To make sure you never miss out on your favourite NEW stories, we're happy to send you some reminders

Click 'OK' then 'Allow' to enable notifications

Not now

Rory Delap exclusive: 'People are still talking about my '£20 million' throw-ins today, I must have done something right'

Marcus Chan

| Last updated 

Rory Delap exclusive: 'People are still talking about my '£20 million' throw-ins today, I must have done something right'

One of the most famous phrases in Premier League history will always be “Can they do it on a cold, wet and windy night at Stoke?”

Well, let me introduce you to a player that thrived under those horrible conditions, a player that had an immense throw-in and a player the streets will never forget, Rory Delap.

Before he made his name in the Premier League with Stoke, Delap had to overcome any aspiring footballer’s worst nightmare.

“In my last year of school, I was released by Carlisle just before Christmas, so that was a real kick in the teeth,” Delap told SPORTbible.



Despite the rejection, he refused to let his dream of being a footballer go and, soon, he was given a second chance.

“I kept going and luckily, the U18s coach Dave Wilkes was at my last game of the season for my Saturday league team," Delap said.

“I managed to have a good game and he invited me down to pre-season in 1992. I managed to do pretty well and was offered the two-year YTS Scholarship.


“I ended up making my debut at the end of that season and sort of kicked on from there.”

But, did he ever think he could make it all the way to the holy grail of english football - the Premier League?

“I was never sure," he added. "I didn't think I'd make it if I was honest. I always strived to make it but I was never one of these that was blessed with natural ability.

“If you've ever seen me play, everything was hard work and a challenge. I'll be honest, I never felt I was the best player at school, I never felt I was the best player at Carlisle and I never felt I was the best player anywhere.


“I think striving to become that and trying to get close to those players who I felt were better than me probably helped me through my career.

“Whether I was a Premier League player or not ability-wise, I always felt I had that drive, determination and work ethic to end up playing there, I think I played 12 seasons in the Premier League.”

Rory Delap at Derby County. (Image Credit: Alamy)
Rory Delap at Derby County. (Image Credit: Alamy)

During his time in the Premier League, Delap was feared up and down the land, perhaps not for what he could do with the ball at his feet, but certainly for what he was capable of with the ball in his hands.


“I could always throw things from a young age, just throwing stones, cricket balls, golf balls, or whatever. When I threw things I remember people going ‘Wow, look how far he can throw things’,” the Irishman explained.

“Then I joined an athletics club up in Carlisle. I was a pretty good runner, but my real strength was javelin, so I did javelin from 11, 12 to about 15, 16.

“I then became county champion and there were a few people talking that if I was to take it seriously, I'd have a chance but football was my first love.

“In terms of actually throwing the ball, the first I can remember was when I was playing for Carlisle's youth team and the ball went out and the centre-forward was on the penalty spot and I threw it on his head and he scored and that was the first time. I can remember everyone after the game going ‘Oh my god like what is that!’


“So I used it when I started coming through there and then people at Derby, people at Southampton and Sunderland sort of asked why I never used it more.

“At Derby, we used it to get out of defensive positions and get distance up the line away from our goal.

“Southampton, Gordon Strachan would use it late on in games if we're one down or drawing the game but he wanted me to put as much height on it as I could so the defenders couldn't get distance on the clearance but it wasn't until I got to Stoke that it gained this notoriety and I can’t believe people still talk about my throw-ins today.”

Rory Delap's throw-ins were a big weapon for Stoke. (Image Credit: Alamy)
Rory Delap's throw-ins were a big weapon for Stoke. (Image Credit: Alamy)

Rather surprisingly, Delap revealed he rarely practised his throw-ins in training, saying: "People think we'd spend hours on the training ground practising but we didn't, we do two or three on a Friday, the day before a game, same with the corners and the set plays.

“I’ve met players I’ve played against on coaching courses since I retired. And they're like: 'Oh, you must have spent hours and hours' and honestly we'd spent five minutes max on it the day before a game.”

“I was sat at graduation [from one course] with Kolo Toure, and he said for the whole week leading up to the game, Arsene Wenger would be talking about the throw-ins, set-plays and stuff like that.

“And it did almost build it to a crescendo that that's all that was in their heads but people forget we had players that could play and you know, there were good players in that team as well.

“I think that used to take people by surprise because I think set-plays, throw-ins and the size of the team took a lot of the focus off some of the really good players we had in the team at the time.”

