There are some people who you simply can’t help but admire and hold up as an example to your own kids as all that is good about the beautiful game, the working man’s ballet.

I was lucky enough to meet such a man at the Pirelli Stadium a few weeks back. A man who personified Stoke City FC for the last half dozen years or so.

That man is Rory Delap.

Tell us about your early years, Rory? I was born in Sutton Coldfield but moved up to Carlisle when I was still a baby. Loved my sports and was taken on at Carlisle which was great. It’s a good area for sport with tons of outdoor stuff on for kids.

Did you sponsor a team in Carlisle, that rumour true? Not quite. The pub team folded in the local village so my dad took it over. I just helped out a bit with kit, boots, stuff like that. In fact, my dad did really well for the team as through a television company he eventually got Coca Cola to go up there, give them some publicity and the lads all had a free day on the beer, too!

Do you reckon you’ll end up returning to Cumbria one day? I’m happy where we are now. I always thought I would end up back there until we had kids, and that changes everything, doesn’t it? I’ve still got lots of family and my school mates up there, so I will never say never, but at the moment they come down here quite a bit, so I get to see folk every month or so.

We can’t get up there as often as e we used to but we will see what happens when I’m finished.

1998: You went from Carlisle to Derby, managed by Jim Smith at the time….  Yeah, Jim was brilliant. I came down on trial from Carlisle with Matt Jansen. He was a real talent and everyone thought I was just down here keeping him company, ha ha. But after 2 weeks or so Jim called me in and said there’s a position in the team for you if you can do a specific job for us. He kept to his word and I signed a contract.

You did really well at Pride Park and eventually were sold to Southampton for a record fee which has only recently been broken (Jay Rodriguez). What was Southampton like? Well it’s a long way from Carlisle that’s for sure!

I didn’t want to leave Derby as felt we were on to something decent, with lots of excellent kids coming through and I loved it there. I met my wife (Helen) during my time at Derby as she was working there, and it was a really enjoyable time. But Jim Smith said that we had to sell a few players to keep the club afloat. We very nearly went under by all accounts, and so I moved down to the South Coast.

The first four years at Southampton were brilliant – we got to the cup final, but missed it through injury, but we had regular top half finishes and played some cracking stuff. But my last year there couldn’t have gone any worse. Gordon Strachan left, and after that we had a number of managers in the space of less than a year. It went all pear-shaped…

So you left, and made the short journey to, er, Sunderland…. Ha ha, yeah, I’ve done some miles over the years. I got a phone call before deadline day and to be honest, at that time Sunderland weren’t in a brilliant position, but I thought it was a chance to play regularly and be a lot closer to my family and home town. Sunderland’s a big club, too.

Mick Macarthy was in charge and at the time it looked like we’d be relegated and we eventually did go down. They then sacked Mick and got Roy Keane in as manager. Keane didn’t fancy me and told me that virtually straight away, which was fair enough, and then Stoke came in for me. I came down to Stoke to watch a match and speak to the manager. In all honesty, I could see what he was trying to do and I liked what he had to say, and so I signed on loan.

First game, a 4-0 win at Leeds, and then a few days later you suffered that horrendous injury…. I didn’t think I was playing against Sunderland at first as they were my parent club, but the two clubs had agreed verbally that I would sign in January and so I ended up playing. Stoke had rang Keane and he said that I wasn’t going back there, so he had no problem playing.

Describe the double break, a complete accident with Robbie Elliott…. Yeah, at first I thought I’d just broken my shin pad, and then I looked down.  It was the worst thing I could have done. As soon as I looked down at the leg, the pain kicked in. It was a double break and the pain wasn’t as great as you’d expect, but as I looked at it I thought “how the hell is someone going to fix that?”. Fortunately, Mr Wade at North Staffs Hospital said he’d get it sorted and he put me at ease straight away.

I had my dad, missus and brother-in-law at the game and I vividly remember that seeing my dad was the worst part of it all as he was in tears and it was so hard seeing your dad so upset. But as soon as I got to the hospital and they started giving me the morphine that was me out of it, ha ha.

What kind of healer are you? Tough, single minded? I think I am. The most difficult time is the first few days. I knew ‘Scouse’   was working at the club from our time at Derby but didn’t know Dave the physio very well. But he came up to see me all the time and called me regularly, which was absolutely fantastic as I’d only known him a few days. The club was superb. The gaffer, chairman and Tony Scholes all came to see me before the operation on my leg. I was sitting with my leg in a brace and they said “don’t worry about it, we will honour the deal”.  That had my dad in tears again, ha ha.

