Garry Parker

Former Player Remembers: Garry Parker

Last month, former Leicester City midfielder Garry Parker spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his distinguished career in football.
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Garry was a key player for Mark McGhee and Martin O’Neill at Leicester City, where he was captain, won promotion to the Premier League, lifted the League Cup and played in the UEFA Cup, now referred to as the UEFA Europa League.

He then became a respected coach at Filbert Street and elsewhere. Before arriving at Leicester City, the England Under-21 international played for Luton Town in the top flight, Hull City and Nottingham Forest, where he won the League Cup twice and was an FA Cup finalist.

Parker was also in the Aston Villa side which finished as runners-up in the Premier League. As a youngster, Oxford-born Garry signed schoolboy forms at Queens Park Rangers.

"I was under George Graham,” Garry recalled. “Terry Venables was the manager. I was travelling there all the time but I wasn’t getting a game there. One day I was playing local county football in a game at Luton and their manager David Pleat spotted me and got in contact. So I had a meeting with George and Terry and told them I would like to leave QPR. They wanted me to stay, saying they would guarantee me an apprenticeship, but my brother, who was with me, as my dad had died, told them that I wasn’t happy and that I just wanted to play football, so they let me go.

“I went to Luton and it was brilliant. Pleat was a brilliant manager and so were the coaches, John Moore and Trevor Hartley. In May 1983, I made my debut against Manchester United at Old Trafford as a 17-year-old. We lost 3-0, but to make my debut was unbelievable.

“The next game after my debut was the last game of the season at Manchester City. I didn’t play but we won 1-0, we stayed up and they went down. That was when Pleat did his famous skip and jump across the pitch.”

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Garry Parker
Garry Parker

Parker won two League Cups at Nottingham Forest.

Another highlight was playing for Luton Town in the Semi-Final of the 1985 FA Cup against Everton. After taking the lead, the Hatters narrowly lost 2-1 with Everton’s winner coming in the 115th minute.

Garry then moved on to explain why 10 months later, in February 1986 and after making 42 appearances for Luton Town in the old First Division, he moved to Second Division Hull City for a fee of £72,000.

He continued: “At Luton, Ricky Hill (who later joined Pleat at Filbert Street) played in my position and the manager was never going to leave him out to play me. When the Luton captain Brian Horton left to manage Hull City he wanted to take me with him. I went there because I wanted to try and make a name for myself. Luckily for me, that worked!”

Garry’s performances in his two years at Boothferry Park, Hull City's former home, led to him winning six England under-21 caps.

“Dave Sexton selected me,” said Garry. “He thought a lot of me. We did very well in the tournaments we played in, although I got sent off in Toulon. Dave had a right go at me afterwards!”

In March 1988, Brian Clough’s high-flying Nottingham Forest paid £260,000 to take Garry to the City Ground, where he spent three-and-a-half years.

In 1988/89, he won a League Cup winner’s medal with victory in the Final over his former club Luton Town. Six days later, Garry was in the Nottingham Forest side which met Liverpool in the FA Cup Semi-Final at Hillsborough.

The date was 15 April, 1989 and 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives.

Garry said: “It was horrendous that people went to a football match and lost their lives. In the replay, the atmosphere was different. Everybody wanted Liverpool to go through to the Final.

“We got beaten fair and square. It was just such a terrible thing to happen. It will live with me for the rest of my life.”

At the end of the season, Nottingham Forest beat Everton 4-3 in the Full Members (Simod) Cup at Wembley. This was an additional competition for clubs in the top two divisions. It had been created when English clubs were banned from Europe after the Heysel disaster.

In the Final, Garry scored twice. One of his goals was really special, as Garry recalled: “Everton had a corner. We cleared it and I ran from the edge of our box all the way up to the other end and scored past Neville Southall. How did I run that far?!”

Garry was a League Cup winner again the following year when Nottingham Forest retained the trophy by beating Oldham Athletic at Wembley. A year after he was an FA Cup finalist against Tottenham Hotspur, when a fired-up Paul Gascoigne was badly injured following a reckless tackle on Gary Charles.

Parker had great respect for Clough, as he explained: “He was a genius. He was the best manager I worked under. He didn’t work on tactics or set pieces. It was all off-the-cuff. Training was the same every day. It would be eight against eight or nine against nine, two touch and small goals. Sometimes Cloughie would turn up in his car on the Monday and say ‘see you on Friday. I’ve seen enough!’ You had to keep yourself fit, though, otherwise there would be no way you would be playing.”

In November 1991, Garry moved to Aston Villa for £650,000.

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Garry Parker
Garry Parker

Garry scored 13 goals in 93 appearances for Villa.

He remembered: “I didn’t realise just how big that club was until I got there. It was massive. After I’d arrived at Villa, I got into the full England squad. One day Nigel Clough, who was in the squad, knocked on my door and said 'my dad’s told me to apologise for letting you go. He was influenced by certain people at Forest'. For Brian to apologise really meant a lot.

“In my first full season at Villa, we came second in the newly-formed Premier League to Manchester United. We had a great team, playing good football. It was tremendous!”

In February 1995, Garry moved to Leicester City, who were struggling in the Premier League having been promoted the previous season. He was signed by Mark McGhee, who had been appointed City’s new manager two months earlier.

He replaced Brian Little, who had left Leicester City to become the new manager at Villa Park.

“To be fair to Brian,” Garry said, “when he came to Villa, he was very honest with me. He said I was not his type of player and would let me go. So I met Mark at Leicester. He sold the club to me, explaining how he wanted to play football... so I signed. Leicester were bottom of the league and were definitely going to get relegated, but Mark said that his aim was to get us promoted the following season. One of my first games was back at Villa. We were 4-1 down and drew 4-4 and I scored a penalty against Mark Bosnich. I used to take penalties against him in training!