As it became more and more apparent that Delap’s throw-ins were a huge threat, visiting teams to Stoke would do anything to prevent him from having the chance to hurl the ball into their penalty area.

Back in 2008, Hull City travelled to the Potters' Britannia Stadium and goalkeeper Boaz Myhill was so concerned about those throws-ins he decided to kick the ball out for a corner instead.

Reminiscing on that incident, Delap chuckled and said: “I might be wrong but the season he did that, I think we'd scored more goals from corners. We had Liam Lawrence and Matty Etherington who could put the ball where they wanted, it was bizarre.

“I think the same game, Dean Windass was warming up in front of me while I was taking a throw-in and ended up getting booked. So, little things like that you look back and you laugh now but it was bizarre at the time.”

Apart from goalkeepers kicking the ball out for a corner, teams would purposely move the advertising boards closer to the pitch in order to limit the threat of Delap’s big throw-ins.

“West Ham did it and Burnley did it," he revealed. "I think Burnley were the first team to do it but they put them too close to the pitch and the referee had to move them back about half a metre I think.

“You know, all I could remember was Tony Pulis going berserk in the changing rooms saying ‘They can’t do that it's illegal’.

“In the end, I can't remember what happened but one of the advertising boards had fallen over. I think someone had gone to keep the ball in and knocked the advertising board over. And we had a throw-in about 20 yards further up the pitch closer to the goal. But I thought I'll try and use the little gap in the advertising board and Tuncay managed to score from the throw-in.

“I think Zola was the manager of West Ham at the time. And he came and apologised, he said: ‘Look, I've got nothing to do with this. It's a club thing’ and really apologised. I didn't realise he knew my name but that was, again, another bizarre incident.”

Hull's Dean Windass tried to put off Rory Delap before his throw-in. (Image Credit: Alamy)
Hull's Dean Windass tried to put off Rory Delap before his throw-in. (Image Credit: Alamy)

His throw-ins became a precious commodity to Stoke under Pulis but what would they actually be worth in monetary terms? Sir Alex Ferguson said former Liverpool midfielder Charlie Adam’s set-pieces were worth £10 million once upon a time after all.

“Ahh at least double that,” he said in response with a huge smile on his face.

“I played with Charlie, he had an unbelievable left foot and still does.

“It'd be nice to get the worth back then. But unfortunately, I didn't see that side of it. But no, it was part of my career for six, seven years at Stoke and you know, once again, we're still talking about it today so I must have done something right.”

Delap had a catalogue of memorable moments involving his throw-ins but one in particular stands out above all else.

“It would be Arsenal 2-1 at Stoke, Arsenal were a really good side at the time and we managed to score two goals off the throw-ins," he explained.

“Seyi Olofinjana scored a bit of a lucky one, I think it bounced off his chin and chest and then went through the goalkeeper’s legs. And Ricardo Fuller scored one with his head. But we managed to win that one, I think that game was a really big one for us to beat one of the big sides at home that season because we were everyone's favourite to go down that year.

“That was a real boost for everyone that we managed to beat them and that's where I think we realised that the crowd at home, you know, the notoriety that went with the throw-ins, the set-plays and the style of play at that time. We thought we've got to jump on the back of this and make sure this is a horrible place to come, and it was for a lot of teams.”

Since then, the prospect of playing away at Stoke on a cold, wet and windy night became one of the toughest games on the football calendar - as well as a metaphor that will go down in Premier League folklore.

On what made it so difficult for teams to get a result on their trips to the Potteries, Delap said: “I think the fans certainly for those first two seasons we were in the Premier League, they just turned it into a real hostile place with the noise and I think it got to people.

“We were a direct team at that time, we didn't take any risks in our own half. Tony Pulis had done his research on the teams that had been relegated and a lot of the goals those teams conceded were losing possession in their own half. So he'd signed solid players, he’d sign solid characters that he knew would work hard no matter what.

“We made the best of what we had and accentuated that, especially when the weather helped us a little bit, it was never a nice place to come.”

A cold, wet and windy night at Stoke. (Image Credit: Alamy)
A cold, wet and windy night at Stoke. (Image Credit: Alamy)

However, when asked if someone like a certain Lionel Messi would struggle at Stoke, the response was emphatic.

“I don't think so, I don't think so. No, I think the thing you saw with the top players, we made it hard for teams but we never got a result," he said.

