From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.34 :: NO.21 :: May. 26, 2011
Of all the players in the Stoke City team which beat Bolton Wanderers 5-0 in the FA Cup semifinal, it is unlikely any would have felt more relief than winger Matthew Etherington.
In the 2006 FA Cup final, Etherington was part of the West Ham side which lost out to Liverpool in what is widely regarded as one of the greatest finals in recent memory.
With West Ham leading 3-2 with just five minutes remaining, Etherington was replaced by Teddy Sheringham and he could only watch from the sidelines as his dreams of silverware were cruelly ended when Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard blasted home a shot from 30 yards in the first minute of injury time. The Hammers eventually lost on penalties.
It was perhaps fitting that Etherington was the player who set Stoke on their way to the 2011 final against Bolton, picking up the ball from 25 yards and rifling it into the net to score Stoke's first in the 5-0 rout.
Etherington, 29, has admitted he used his bitter experience at the 2006 final as his main drive to succeed this time around with Stoke: “I said to myself after that day that if I get a chance to come back again then I'll take it with both hands.”
The determination etched into those words are typical of a man who has overcome adversity at various points in his career, to the point where he is now surely on the fringes of the England squad.
Starting his career at Peterborough, Etherington made his debut aged just 15 years and 262 days in May 1997. As he progressed further, there was inevitable interest from Premier League clubs and he moved to Tottenham in 2000.
However, Etherington never established himself in the Spurs first team and in 2003 he was offloaded to recently-relegated West Ham. His spell in the second tier provided Etherington's career with the necessary kick-start and by 2005 West Ham were promoted to the top tier.
Etherington was a key player in West Ham's successful return to the top flight as they finished ninth and embarked on their memorable Cup run.
However, as West Ham struggled the following season, Etherington suffered a loss in form and he never fully recovered at Upton Park, with Gianfranco Zola selling him to Stoke for GBP2million in January 2009.
As it transpired, loss of form was the least of Etherington's worries. Upon moving to the Britannia Stadium, Etherington had been stricken by a gambling addiction, losing GBP1.5million.
The origins of his addiction came from the card-playing culture at West Ham: “There were card schools at West Ham and it did get a little bit out of hand. People were taking three, four, five grand on the bus with them. When that was gone, you were borrowing more.”
Soon after his move to Stoke, relatives asked Etherington to seek help for his addiction and he began to attend the Sporting Chance clinic set up by England captain Tony Adams.
After managing to bring his addiction under control, Etherington went on to have his best Premier League season in 2009-10, with manager Tony Pulis describing him as his best signing.
Fast forward a year and Etherington remains Stoke's star player. In the Premier League, he is second only to Gareth Bale in terms of speed when running distances in games.
NAME: Matthew Etherington
Moment to remember: Named Stoke's player of the season at the end of the 2009/10 campaign.
Moment to forget: Being substituted in the 2006 FA Cup final and seeing Liverpool grab a last-gasp equaliser.
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