“We got relegated, but then, in pre-season, Mark made me Club captain. We were determined to get promoted. We started off well, playing some great football. I like to get the ball and make things happen. Even if I lost the ball, it wouldn’t worry me. I’d want it again to make things happen. I wasn’t defensive. I couldn’t tackle, but I always wanted to get us playing. We did well and went to near the top of the league. Then, in December, McGhee decided to leave for Wolves.

“Martin O’Neill came in. He played his way, with a back three, wing backs, and getting the ball forward and we struggled. We couldn’t win a game and the fans were giving him a lot of stick, but we did eventually turn it round.”

Having slipped to ninth in the league, O’Neill’s side, bolstered by new signings Neil Lennon, Muzzy Izzet, Steve Claridge and Julian Watts, went on a late season winning run, scraping through to the Play-Offs in fifth place with only 71 points.

Their Semi-Final opponents were Stoke City and the first leg at Filbert Street was a 0-0 draw.

I was shouting for a penalty after the foul, and then realised it was me who would have to take it!

Garry Parker

“I was on the bench,” Gary remembered. “I didn’t get on and wasn’t happy. I was picked for the second leg at Stoke and scored the goal in the 1-0 win. [Emile] Heskey went down the wing, checked it and I volleyed it in. On the bus coming home, everyone was cheering but I was just sitting there quietly. Martin came and sat next to me and asked what was wrong. I said: ‘Well you didn’t play me in the first leg, played me in the second, I scored the winner, we’re going to Wembley and I probably won’t be picked’.

He said: ‘I’ll tell you now. You’re playing at Wembley’. I cheered up then obviously!”

At Wembley, Crystal Palace took the lead, Garry equalised with a penalty in the 76th minute and Claridge scored the winner four seconds from the end of extra time.

“I remember the penalty,” Garry said. “I was shouting for a penalty after the foul, and then realised it was me who would have to take it! I put the ball on the spot. As I turned around to go to the edge of the box, I heard Palace’s Ray Houghton say, ‘miss it!’

"I’d taken a few penalties against Nigel Martyn before. I ran up and scored - so there was great relief. The game went into extra-time. Anticipating a penalty shootout, Martin replaced (goalkeeper) Kevin Poole with Zeljko 'Spider' Kalac with a couple of minutes to go. Then we got a free kick. I played it into the box and Claridge shinned it and scored. That was it! That was history. We got promoted to the Premier League. If you think about it, winning promotion at Wembley is the best way to do it as long as you can guarantee you’re going to win! That final was a highlight. From how it started, with McGhee and then Martin coming in, struggling for the first few games and then turning it round to win at Wembley was unbelievable.”

Garry was Man of the Match at Wembley and was also Leicester City’s Player of the Year.

“The following season was a great achievement for Leicester,” Garry continued. “To finish in the top half of the Premier League and to beat Middlesbrough in the League Cup Final after a replay was unbelievable. Middlesbrough had [Fabrizio] Ravanelli, Emerson and Juninho [Paulista]. I remember how Pontus [Kåmark] man-marked Juninho throughout. He followed him all over the pitch. I’d have hated that job!”

Winning the League Cup meant that Leicester City qualified for the UEFA Cup the following season. They were drawn against Atlético Madrid in a tie which, for the wrong reasons, will forever be associated with Garry.

Returning from Madrid with a slender 2-1 deficit, hopes were high for a victory at Filbert Street in the second leg.

“I really fancied us to go through that night,” Garry said. “We could beat anybody at Filbert Street on our day. I got booked earlier in the game. I thought nothing of it. Later, we got a free kick at the other end. As I was preparing to take it I saw their 'keeper over to the side so I took it quickly. Next thing I knew I was sent off for a second yellow card! The keeper caught it anyway, so why not just play on! I felt terrible. Nowadays in Europe you have to wait for the whistle, but I didn’t get told that so I hit it. I believe though, after that, the referee was dropped from the UEFA list.”

In the summer of 1999, Garry was added to the coaching staff at Filbert Street.

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Garry Parker
Garry Parker

One game in caretaker charge of City followed Peter Taylor's departure.

“Our daughter was born prematurely,” Garry explained. “There were complications. It was a difficult time. I remember playing a game at Middlesbrough and physically and mentally I couldn’t concentrate. I just couldn’t do it. Martin said ‘come over to the coaching side’ so I coached the reserves, which I enjoyed. Martin was brilliant for letting me do that. For me, reserve football isn’t about winning. You like to win, but it’s about the progression of the kids and bringing them through. I used to say to the players: 'Look, play with a smile on your face. If you make a mistake, it doesn't matter. I'll back you, I'll encourage you. Go enjoy your game of football, like you do in the school playground when you want to be the best player. Do that on the pitch’.

“I carried on coaching the reserves when Peter Taylor came in as manager too. When he was sacked (in September 2001), I was caretaker manager for one game, a League Cup tie against Leeds. Disaster! We lost 6-0.”

Garry had fielded a young attacking side which was cruelly exposed. When Dave Bassett was appointed manager shortly afterwards, Garry left Filbert Street.

“What Dave Bassett wanted wasn’t for me,” Garry explained. “So I thought it was time to move on. After that, I did some scouting for Villa with Martin O'Neill, and then Neil Lennon got the job at Celtic and took me with him as first team coach for four years. Then I went to Bolton with him as first team coach.”

Garry’s most recent job was as Lennon’s assistant coach at Hibernian, before they both left the club in January 2019 by mutual consent.

“I like the coaching and the day-to-day work with the players” he concluded. “I can’t wait to get back in.”

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