“Against United, they were the top team at the time. With Sir Alex Ferguson, he'd seen it all before with the Wimbledons and the teams of that era. So, you know, he set the team up to go and win and I think they won every game when I was at Stoke so I think the top players don't let stuff like that affect them.

“Arsenal were a great side at that time, maybe it got to them a bit.

“Chelsea, we always struggled against Chelsea. They were the top three teams at that stage. They never really struggled with the cold, wet night there. So you're talking about Messi and players like that, I think they're just elite. They're another level. It doesn't matter where they go, they will perform.”

Delap doesn't think World Cup winner Lionel Messi would struggle playing at Stoke like people have predicted. (Image Credit: Alamy)
Delap doesn't think World Cup winner Lionel Messi would struggle playing at Stoke like people have predicted. (Image Credit: Alamy)

Between 2008 and 2013, Delap only lost once against Arsenal in six meetings at the Britannia Stadium, with the Irishman alluding to the lack of character in Wenger’s squad at the time as one of the primary reasons for the Gunners' previous struggles against Stoke.

“I think the thing was during that period they had such good players but they probably didn't have characters like your Tony Adams, Steve Bould, Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp," he said.

“I think in that period, they had really good players so when you played Arsenal at the Emirates, it was a completely different game.

“It was when they played at Stoke, we made no bones about it, we had to make the best of what we had. I could remember the manager said ‘When you're in the tunnel, stamp your studs and stand on your tiptoes. At that stage we had players like Rob Huth, Ryan Shawcross, myself, Glen Whelan and Mama Sidibe, so we were a big side and it was intimidating.

“It's intimidating when you come down the tunnel and you see lads a couple of inches taller than you it has to be, you know what I mean?”

“I think Wenger moaned about the length of the grass before a game once and we'd heard about this and we thought before the game ‘We've got them already’.

Tony Pulis and Arsene Wenger had many fierce battles in the Premier League. (Image Credit: Alamy)
Tony Pulis and Arsene Wenger had many fierce battles in the Premier League. (Image Credit: Alamy)

“Whereas United and Chelsea weren't bothered about the length of the grass.

“The manager has spoken about this, there's a minimum and maximum length the grass has to be in the Premier League rules and we'd go to the maximum so that if teams wanted to play the ball nice and neatly on the floor, it slows up.

“Again, we made the best of what we had and took advantage of every little situation, we brought the pitch in slightly to make it easier for us in the shape we played at the time. Teams that were playing expansive football found it more difficult.”

On the back of the recent towel ban that will be implemented in League Two ahead of the 2023/24 season. Delap revealed that such a ban during his time as a player would have affected his throw-ins, saying: “Back then, it was up to the home club whether they'd allow towels or not, so we were fine at home.

“But going away, the manager wanted me to stitch a towel into my shirt and people still to this day ask me if I stitched a towel and it wasn’t, I just wore a vest underneath, there was no special material. So there are ways and means around if you need them.”

Delap benefited from using a towel. when it came to his throw-ins. (Image Credit: Alamy)
Delap benefited from using a towel. when it came to his throw-ins. (Image Credit: Alamy)

Both of Delap's sons, Liam and Finn, have become footballers as they currently play for Manchester City and Burton Albion respectively.

Despite having a long career in the Premier League, he does not want to interfere with his sons' careers.

“It's their path, I've never pushed them to become footballer but because of my history and because my wife took them to most of the games and even the away games, you just fall in love with the game," Delap clarified.

“Luckily, they [have] both got the talent to hopefully make a career in the game. I love going to watch them both but it's a horrible feeling, I now know how my mum and dad both felt when I was playing.

“It's not a nice feeling because you're out of control, when you're playing on the pitch, you're in control of things so I get more nervous now watching them than when I was playing.”

When asked what's next for him, Delap said: “I was at Stoke for five years but left in January. It was the first time in my career since I was 16 that I had a little bit of time off.

“But the last month or so I've been looking around for a job and you know, hopefully, I can get into a club or somewhere before pre-season starts and get back into the game.”

This is the fourth feature from SPORTbible's Streets Will Never Forget mini-series in which we hunt down some of the Premier League's most iconic names.

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: Stoke City, Premier League, Football, Spotlight

Marcus Chan
More like this

Chosen for YouChosen for You


Fans spot Harvey Elliott's furious reaction to Mo Salah scoring for Liverpool against LASK

an hour ago

Most Read StoriesMost Read

Man Utd fans disgusted after hearing what Bruno Fernandes said after Bayern Munich loss as Roy Keane comparison made

2 hours ago