Remembering the day crap Premier League football peaked at Stoke City
For all the pontifications over quality, goals and witnessing supernatural feats of sporting achievement, nothing unites football fans quite like moments of slapstick comedy. As Stoke City and Jonathan Walters found out in 2013.
Whether it’d be Chris Brass, Jamie Pollock juggling the ball into his own net, or Thierry Henry and Robert Pires choosing an actual Premier League game to become French mime artists, these nuggets are cherished by followers of a sport increasingly consumed by its own seriousness.
But spare a thought for Jon Walters, who managed to combine all three of the aforementioned tragedies into the most disastrous performance in living memory.
Signed from Ipswich in 2010, Walters quickly became a fans’ favourite at Stoke City for his commitment and eye for goal. Just weeks before Chelsea arrived at the Britannia in January 2013, the Irishman had scored an outstanding chest-and-volley that floored Liverpool.
Walters would score 62 goals in 271 Stoke appearances, cementing his status as a club legend and, crucially, building up a vast quantity of goodwill among supporters. He’d need it.
As Stoke and Chelsea arm-wrestled through an uneventful 45 minutes, Walters punctured the tedium by hustling past Juan Mata and thumping his header past a despairing goalkeeper. Unfortunately, the shot-stopper picking the ball from the net was Stoke’s Asmir Begovic. B*gger.
Begovic could be seen literally questioning Walters’ thought process as the Chelsea fans convulsed with mocking joy in the stands. If only he knew what would follow.
It took Walters just 15 minutes to double his tally for the afternoon, calmly placing the ball beyond Begovic’s reach and joining Gary Breen, Jamie Carragher and Michael Proctor as
a nightmare blunt rotation scorer of two own goals in the same Premier League match.
And the icing on this turd-filled cake came in injury time with Chelsea four goals ahead. Given the chance of salvaging a modicum of dignity from the penalty spot, the forward blasted his effort in the direction of Congleton.
Luckily for the inhabitants of the Cheshire town, the crossbar prevented any unsolicited damage. Petr Cech, who’d dived out of harm’s way, also breathed a sigh of relief.
Walters must have taken an age to get home afterwards, avoiding any cracks in the pavement or black cats. Probably sensible to take no chances, considering his luck that day.
After the game, Tony Pulis sympathised with his forward. “Jon’s fine,” Pulis said. “We look after people at the football club. It wasn’t our day today, it was Chelsea’s day.”
And the Stoke Sentinel also rallied around the club hero. “Footballers have been driven out of town for far less in this part of the world,” they wrote two days after Walters’ entry into football’s slapstick pantheon.
“Can you imagine a Keith Scott or a Kyle Lightbourne conceding two own goals, missing a penalty and living to tell the tale?
“But Saturday’s final whistle was greeted with chants of `Super Jonny Walters’ from Stoke fans happy to offer sympathetic acclamation to a genuine trier.
“It says much for Walters, and the home support come to think of it, that it was his name echoing around the stadium by the end of Saturday’s calamitous events.”
In his very next match, Walters scored twice (in the opposition’s goal) as Stoke beat Crystal Palace in an FA Cup replay. It doesn’t take a vivid imagination to picture his relief.
Some footballers might have chosen to lock those memories in a box and throw away the key. But to his credit, Walters decided self-deprecation was the best way forward, reflecting on the incident when Eden Hazard left Chelsea for Real Madrid in 2019.
“Now that @hazardeden10 has left, if you want goals from someone who has produced for you in the past @chelseafc I could be tempted,” he wrote in a manner that definitely did not bring to mind the meme of laughing face mask hiding a crying face underneath.
Perhaps we all should have known it wouldn’t be his afternoon when he kicked the ball into his own face, setting the tone for a disasterclass for the ages.
“I got some stick from the gaffer and the lads, but that was more for kicking the ball in my own face than anything else,” Walters revealed afterwards. Glad to see Stoke had their priorities in order.
By Michael Lee