Norwich City top 100 appearances – Ian Crook (7) – Chippy, an unlikely master of the football arts
- Credit: Archant
In the latest in our series on Norwich City’s top appearance makers, STEVE DOWNES looks at the master himself, Ian Crook.
418 appearances/24 goals
Ian Crook probably wouldn’t get close to playing professional football in this age of the uber-athlete.
The former Norwich City midfielder would be unceremoniously crossed off a youth scout’s list before he even had a chance to prove himself. On the scrapheap at age 11.
For Chippy - as Crook was known to fans - was quite short, not particularly strong and did not have a turn of pace. He didn’t exactly look like a footballer. But he certainly was: probably the classiest to pull on a yellow shirt in City’s midfield in the last 30 years (I challenge you to find one to beat him).
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He was Ken Brown’s, Dave Stringer’s and Mike Walker’s ringmaster, conductor and quarterback rolled into one as he sprayed achingly-accurate passes and dictated the pace.
When Crook got the ball, he had that priceless ability to appear as though he was in a different timezone to the blood-and-thunderers of the top flight. He could also score from free-kicks. Yes, Norwich fans, I did just say that.
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It’s not a phenomenon we’ve been familiar with too often, but Crook could miss the wall (and the crowd) and stick the pill into the top corner like a boss.
Pace, bend, precision, net-bulge, roar, repeat.
Of all the many memories of Crook, my favourite is a bit left-field - literally.
Do you remember the season when Mark Bowen scored a shedload from full-back? A good proportion came from the same routine: Bowen inside to Crook, Bowen overlaps, Crook chips the ball behind the opposition’s defence with sand-wedge spin, Bowen thumps it into the net.
Nobody else could pass like that and there wasn’t a defender who could stop it.
As a footnote to this article, can I point out that the Canaries signed Crook from Tottenham Hotspur for £80,000?
For that money, we got a player who helped the team to three top-five top-flight finishes, two FA Cup semi-finals and a wonderful UEFA Cup run. He was one of the best players never to play for England - thanks to his playing for the wrong club – and he made 418 appearances for City.
That works out at £191 per game.
A close shave with the Tractor Boys...
Ian Crook was yellow and green through and through – but for a few awful days in the summer of 1996, it looked like there might be a hint of blue in there too.
On the day that Mike Walker’s return to manage City for a second time was announced, Crook was being pictured outside Portman Road, holding up a Town shirt, having signed for the noisy neighbours.
Had it not been for some dodgy phone connections the story would never have happened – but Walker’s attempts to contact free agent Crook failed… he turned off his phone to save the batteries.
“I just didn’t think anyone would need to contact me so I switched it off,” said Crook. “This whole thing has been rumbling on for so long now that it’s a really amazing piece of timing that Mike’s return coincided with my signing for Ipswich. It certainly wasn’t conducive to me making a choice on the matter but it’s water under the bridge because I’m an Ipswich player now.”
Read closely between the lines and there’s a hint that Crook was happy to stay at City. But before he did there was a cross-border battle to be won.
While City fans shrugged their shoulders and accepted the fact (just about), something was going on behind the scenes: five days after his ‘unveiling’ Crook had signed a new contract – with City.
Ipswich were furious. Chairman David Sheepshanks said he was “shocked and stunned”. A High Court injunction was secured and then thrown out, and although the Football League described Crook’s behaviour as “indefensible” he had managed to avoid signing for the enemy.
“I have better things to do than worry about Ian Crook,” said Sheepshanks, who clearly did continue to worry about it.
““However, we are not going to be trampled over.”
Well, they were, effectively. But not without spitting feathers. “Most of us find it extraordinary that he can declare his loyalties to us so publicly and then his contract is not valid,” said Sheepshanks. “I do not believe Norwich City have come out of this very well at all.”
Our sister newspaper in Ipswich, the Evening Star, ran the headline: “Get out of Town Crook and take that man Walker with you”.
They did. And Ian Crook is still a Norwich City legend.