14 January 1978 |
|Service/branch||Royal Air Force|
|Years of service||2010-|
|Rank||Leading Aircraftsman (LAC)|
|Unit||No. 1 Squadron,
As a combative defensive midfielder, Crooks made 222 competitive appearances in his playing career in the top three divisions of English football, including 196 in league competition. Possessing a powerful strike, he scored a total of 5 goals.
A product of the Manchester City youth system, Crooks signed with the Northern England based club at age 16, and spent 6 years there during a turbulent period or relegations and promotions, including the 1999 Division 2 playoff final against Gillingham. He went on to play for the other northern clubs of Barnsley, Bradford City, Rochdale, as well as loan spells at Northampton Town and Notts County in the East Midlands.
After further appearances below The Football League in the lower leagues with West Yorkshire clubs Guiseley and Ossett Town, at age 32 he embarked on a new career in the British Armed Forces, joining the RAF Regiment, the infantry unit of the Royal Air Force.
Early life and career
Professional football career
|Height||6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)|
|Playing position||Defender or Midfielder|
|2000–2001||→ Northampton (loan)||3||(0)|
|2006||→ Notts County (loan)||18||(1)|
|* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only and correct as of 11:02, 11 October 2008 (UTC).
As a club trainee, Crooks signed his first professional contract with Premier League club Manchester City on 1 August 1994 (aged 16 years, 6 months, 18 days). By September 1996 he was being included in the first team squad for games by caretaker manager Asa Hartford as one of three promising youngsters.
City were relegated to Division 1 at the end of the 1995–96 season, and two years later, again, falling to Division 2, their lowest ever level. Through two successive promotions however, via the play-offs from Division 2 and then by automatic promotion from Division 1, the club had returned to the Premier League in the minimum time just 2 years later, in time for the start of the 2000–01 season.
Crooks was in the Manchester City team that won that 1999 Division 2 play off final at Wembley Stadium against Gillingham in dramatic fashion, albeit substituted on 85 minutes for Gareth Taylor. Having come back from a 2–0 deficit with 2 minutes remaining, City scored twice to take the game into extra time, and then after no further scores, winning the subsequent penalty shootout.
Crooks scored two goals for Manchester City, both in the league. It was three years before he scored his first goal, an equaliser against Chesterfield in an away game on 27 February 1999, which ended 1–1. In his 6 and half years at the club Crooks had made 62 competitive appearances, including 50 in the league, and 5 each in the FA and League Cups.
For Barnsley, Crooks made 56 competitive appearances, including 50 in the league, and 2 each in the FA and League Cups. He didn't make his debut until the start of the 2001–02 season, being delayed for several months as he had operations on an injured medial collateral ligament.
With new manager Paul Hart performing a summer clear out after the 2003–04 season, Crooks was given the chance to prove his fitness during the summer in order to earn a new contract. He was released by Barnsley on 28 June 2004, signing on 1 August 2004 for Bradford City.
In a total of 50 competitive appearances for Bradford he scored 2 goals. He scored once in 44 appearances in the league, with his other goal coming in one appearance in the FA Cup (an equaliser against Tranmere in November 2005). He was also used a further 3 times in the League Cup.
Due to limited first team opportunities he went out on loan to League 2 side Notts County on 9 January 2006. He made 18 league appearances for Notts County under his former Barnsley manager Gudjon Thordarson, scoring 1 goal. After returning to Barnsley, on 8 May 2006 he was released by the club as surplus to requirements. He then entered talks with Notts County, but that did not lead to a contract.
As a free agent, Crooks began pre-season training with League 2 side Rochdale, before signing a 12-month contract on 3 August 2006, linking up with his former Barnsley manager Steve Parkin. Crooks made 35 appearances for Rochdale, including 31 in the League, and 1 each in the FA and League Cups. Crooks left Rochdale by mutual consent on 26 March 2008 due to limited opportunities, having made just 5 appearances during that season, and none since December 2007.
Crooks chose not to join another club for the remainder of the 2007–08 season, to concentrate on training for an attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support in June 2008.
On 23 July 2008, Crooks joined the West Yorkshire club Guiseley, playing in the Northern Premier League First Division. On 31 December 2008 he moved from Guiseley to another West Yorkshire club, Ossett Town, playing in the Northern Premier League Premier Division.
Playing style and recognition
Icelander Gudjon Thordarson, his manager at Barnsley and Notts County, referred to Crooks as 'The Beast' due to his combativeness. Crooks said before his Notts County debut, "If there is a tackle to be won, I am in there. I do like a good tackle".
While not a prolific scorer, his first professional goal in 1999 was described by The Guardian as a "tremendous shot which thundered in off the post." Similarly, his FA Cup goal for Bradford City in 2005 was described by the BBC as powerful shot which cannoned off the bar and in.
After quitting football, Crooks chose a new career path in the British Armed Forces. Choosing not to follow his younger brother into the British Army, Crooks instead signed up as an enlisted member (gunner) of the RAF Regiment, the infantry unit of the Royal Air Force, whose role is to provide force protection of RAF airfields and bases.
In February 2011 at 33 years old, he completed his seven months of RAF Regiment basic training, passing out as a leading aircraftman. Initially posted to No. 1 Squadron RAF Regiment based at RAF Honington in Suffolk, in the following weeks he underwent intensive training in the Sennybridge Training Area in Wales, and was due to visit the RAF Mount Pleasant base in the Falkland Islands followed by a deployment to the frontline in the War in Afghanistan, in early 2012.
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- "From Wembley to the warzone: Former Manchester City player Lee Crooks swaps football strip for frontline duty". Manchester Evening News. 23 February 2011. Retrieved 24 February 2011.