much hard work and effort last season to get us into fourth place, so it was a real bonus to get the goal that got us over the line. It was perfect for me to score at that end as well, in front of the Spurs fans. As I ran behind the goal in celebration, I just remember looking into our supporters and seeing the pure joy on their faces. It was a special moment for me and for all of them too!”

Leds: “It was one of the biggest games in the club’s recent history and we were all completely focused and up for it, and it showed on the night. We were knocking on the door and we were wondering if the goal was going to come, but it was typical

Crouchy. I was delighted for him. I would have been delighted whoever scored, but it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.”

Below: Ledley leads the celebrations at City - May, 2010

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You followed that up with a hat-trick to get us into the group stages of the Champions League. That must have been a special night for both of you, mission accomplished, if you like, after finishing fourth.
Crouchy: “I was delighted with the hat trick but more pleased that we got through to the group stages. That is what we wanted and that is what we worked so hard for. The work we put in last season was down to everyone, every squad member, and we’ll use every one of those players if we want to fight on all fronts in the league, FA Cup, Carling Cup and Champions League. It’s exciting times for the club.”

Leds: “We only spoke about it recently, how he scored the vital goal that got us into fourth in the Premier League and the Champions League play-off, and the hat-trick that got us into the group stages. I think he’s repaid whatever we paid for him!”

Below: Crouchy celebrates his opener in the Champions League play-off against Young Boys

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So having played together in the ballcourt as teenagers, you now get to walk out at the San Siro together to face Inter Milan in the Champions League. How does that feel?
Leds: “We weren’t thinking about playing at the San Siro all those years ago at the ballcourt. As I said, that was our Wembley. At that age, you just want to get a YTS and try to break into the first team.”

Crouchy: “It’s an unbelievable journey really. I remember playing youth team games together at Spurs Lodge and there would be
30 people watching. We’ve come a long way since and it’s so pleasing that two players who have come through the youth system at Spurs might get the chance to play together at the San Siro.”

Leds: “It does show that anything is possible. At the time, my main focus was trying to improve my game and make it as a footballer. The strange thing is that I broke into the first team but it didn’t happen for Crouchy. He left, made his name for himself elsewhere and come back home, so so speak. It just shows, even at that age, if you don’t make it you can come back and still be a professional and England international, in Crouchy’s case. It can be done.”

Below: Ledley lifts the League Cup in 2008

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What do you think of each other as a player and person now, 15 years on from those early days?
Crouchy: “Exactly the same, just a great lad, top player, great captain. He’s part of the furniture at this club and everyone
appreciates him here. He’s got everything. In all honesty, he was probably one of the most skilful players in our youth team and even though he was a centre-half, he still had amazing feet and you never knew what foot was his best, he could play left or right. He had so much ability, raw pace and was great defensively. He’s got everything, really.”

Leds: “Back then, we got on like a house on fire straight away and nothing’s changed. He hasn’t changed and I’d like to think I haven’t either. That’s a good thing. We both quite chilled, we’ve been friends for a long time now. As a player, he’s got better and better. For me, he was underrated anyway. I’ve always rated him very highly and know his game well. In fact, sometimes I know what he’s going to do before he does it! He’s developed into a world-class player.”

Below: Crouchy's crowning moment at Spurs - the winner against AC Milan

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Does it feel like 15 years ago that you were training together?
Crouchy: “No, not really. I remember everything about it. My mum used to take me sometimes because me dad might be at work,
then my dad might turn up later and take me home. I remember the trip in, the lads, the training and all the coaches who did so much for me, the likes of Des Bulpin and Pat Holland. They were fantastic with me and two people who really stick out in my mind who really helped me in my early career.”

Leds: “No, never. In one way it feels like a long time but 15 years? Time flies! A lot of older players tell you when you are young that your career flies by and it really does. We’re both 30 soon! How did that happen? We had some great times back then, we still talk about them and still laugh about them.”