‘I was a young lad. I was going out too much and now I’m the complete opposite, I’m a bore and I stay in all the time’

UNTIL recently, all that Jon Walters had in common with Robbie Keane was the vast number of clubs he has played for, although the Tottenham man’s curriculum vitae of Liverpool and Inter Milan is a little more impressive than Chester, Wrexham and Scunthorpe.

It may only be a beginning but Walters’ one Premier League goal is one more than Keane or Kevin Doyle have to their names and he is undoubtedly playing at a higher level than Cillian Sheridan and Shane Long, who are ahead of them in the Republic of Ireland pecking order.

He may sound about as Irish as Jason McAteer but he has turned out for the ‘B’ team, as well as the under 21 side, and if he continues to play regularly for Stoke, full honours would surely be a formality in the new year.

If he achieves that, it would be another remarkable turn in what has been a strange career.

Now 27, Walters left Blackburn under a black cloud as a youngster and was taken to Bolton by Sam Allardyce. After he failed to break through at the Reebok Stadium, he had a disastrous spell at Hull – then in League One – before dropping down another level to Wrexham and Chester.

Walters admits he was forced to contemplate what might happen if he sank any lower but improved at Chester and impressed Jim Magilton sufficiently over the course of two FA Cup ties for the Ipswich manager to take a chance on him in January 2007.

Tony Pulis failed in his attempts to sign the striker last summer but the fact that he would have been a free agent at the end of the season left the Championship side open to a £2.75 million offer in August despite Roy Keane’s frustration.

He has been a regular starter for Stoke keeping crowd favourite Riccardo Fuller, former Chelsea and Barcelona man Eidur Gudjohnsen and Tuncay on the sidelines and it all came together on Saturday, with pace, athleticism and no little class.

He showed real quality to score his first goal in the top flight, anticipating a pass from Matthew Etherington and surging away from Chris Samba before clipping a calm finish into the corner.

Walters credits starting a family for the turnaround and spent Saturday night at the cinema, which was not a choice of entertainment he opted for often at the start of his career.

” I was a young lad. I was going out too much and now I’m the complete opposite, I’m a bore and I stay in all the time,” he said. “I look after myself properly on and off the pitch now. I do things right.

” I was looking into a bit of an abyss in the lower divisions. If you have a bad season you can be out of football, and there are a lot of good players at that level who never get the chance to step up. I‘ve had a bit of luck and I’m taking my chance with both hands.

“At Blackburn and Bolton I thought I’d arrived but you do that as a young boy. You don’t know what chance you’ve been given until you lose it. It’s taken a lot of hard work to get back to where I am now but that work certainly doesn’t stop now that I’m with Stoke.”

That attitude has played a big part in earning the faith of Pulis, who lights up when discussing his summer signing. “Since he walked through the door he’s been an absolute dream to work with,” Pulis said.

“There are players with more glamorous names, like Jermaine Pennant, Etherington, Fuller but everyone in the dressing room has really taken to Jon.

“There are players out there who can step up a level and Jon’s proved that, so we’re very pleased.”

Resurgent Stoke hit the post when Rory Delap’s throw glanced off Ryan Nelsen and after Walters gave them the lead, they should have put the game well beyond Blackburn.

As annoyed as he was at the defeat, Allardyce could not resist discussing his pleasure at seeing Walters make his way back to the top flight.

“Jon has done exceptionally well,” Allardyce said. “It is down to his dedication and hard work and maximising his ability that he has finally made it back to the top level.

“Full marks and all credit to him because it has been a long journey through the lower divisions. You don’t often see a young man today going down the leagues and getting back to the very top level.”

Trapattoni could help him complete the journey.

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