If someone asked you to come up with your concept of a standard lower-to-mid-table Premier League footballer, you’d probably end up describing someone like Jonathan Walters.
The Ireland international has been on the books of four different top-flight clubs, playing the vast majority of his games for one of them, and his 43 Premier League goals put him level with the likes of David Hirst and Frederic Kanouté in the all-time rankings.
However, he also had to endure one of the worst 90-minute periods of football – and perhaps even life – a human being can have.
It’s hard to tell why Walters’ performance in January 2013 doesn’t get too much attention these days, but it might be because we witnessed an even stupider moment in a Chelsea game 11 days later when Eden Hazard kicked a time-wasting Swansea ball boy.
Still, it’s probably fair to say it was always going to take something of that magnitude to provide a distraction, because Walters’ comedy of errors was pretty dumb.
We’re not saying he paid off Charlie Morgan (don’t ask us why we remember the ball boy’s name), but he’ll have been hugely grateful to see the news cycle move on.
Walters’ afternoon was going pretty much according to plan as the game entered first-half stoppage time. Then, as Cesar Azpilicueta swung in a cross from the right, the Stoke man bustled in front of Juan Mata as only Walters can bustle, before sending a stooping header beyond what we can only assume was a deeply confused Asmir Begović.
We can come up with two explanations for this: either Walters had assumed the teams had already switched ends for the second half and thought he was heading into the Chelsea net, or he’d just returned from a spot of time travel and thought Begović was still the Chelsea goalkeeper.
Own goals often have an air of misfortune about them, but this seemed almost deliberate, as if Walters thought he was helping his team with his intervention when that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
It shouldn’t be possible to hear a man scream “why?!” from that distance, especially when you can barely see his face, but the goalkeeper’s screech of despair can be heard clearly even when watching the replay on mute. Don’t ask us how that works – it just does.
It took Walters just 15 minutes to double his tally for the afternoon, and again there was an air of calm about the whole thing. Frank Lampard was ready to pounce as Mata swung in a corner from the right, but the Stoke man was having none of it – if anyone was going to score, it was going to be him.
Unfortunately, once you get that kind of idea into your head it’s hard to remove it. Sure enough, Walters found the top corner once more. Begović barely moved this time – maybe he wasn’t expecting to be beaten by his own man, or maybe it was that he expected exactly that and was resigned to his fate.
We’ll put this down to a moment of knowing performance art from Walters, who by 2013 will have been well aware of Lampard’s reputation for scoring deflected goals. Why not cut out the middle man, he clearly thought, knowing the ball was only going to wind up going in via his body in one way or another.
Bad things are meant to come in threes, but Walters found a way to turn three into four that afternoon. First there was his penalty kick in the second half, which he smashed against the top of the crossbar as Petr Čech dived out of the way. It must have felt wrong for him to claw back some dignity after what had come before, and we assume his own grip on the narrative of the match refused to let him score.
Perhaps we should have known it wasn’t going to be his afternoon when he kicked the ball into his own face, setting the tone for a proper Chris Brass of a game.
“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 said after the 4-0 defeat. Glad to see Stoke had their priorities in order.