The first words Stoke City striker Peter Crouch spoke were in Mandarin and he did it in Singapore.
The Englishman's career has taken him to some of the most storied grounds in world football - Anfield, Santiago Bernabeu, Nou Camp and San Siro, but his first contact with a football was here in the heartland of the Republic.
Now back in the Lion City for the 2015 Barclays Asia Trophy tournament, the 2.03m-tall striker spoke to The Straits Times about his formative years here. He cannot remember the name of his old neighbourhood or where he first kicked a ball. But vague details linger.
Said Crouch: "My father used to play cricket at Raffles a lot. There was a very small pitch there."
The family moved to Singapore when he was three. His father, Bruce, was working for an advertising firm. "Mum and Dad have great things to say about our home base."
Crouch belongs to a small group of footballers in the English top flight that have connections to Singapore. Terry Butcher, who played in the 1986 and 1990 World Cups, was born here in 1958. Grant Holt, who played one season in the S-League with Sengkang Marine in 2001, eventually hit the English Premier League (EPL) heights with Norwich City and Aston Villa.
Zak Whitbread, son of former Singapore national coach Barry, played for Geylang International's youth team before turning out for Liverpool and Norwich.
Crouch returned to England with his parents in 1987. But tonight, he will put aside his childhood connection and attack the Singapore Selection to show why, even at 34, he is still an EPL-calibre player.
He has been touched by the warmth of fans here, saying: "I can see how much the Premier League means to them. They support it, the fans have a great knowledge.
"It's an eye-opener coming down and playing in front of that many people. Singapore is very similar to home except for the heat.
"It is a place that I would love to come back to."
This article was first published on July 18, 2015.
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