I’ve been asked to ask you about the availability of patient underwear in hospital…. (Both Rory and missus are now in stitches)…. Scouse, the rehab fella at Stoke, had had me and Danny Higginbotham at Derby and we had both kept in touch with him when we were at Southampton and he was at Portsmouth. He had rang Danny while I was in hospital and told him to come and see me and that all I really needed was some underwear.

So Higgy, fair play to him he’s a great mate and all that, but instead of going and buying some new underwear for me, he just brought in some of his old ones! Plus a soft toy!

He’s seen me open the bag, look them up and down, raise my eyes, and he’s gone out the door saying “Cheers, you ungrateful *******!!!!”

So, our promotion season. How soon was it you thought we had a sniff of glory? Straight, away to be honest. The season before, we had done pretty well and that had given everyone a real boost. Tony strengthened the squad and from that first game at Cardiff – with Ryan having a big influence on us and Simmo saving that late penalty -it bode well for the rest of the season. I thought from early doors that we’d be there or thereabouts.

That first season in the Premier League was unforgettable. The dressing room: forged out of siege mentalities and an us-against-the-world attitude? Yes, it had to be. The Villa win gave us belief and the confidence that we belonged, and it simply went from there. As for games at The Britannia Stadium, we could tell sometimes after five minutes or so that some teams just didn’t want to be there. The lads could sense it and you then knew you had a real chance.

You made the throw in sexy. Why did the media not give it any attention before? I never used it as much as I did at Stoke really. At Derby, I used it to turn defence into attack, and to put it over full backs heads and turn teams. Plus, at Derby we didn’t have the height there that we had at Stoke where I was one of the smallest players. At Stoke, we also planned for using it really well too. There’s no point simply throwing it in there if players aren’t prepared to head it or if they don’t know what their role is.

We had big, brave lads who didn’t mind getting a bruise, cut head or broken nose here and there. That helped, ha ha.

Does it bother you that some don’t recognise how good a player you are? No, not really. The media attention happened quite late in my career so I was far more mature to handle any negativity. It might have done so earlier in my career.

That red card against Man City in our famous 1-0 win….. After I got the card I wasn’t allowed in the tunnel, players bar or in the crowd. So I’ve gone into Winnie and John’s side room. I was inside there, and the hairs were standing up on back of my neck just listening to the noise outside. The red mist had come down just before I had received the red, and I was really relieved for it not to have cost us the points. The lads were magnificent that day, and as for the crowd…

Does the crowd really make a difference, or is that just a cheap, lazy platitude? No, the crowd really can, and did, make a difference. Especially in certain games. For example, the last ten minutes against Villa was simply unbelievable. I’ve played in lots of games with great atmospheres, but that season….!

Tell us about the two games at Wembley….. As for the Semi Final –  well, after 20 minutes I knew we’d win that game. Not 5-0 though, but I knew we would win it. I saw some of their heads go after the first goal went in, and was thinking “eh up, some of them are possibly not up for it now”.

We had some carrying injuries going into the Cup Final and we also missed Ricardo with his injury. We had gone into the cup final after beating Arsenal 3-1 at home, so confidence was high in the squad. But I don’t know what it was, but none of us were really at it that day. We gave them far too much time on the ball.

I felt crap in that game and I later spoke to others and they said the same. That could have been down to anything, nerves, adrenaline, a knock or two….. but weren’t at it like normal. It tool all Summer to get over it and I still don’t like thinking about it to be honest.

What was your relationship like with TP? Great. I have the utmost respect for Tony. He was successful, and people should always remember that no matter what anyone ever says about him. He simplified the game and if you look at the team that got us promoted we had players that had a point to prove.

Tony was big into his stats and would say stuff like “70% or so of teams who get relegated lose the ball in their own half”. We also had players like Ric who could change a game on their own. I’ll never forget my time at Stoke.

Who were your best mates at The Brit? Higgy was a big mate, despite the pants! I’ve known him for 13/14 years. He’s a great lad. But all the lads were great. I saw Ric when I was at Barnsley last year and nothing had changed – he was his usual self. They were brilliant, brilliant times at Stoke.