Jonathan Walters the epitome of the Stoke way

‘Walters is footballing thrash metal, his every run a challenge to the opposition to enter the mosh pit’

There are those who believe Metallica wrote a song about Jonathan Walters's Premier League career. At several points over the years even some Stoke City fans would have agreed it would be a deserving subject of The Thing That Should Not Be. And yet on Saturday Walters plundered his 100th goal as a professional, his 30th in the Premier League. Fittingly, it was a winner against Arsenal.

In a sense Walters is the anti-Arsenal. Not anti-Arsenal in an asinine boo-Aaron-Ramsey kind of way but in as much as he is the precise opposite of the stereotypical Arsenal player: his flair shortage means he would probably never get a game for an Arsène Wenger side, yet he also personifies many attributes that Wenger’s side have recently lacked. Walters is a sterling representative of the Stoke way, which is basically the way every other club should perfect before trying to add frills.

Of all the statues outside English football stadiums, the Stanley Matthews one in front of the Britannia is the best. It is a triptych that conveys beautifully the great winger's wonderful movement, which is a tidy feat for a statue. Bojan Krkic is starting to show signs of becoming a worthy descendent of Matthews, but down Stoke's other flank there storms an altogether more ferocious breed of winger. If Matthews was poetry in motion, Walters is footballing thrash metal, his every run a challenge to the opposition to enter the mosh pit.


When the time comes to commemorate the most successful Stoke City era for a generation – a period during which the club has become a constant, dreaded presence in the top- flight, reached an FA Cup final and briefly galumphed around Europe – the most appropriate player to memorialise in a monument will likely be Ryan Shawcross, but Walters will be worthy of a tribute too, one that, as with the Matthews statue, captures his spirit and movement: a red-and-white striped monster truck, for instance.


If there was a week that summed up Walters's strength, it was back in January 2013. He endured a humiliating ordeal in a 4-0 home defeat by Chelsea, missing two penalties and scoring an own goal. He was a laughing stock. Three days later Stoke played Crystal Palace in the FA Cup and who had the fortitude and ability to score twice in extra-time to send Stoke through? Walters, definitely no softie.

Come back strong

Anyone who had followed his career had known he would come back strong: this, after all, is a man who has become a regular Premier League player and captained his country despite spending the early part of his career flopping at several lower league clubs, including Hull City, for whom he scored three goals in two years. He admits that his early toils were partially his own fault because, after excelling in Blackburn Rovers youth team he lost focus, thinking senior success would follow naturally.

It was at Chester City that he finally cast off that delusion. His renaissance there earned him a move to Ipswich Town in 2007. He did well. His scoring record was far from prolific but his all-round dynamism and havoc-wreaking were admirable, and even his manager, Roy Keane, respected the player's defiance: once when Walters missed training because of illness, Keane sent a message questioning the authenticity of that justification, and Walters replied with characteristic directness and power, texting Keane a picture of his vomit.

Keane falling out

Walters’s quality rather than his temerity led to he and Keane falling out, the manager objecting to the player’s desire to move to a higher club. As it turned out, he not only moved to a higher club, but to the perfect one for him.

Tony Pulis paid £2.75m (€3.5m) for Walters in August 2010 just a few days after breaking the club's record to sign Kenwyne Jones for £8m (€10m). The former has proven to be a much more valuable acquisition. Pulis said at the time that he was signing Walters primarily as a goal-getter, but he has performed the role of provider and pest much better, even if he did crown his inaugural season at the club by scoring twice in perhaps the most memorable Stoke match of recent times, the 5-0 FA Cup semi-final win over Bolton. For all his reliability, Walters is not a machine and when he lost form and fitness towards the end of Pulis's reign, he and the team would probably have benefitted from being rested. But he had inspired so much loyalty in Pulis that the manager seemed unable to bring himself to drop him and ultimately the persistent picking of Walters, irrespective of performances, came to be cited among the evidence used to condemn Pulis as a manager who could not deliver the changes he promised.

Mark Hughes is introducing the desired evolution but knows that some qualities must be maintained. Walters embodies those qualities and, at the age of 31, remains a cherished part of the Stoke armoury. One that, if recent weeks are anything to go by, will remain formidable if deployed at the right times.

Pulis changed the perception of himself at Crystal Palace last season. This weekend Walters will travel to Selhurst Park intent on proving that there are some things you do not need to alter. There will, as every week, be more talented players on display than Walters, and probably bigger and faster ones. But these players need to understand that if they cannot match Walters' gumption and relentlessness, then Nothing Else Matters. Guardian Service