IN A SERIES which has honoured such Stoke City greats as Gordon Banks, Alan Hudson and Jimmy Greenhoff you might think that the name of Rory Delap would be a little out of place.
Not as far as we’re concerned though. The intent of this particular series has always been to honour those players who have become heroes to the fans and in our humble opinion Rory Delap certainly fits the description. He may have been a good solid journeyman footballer, known for his ability to do the basics rather than the spectacular but when you’ve got 20,000 or more people up out of their seats fervently chanting your name, then you’ve certainly earned the title of hero.
Not many people will have known what to make of Rory Delap when Tony Pulis decided to make him one of his first signings as part of the transformation he was trying to undertake during his second spell in charge, with a mission to get us into the Premier League.
Delap had steady enough credentials. He’d made almost a 100 appearances for Derby before Southampton splashed out £4m to sign him in 2001. He made 118 appearances for them before going to Sunderland, where an injury meant he played only 6 games in a year for them.
That’s where Stoke came into the frame, signing the 29 year-old in October 2006 on loan with a view to a permanent move.
In his first game he impressed in a superb 4-0 hammering of Leeds at Elland Road though in his second game his injury curse struck again as he broke both his tibia and fibula in an accidental clash with Robbie Elliot in a home match against, ironically, Sunderland.
At that point Rory and his family must have wondered and worried about what was going to happen to him. It was his second major injury in two years and time was not on his side. Incredibly though Tony Pulis took the plunge and still went through with his permanent signing. It was a measure of how highly he rated the player and from that point on Rory Delap played as though he owed a debt of gratitude to Stoke City.
He returned the following season to play a big part in our promotion to the Premier League and showed no signs whatsoever of shirking any tackles or responsibilities after his injury woes.
Rory also gave some glimpses of an awesome weapon he had at his disposal – a long throw which could spread terror and panic to even the most well organised of defences.
It worked well in a crucial 1-0 win at Norwich, allowing Mamady Sidibe to score the winner, but it was in the Premier League where the full power of Rory’s Rockets was truly realised.
In the first game of the season his sent a barrage of them into the Aston Villa area and it was from the last of these, in the 4th minute of injury time, that we snatched an unbelievable winning goal.
More than half of our first 13 goals in our debut season in the Premier League came as a result of Rory Delap’s throw-ins and they quickly became the subject of much admiration and debate.
Both of our goals in a memorable 2-1 win against Arsenal came from Rory’s awesome throws and it clearly infuriated Arsene Wenger that he couldn’t work out how to defend against them. The Frenchman even went so far as to say they should be banned!
Whenever we got a throw-in the crowd would get to their feet and start the cries of “Rory, Rory, Rory…” in anticipation of the carnage and chaos which was likely to be created in the opposing area.
Of course, teams began to wise up to the tactic but it still worked from time to time and TP never tired of it being his favourite assault weapon.
It would be wrong though to label Rory Delap as a one-trick pony, who brought just one thing to the team. He also brought a tireless midfield presence and he chipped in with crucial goals along the way.
He played wherever he was asked to play and his efforts were never anything less than appreciated by a support who could see that his commitment to Stoke City was utterly beyond reproach.
After 180 league games and 8 goals, Rory left the club in the summer to start up a new challenge just along the road in Burton. All Stoke fans will wish him well.
In years to come his legend will live on and future generations of Stokies will learn all about those incredible throw-ins and the way in which they spread terror through the ranks of opposing Premier League teams.
In this day and age it’s not often you can get a consistent performer like Rory Delap on a free transfer and he more than repaid the faith the club showed in him with his efforts.
Rory Delap – a true Stoke City hero.
This article appeared in Issue 541 of The Oatcake