There is an interesting little statistic that shows the impact Rory Delap had during his time at Stoke City.
Stoke were 21st in the second tier when he joined from Sunderland in October 2006 in time to make his debut at Leeds United. By the time he walked off the pitch for his final league game, at Reading in August 2012, the Potters were sixth in the Premier League. Okay, it was only after the first game of that season but you get the picture. That is a climb of 35 places up the English league ladder, greater than any other player in the club’s history.
The midfielder joined initially on loan but that was only to get around the transfer window rules. His plan was always to make the switch permanent, with Tony Pulis and Peter Coates sticking to that pledge even when he suffered a potentially career-ending broken leg in his second game for the club, ironically against Sunderland at home.
“After the leg break I wasn’t sure I would even play again,” he later admitted. “I certainly didn’t think I would play to the standard I was used to, so you’ve got to give a lot of credit to the physios and medical people who helped me through.”
He was already 30 by that point and, never mind rediscovering his best form, few could have predicted what a major role he would play. He was an integral part of the team which won promotion in 2008 and then established itself back in the top flight – but so much more than that besides. The no-nonsense Cumbrian was the iconic figure of a Stoke side that forged a near-unique bond with supporters; a side that was hard but fair and, perhaps most importantly, successful.
Whether it was winning promotion as captain against Leicester City on May 4, 2008, marking the club’s Premier League debut against Bolton on August 16, their first win against Aston Villa just a week later, or those FA Cup trips to Wembley in 2011 on April 17 and May 14, his was one name certain to feature in the first 11. He was also there in Split when Stoke made their Europa League debut, while Delap’s was one of only three names – along with Robert Huth and Wilson Palacios – to play in both legs against Valencia at the end of their European adventure.
He was also made of the right stuff at that glorious time in Stoke’s growth as a Premier League force. On and off the pitch his was a quiet example respected and followed by younger, less street-wise team-mates. He has raised thousands of pounds for the Donna Louise Trust through challenges including rowing across the English Channel and cycling all over the country.
And boy, did he have a long throw – which have just been put into a terrific compilation by the media team at Stoke, with the backing track from local band The Underclass. What a treat.
“Rory’s throws were something else in the Premier League,” said Leon Cort.
“It was like nothing else defenders at that level had ever experienced in their careers, especially at the Britannia with the wall of noise that came with them. It was the trajectory and pace more than the distance. I used to love going up because you always felt something was going to happen.”
Delap had already played in the top flight for Derby, Southampton and Sunderland but when he got there with Stoke he was a global phenomenon.
Pundits, players and fans dumbstruck at the devastation his throw could cause some of the highest-paid in world football.
“David Beckham was the master of free-kicks because he used to consistently put the ball into the area,” said Steve Bruce. “Delap can whiz it in with the same pace and the same trajectory, time and time again. He’s just unbelievable.”
He could wing it up to 40 metres at a speed of about 37mph, coming head height ready for Stoke big men like Mama Sidibe, Ricardo Fuller and Ryan Shawcross to wreak havoc.
Panic at its reputation caused Hull keeper Boaz Myhill to opt to kick the ball out for a corner while their sub Dean Windass tried pantomime antics on the touchline in hope of just putting him off. West Ham brought in their advertising boards. Arsenal defenders quivered en masse.
James Beattie once played to the fans in Delap’s absence by towelling the ball, winding up for a howitzer and flopping an effort short of the penalty area. But no one else quite reacted like then-Spurs number one Heurelho Gomes, who was so exhausted by the missiles that tears started to roll down his cheeks.
With that weapon and a bear pit behind him, football’s nicest guy was suddenly one of the sport’s most feared men.
It came to a head when Athletics Ireland tried to set up a meeting to see if they can persuade Delap to take javelin back up for the London Olympic Games in 2012.
“They must be pretty desperate if they are scraping the barrel for me,” he grinned. “I did javelin when I was a youngster, but gave it up when I was 14 or 15 so I could concentrate on football. I represented the county so I was decent at it, but I don’t know if I am Olympic standard. I think this is probably just someone having a laugh.”
Delap went on to play for Barnsley on loan and then Burton Albion and now, via a spell coaching in Derby’s youth set-up, he is back home at Stoke.
To be honest, he could be anywhere but he will always be in the heart of every Stoke City fan lucky enough to see him in action.