From Wembley to the warzone: Former Manchester City player Lee Crooks swaps football strip for frontline duty
For six years he fought his battles on the football pitch for Manchester City.
But now former Blues star Lee Crooks has found a new calling – defending Queen and country on Afghanistan’s frontline.
The ex-City player, who played in the 1999 play-off final at Wembley and left the club in 2001 and later played for Rochdale, has left the world of football well and truly behind to face a much tougher enemy.
The 33-year-old will deploy to the warzone as an RAF gunner, after hanging up his boots and transfering to the Air Force.
Now known as Leading Aircraftsman Crooks, he has undergone one of the RAF’s most physically-demanding training courses to prepare him for his first tour of duty – and he says his Maine Road days stood him in good stead.
He said: “Both roles are about working as a team, being there for your team mates and moving forward as a team.
“You have to be mentally and physically fit for both roles, but you train as a professional footballer for 90 minutes so the training is a lot more explosive, whereas being a gunner you have to be robust and have a lot more stamina as you are carrying heavy weight over longer distances and over longer days and nights.”
The former pro footballer graduated to the RAF Regiment only a few weeks ago and is currently being put through his paces on a two-weeks intensive training course in Wales. He will be based with 1 Squadron at RAF Honington, in Bury St Edmunds, and is due to deploy to Afghanistan early next year.
He said: “My younger brother is in the Army, but when I looked in to it I thought the RAF Regiment was the one for me and have never looked back.
“They do a great job and the lads work really hard providing the Force Protection (FP) on the ground for the RAF. I’m very proud to be a part of the RAF regiment.
“Going back to life as a professional footballer, you train all week to prepare for the Saturday game and put everything that you’ve trained for in that game and its exactly the same as this, I have done my training and am now really looking forward to putting it into practice.”
And it looks like he’s already won favour with his new coach. Basic training instructor, Sgt Gareth Saunders, said: “I got Lee from day one of his military career and he has been progressing well through the course. He’s a strong character and he has been a help to me as he took the youngest lad on the course, who was 16, under his wing. It’s good to have a cross-section of ages and he has got that natural leadership ability.”
For the report on the Manchester Evening News click here