PETER CROUCH: Bristol City are the real deal

Stoke City striker Peter Crouch writes a weekly column exclusively for Sportsmail

The embarrassment was awful. It was one of those nights when you want the ground to swallow you up and the frustration stays with you for days.

After we had taken care of Rochdale in the second round of the Carabao Cup in August, our reward in the next round was a trip to Bristol City. This was a competition we had aspirations of going far in and a tie with a Championship team, on paper, did not look too problematic.

Getting to Wembley again is a big aspiration for everyone at Stoke. We have been in the Premier League 10 years now but there is a desire to give the fans a big day out, as was the case when we played Manchester City in the FA Cup final in 2011.

I’d love to win the League Cup. It’s not been a great competition for me. The closest I got was a semi-final against Liverpool two years ago and we should have won that game only for a couple of idiots missing penalties in the shootout at Anfield. 

I was left embarrassed after we lost to Bristol City in the Carabao Cup earlier this season

I was left embarrassed after we lost to Bristol City in the Carabao Cup earlier this season

Matty Taylor scores Bristol City's second goal in their 2-0 win over Stoke in the third round

Matty Taylor scores Bristol City’s second goal in their 2-0 win over Stoke in the third round

Simon Mignolet saved my shot and as it bounced back to me, I punched the ball in frustration. A lot of my missus’ family are Liverpool fans and they said it looked like I was punching the air to celebrate, as if I was saying ‘get in!’ Scandalous…

We know how tough it is to win something but to do it would be massive. So the Carabao Cup wasn’t something we were going to take lightly and we headed to Ashton Gate full of confidence.

No players were rested. The manager didn’t consider rotation. We were going to Bristol to win, to keep our dream of going to Wembley alive, but we ended up losing 2-0 and were well beaten.

Getting knocked out by a team from a division below is one of the worst experiences you can have. Even falling behind is dreadful and I can still remember what it was like when I played for Liverpool and Havant and Waterlooville took the lead against us at Anfield in the FA Cup 10 years ago.

Korey Smith scores Bristol City's second goal against Manchester United on Wednesday night

Korey Smith scores Bristol City’s second goal against Manchester United on Wednesday night

Unfortunately, I’ve been on the end of a few Cup shocks and Bristol was another. The quietness on our coach as we left Ashton Gate reflected the mood. Privately, though, I felt we’d lost to a Championship team in name only. It wasn’t just the quality of their football. They work so hard. So I kept an eye on them. I’ve been so impressed with their progress and, when I settled down to watch the quarter-final on Wednesday, I had a genuine feeling they’d do something against Manchester United.

Everything about Bristol City is geared up for the Premier League. It starts with the stadium, then they have Lee Johnson (above), a young, hungry manager. He has put together a side in his image and the occasion was right for them. You can say Man United weren’t ‘at it’ but that was credit to Bristol City for not allowing them to play.

A ‘worldie’ from Joe Bryan gave them the lead, then they stuck at it in the second half and kept their composure to win at the death. Now they find themselves in the semi-final, their route having taken them past Watford, ourselves, Crystal Palace and United. Lucky? What they have done so far doesn’t sound lucky to me…

Bristol City have been just what the Carabao Cup has needed. Some clubs rest players and rotate too much and show it a lack of respect but there are times when it doesn’t help itself. I mean, what is this new penalty system? I watched Leicester against Manchester City and couldn’t work out what was going on. What was wrong with the old format? Everyone knows where they stand. You toss the coin and if you have to go second, it’s the luck of the draw.

And speaking of draws, the Carabao Cup hasn’t helped itself this season. One draw was at 4am, another was supposed to be live on Facebook but they couldn’t make it work so posted the quarter-final line-up without anyone seeing. What chance have they got of avoiding criticism?

It has been fantastic to see Bristol City give it a shot in the arm. Now why can’t they win it? I don’t see any reason. What you have to remember is these players are fighting for their lives in this Cup, they might not get another chance. It’s massive for them.

Manchester City, on the other hand, are fighting on every front. And if they rest the top boys, I genuinely don’t see a reason why Bristol City haven’t got a chance. It would be amazing if they did it. If the semi-final line-up had been City, United, Arsenal and Chelsea, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to tune in.

But Bristol City have changed everything. Now I’ll definitely be watching to see if their dream can continue.


How can you not celebrate? A trait has started to creep into our game where players will barely smile after scoring and I can’t get my head around why.

I’ve tried to come up with reasons. Maybe it has something to do with a release from a build-up of pressure or the idea that someone doesn’t want to share a big moment with fans who have maybe been giving a bit of flak from the terraces. Either way, it is so far from what I understand.

