The latest in our series of Stoke moments that won’t be recorded in the history books, that we loved all the same…
We all know that Rory Delap was so much more than a throw-in. He was a fantastic player for Stoke City. Made to measure for Tony Pulis’ side, Delap did every job asked of him and more. His positional play was second to none and when deployed in the cage or even on the wings, he offered solid protection for an already solid defence. He even popped up with a handful of goals in his 178 Stoke City appearances, once deftly chipping the ball into the Chelsea net in a manner more suited to a 5ft5 jinky centre forward than a Stoke City warhorse.
In the autumn of 2008, though, the throw-in was all anybody talked about. Mama Sidibe’s last-minute header against Aston Villa gave Stoke their first win in the Premier League, and it sparked a media frenzy. Just look at those throws. It’s not right!
After Villa, more teams fell victim to Delap’s touchline cannon fire. Everton, Portsmouth, Sunderland, Arsenal (twice) all conceded thanks to this unusual set-piece. To Stoke fans’ delight, opposition players and managers both loathed and feared what Delap could do with the ball in his hands. The pace and trajectory of them made them incredibly difficult to defend. To commit the keeper or not commit the keeper? Which of Stoke giants do you mark? Do we go zonal? Do we bring our advertising hoardings forward to limit his run-up? Can we ban towels? Should throw-ins be replaced with kick-ins? All these thoughts went through Arsene Wenger’s mind more than once.
“Stoke, very simple Stoke. Check this for a tactic. Throw-in, Delap, goal” – Little known rap group ‘Kid British’
Delap’s celebrity meant every other manager was asked about how they’d deal with the throws. There were infographics in The Guardian, T-Shirts were produced in the style of the Strongbow Logo (Longthrow…total touchline bombardment), and every home throw in was greeted with a chorus of “Woooooooahhh…….ooooosh”. Here’s Ben Cartwright with more.
“For example at Stoke, for Rory Delap it is like kicking the ball. It is a little bit of an unfair advantage. He is using a strength that is usually not a strength in football.” – Arsene Wenger
“I think he puts the ball better with his hands than his foot – it’s fantastic” – Luiz Filipe Scolari
Hull City visited a foggy, gloomy Britannia Stadium on November 29th 2008. While Stoke were in good form, having won three of their last five, Hull had been the fairytale story at the beginning of the campaign and were sixth in the league when they came to The Potteries.
Early in the first half, Boaz Myhill received the ball from his defender. Under pressure from Tom Soares, Myhill considered knocking it out for a throw-in, but hesitated, and kicked it straight out for a corner. And yes, that is literally the whole point of this article.
It was astonishing, something the Stoke crowd had never seen before and most likely never will again. Such was the fear of the throw-in, amplified by the incessant media coverage of Delap’s unique skill, that the Hull goalkeeper saw a corner as a ‘safe bet’. Little known fact: Myhill was on loan at Stoke in 2002. He made no appearances.
“Myhill in a bit of a pickle. He’s conceded the corner kick. Thought about getting it away for a throw, and then realised hang on Rory Delap’s in the other team!” – Jonathon Pearce
The game (which featured Hull substitute Dean Windass receiving a booking for warming up in front of Delap) finished 1-1, Fuller equalising with a late penalty. So Myhill’s decision was, with hindsight, a justified one. The shame of it though. We knew he was scared now. Whether this was an instruction from Phil Brown or a spur-of-the-moment thing, it was the greatest compliment anybody could have possibly given the Delap throw-in.
I’ll re-iterate that Delap was so, so much more than a set piece. Myhill’s decision though was the zenith of Throw-in Mania. After this season, every long throw was compared to Delap – Fuchs, Shotton and Gunnarsson mere pretenders to Rory’s throne. Cryuff turn, Makelele role, Delap throw-in.
It was a glorious, hilarious time. Cheers, Boaz.
Watch it for yourself here at 00:59