Not everybody was a fan of Stoke City, Rory Delap and his long throw-ins back in the late noughties – but on November 29, 2008 they combined for one of the greatest moments the Premier League has ever seen.
We loved Tony Pulis’ Stoke team. Now, our gaffer’s a Stoke fan so you might think we’re contractually obliged to say that – you’d be right – but it’s actually true. And, frankly, we could never understand why not everybody else loved them.
Sure, it was annoying if it was your team they were shithousing against, but apart from that, what wasn’t there to love about watching them piss off the Premier League establishment? So-called top teams were panicking about long balls and longer throw-ins, letting in goals, then moaning about it afterwards. And it was glorious.
In the space of just one 90 minutes in October, for example, Spurs keeper Heurelho Gomes punched and then kneed Vedran Corluka, his own team-mate, in two separate incidents when trying to punch clear Delap long throws.
He was later caught on camera crying on the pitch as the aerial bombardment continued and he took a crack in the ribs for good measure. Spurs also had two players sent off and conceded two penalties. All in the same game.
That was standard fare at the Britannia Stadium back in those days. Mama Sidibe scored an injury-time back header from a Delap throw-in a 3-2 win in Stoke’s first home game of that season; the second against Everton brought two more goals from throw-ins, one of which was an own goal by Phil Jagielka, and another sending-off, this time for manager David Moyes after his side were denied a penalty in another five-goal game.
It seemed like not a minute would go by without some sort of incident: Stoke could get a throw-in on the halfway line and the fans would be slow-clapping as the big men ran forward and Delap prepared to send in another missile. It was total mayhem and visiting players, managers and referees used to crumble under the pressure week after week. We ask again: what wasn’t there to love about it?
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By the time Hull visited the Brit, Stoke had played seven home games and scored six goals from throw-ins, including a couple against Arsenal, plus one away from home where wider pitches and a smaller baying mob of City fans rendered Delap’s weapon less effective.
Still, having been promoted alongside Stoke for their first-ever crack at the top flight, you’d have thought Hull would have been better placed than most to deal with the hosts’ particular brand of football. That said, they’d conceded from a Delap throw in the previous season when Boaz Myhill got caught among a crowd of players trying to pluck the ball out of the sky so there was some reason for concern.
So, buoyed by an excellent start which had seen plenty of praise coming their way and managed by Phil Brown, a man who definitely enjoyed that limelight, perhaps it was inevitable it’d be the Tigers who would first try something novel to stop Delap from adding them to his list of victims.
Dean Windass, predictably, was the man to get into the pantomime spirit, twice deliberately warming up in front of Delap as he prepared to take a throw-in, earning himself a yellow card on the second occasion.
But while that certainly added to the fun that was a Stoke home game in those days, it was also a clear sign of another team for some reason shitting themselves about having to defend throw-ins.
And if there was any doubt whatsoever that wasn’t the case, Myhill removed that doubt once and for all when, perhaps with the previous season’s mistake in his mind, he received a backpass in an awkward spot, motioned to kick it out for a throw but then remembered what would follow if he did so changed his mind and kicked it out for a corner instead.
Every time I heard that Delap's name for City couldn't help but think of when Rory Delap's mere presence rattled Boaz Myhill to the extent that he would rather boot it out for a corner rather than concede a throw in. Possibly the moment that best encapsulates the Barclays for me pic.twitter.com/iuAQI1EtMo
— Andy (@andyyy_1) September 27, 2020
We guess you could say it worked – Hull successfully defended the corner and scored first before being pegged back later on – but really you’ve got to ask yourself who’s winning when you’re too scared to concede a throw-in.
Pulis’ Stoke had got into the heads of opponents to such an extent that Arsene Wenger famously suggested throw-ins should be banned, while complaints about towels, pitch dimensions and the placement of advertising hoardings would continue on an almost weekly basis.
It was a constant media circus – and all music to Pulis’ ears. It served to unsettle teams, to make them lose focus. And as Rudyard Kipling’s poem goes, ‘if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…you can turn a ragtag bunch of unglamorous players into an effective Premier League outfit’. Or something like that.
Sure enough, while the wheels would soon fall off Hull’s bandwagon to such an extent that they would only narrowly avoid relegation that season – they were relegated in the next one instead – Stoke continued to improve away from the noise to finish 12th in the first of 10 consecutive years in the Premier League.
But while their fans may remember the days of Europe, three straight ninth-places, Stokealona and the rest of what followed, for us neutrals, there was no better time than when Myhill kicked out for a corner because he was too scared of a throw-in. Glorious.