I get it when you have to show an element of respect to teams you may have played for and enjoyed good times with. To do something like Emmanuel Adebayor did for Manchester City in 2009, running the length of the pitch and sliding on his knees in front of Arsenal’s fans, is totally disrespectful.

Romelu Lukaku (right) barely celebrated after scoring against West Brom last Sunday

Romelu Lukaku (right) barely celebrated after scoring against West Brom last Sunday

But I’ve scored against QPR, Ports-mouth and Liverpool and I’ve never not smiled. To be honest, I think you’re being disrespectful to your team-mates and fans if you don’t look like you are enjoying it after scoring.

The more I think about it, the more I’m struggling to work it out. When I had a barren run following my move to Liverpool in 2005, I came in for stick and had to deal with criticism about my suitability for playing at Anfield.

Eventually I broke my duck against Wigan and the release that followed was incredible, one of the best feelings that I have had.

The release that followed my first Liverpool goal was incredible, one of the best feelings I had

The release that followed my first Liverpool goal was incredible, one of the best feelings I had

Scoring a goal is the best thing that can happen to you on a pitch. To then not celebrate is beyond me.

On the flip side, I find it very difficult to understand some of the celebrations, not least those handshakes that Harry Kane and Dele Alli do. Mind you, after The Robot, I can’t talk, can I?

What the future holds after I’ve finished playing is something I constantly think about and a route I’m considering is heading into coaching.

I’ve been playing for 20 years and never done anything else and the thought of taking my boots off for the final time scares me a bit. So I want to keep my options open and I have been doing my badges, which I’m really enjoying.

Put it this way: I’m not the type of person who is going to do two years backpacking. I want to carry on doing what I love doing. Having a breather at Christmas might be nice but it wouldn’t be nice to be off for months on end.

I'm considering going into coaching when I finally hang up my boots and stop playing football

I’m considering going into coaching when I finally hang up my boots and stop playing football

It has arguably never been harder to be a manager and people will wonder whether, after Paul Clement became the sixth Premier League boss to lose his job this season, it would put doubts in my mind.

Well, I don’t think people getting sacked would put me off. It’s something I’m passionate about. I’ve done my ‘B’ licence and am working way through my ‘A’ Licence with the aim of getting my Pro Licence.

By the time I finish, all being well I’ll be able to go straight into coaching.


I’ve had a few interesting experiences in terms of where I’ve spent Christmas in my career but this year’s will be right up there: a night in Huddersfield is one to tick off the bucket list!

Every year when the fixtures are published in June, the first thing you do is scan to see where your Boxing Day game will be. You hope and pray that you will get a home game — or something local — so you can spend some time with your family and sleep in your own bed.

Having a proper Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebration is something I’m going to look forward to when I eventually retire but, until that day comes, I’m happy to grin and bear it. I’ve never been to Huddersfield before, so there is a first time for everything.

So on Christmas Day, we will train in the afternoon before heading up to West Yorkshire. Usually a late session on December 25 means you at least get to have lunch at home with the family but I’ve even been denied that pleasure…

When I told Abbey (above) that we were not reporting until late afternoon and made the suggestion we could have lunch about 12.30pm, the excitement on my behalf was not matched. ‘Not a chance,’ she said. ‘If you think I’m getting up and peeling spuds for you at 9am, you must be absolutely mental!’

Maybe in the early days of us being together, she might have been more receptive but this year I know it’s presents, breakfast and then I’m off. Merry Christmas!



I wanted to give Bristol City’s left back a special mention, separate from the achievements of his team. He was brilliant against Manchester United and I’m sure his name will have gone into the books of a few scouts. I’d go as far as to say he produced possibly the best performance by a full back I’ve seen anywhere this season.


ONE of the most humbling traditions we do at football clubs is pay visits to those who are having a difficult time at Christmas, when everything we do is put into perspective.

This week Jack Butland, Ryan Shawcross and I went to Donna Louise Hospice in Stoke. The staff who work there are amazing. Donna Louise is a tough place to visit but it’s great seeing the faces of the children and parents light up. The kids were all so bright and bubbly and Jack and I really enjoyed it. I know most clubs do something similar but it’s a great tradition and long may it continue.


A LOT of Christmas cheer! Three points is all I want against West Brom today before I spend Christmas night on my own in a Huddersfield hotel room… I love it really. It’s the best time of the year in so many ways.


Simple this week. It’s Christmas so Mariah Carey, Chris Rea, George Michael and, of course, The Pogues have been on repeat.