“There will always be the suspicion that he moved because he needed the cash to pay his ex missus. When Middlesbrough came to Highbury at the start of the 2004-2005 season, he got a great round of applause, but we also took the p*ss a bit by shouting: ‘Does your ex Missus know you’re here?’ at him. He turned round and gave us a slightly rueful grin. So even though he’s not with us anymore, there’s a kind of old fashioned, p*ss taking relationship between us and him which is hard to replicate in the modern era when so many players live the life of monks. Ray was probably the last of a dying breed.”
Ray Parlour. The original Emmanuel Frimpong of his day minus instagram and a twitter account. In that I mean a bit of a lad who did not totally utilize his skills and loved to be the joker. Unlike Frimpong, Parlour would go on to be both a joker and a success. Also, like Frimpong (often called ‘Dench’), Ray Parlour was also remembered for his nickname as the ‘Romford Pele’
Parlour shares something else with Frimpong, both had ignominious debuts against Liverpool. Arsenal lost 2-0 in January 1992 and Ray Parlour, like Frimpong, had a great debut marred by an error.
A liverpool blogger wrote:-
When Ronnie Rosenthal evaded challenges from Nigel Winterburn and substitute Steve Bould, Parlour panicked. His rash and illegal challenge was punished by Molby who sent the resulting spot-kick into the roof of the net.
Over the next few years Parlour would slowly make his way into the Arsenal squad, but he was a frustrating player. Lets not forget in season 1992-1993, when Arsenal won the double, Parlour played in the 2-1 . He then played in the first FA Cup final game in a 1-1 draw against Sheffield Wednesday. If anybody can remember the first game.
I remember watching it in a pub in Bath, whilst at University. It was Arsenal’s first FA Cup final in 13 years and many of us had wanted this for for so many years the tension was palpable. Then, the 1-1 draw. Easily enough to say the worst cup final I have ever seen. As for Parlour? Parlour was absolutely dreadful in the game and had been put in the team instead of Alan Smith. His performance was so poor that he was dropped for the replay (another dire game) the following Thursday. Parlour was even dropped from the bench, in which Ian Selley was installed in his place.
Although Parlour continued in and out the squad, Parlour was remembered more for his off field antics with his Essex pal at the club, Tony Adams. For example, in October 1993 Tony Adams and Ray Parlour turned a fire extinguisher on a some Spurs fans at Hornchurch Pizza Hut. Afterwards:-
George Graham savaged Parlour but simply shook his head at Adams. When Parlour complained that he was being treated unfairly, Graham explained ‘he, Adams does the business for me week in week out. You don’t.’
If you look at the last years of George Graham’s reign though, players such as Parlour represented much of the worst aspect. Under Graham in the first five years we had won 2 league titles and league cup trophy. Graham had done this with bargain buys and some homemade players. Parlour had been described in the Islington Gazette as ‘the next crop of Arsenal starlets who will take the club forward.’ The final 4 years of Graham’s reign showed players lacking direction. Anders Limpar said of Ray in the early days:-
It was clear that Ray was a talented boy, but I think we did wonder whether he could get the consistency in his game to make him a highbury regular. He could be be fantastic in one match, and anonymous in the next. And of course, he was involved in the drinking scene with Tony Adams, so if he was really going to make a name for himself, he’d need to change his lifestyle dramatically.
Then in 1995 and Ray Parlour went on tour with Arsenal in Hong Kong, ended up getting drunk with Tony Adams and throwing prawn crackers at a taxi, getting chased by the driver and Arrested by the police.
Although amusing, it was often frustrating as Parlour was some player. Things started to change when Arsene Wenger joined as manager in 1997. At first, Ray took Wengers introduction by doing impressions of the manager as Inspector Clouseau. He famously even did an impression when Arsenal had a game abandoned at Selhurst Park in the 1997-8 season when :-
When he [Wenger] asked what was happening Parlour replied ‘zair eez a burrm!’ But both men were smiling. By then Wenger’s authority was unquestioned and no disrespect was intended.
When Wenger joined though and Parlour was playing with quality players he knew he had to change. He later admitted :-
I was convinced that I’d be sold, I thought I’d be on my way out, and Paul Merson would take my place. When I heard Merse had been sold to Middlesborough, I knew then that i’d been given a second chance. I took a long, hard look at my record, and realised that I hadn’t been dedicating myself to the game. It was time to try and follow Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira. I woke up to the fact that I could be part of something very special at Arsenal.
At long last Ray started to look like a professional player, especially in season 1997-98 in the double team. If Arsenal are remembered for three games in this season its two victories over United and the infamous defeat to Blackburn at home. The famous 3-2 victory over Manchester United was followed by a defeat to Sheffield Wednesday, Liverpool and then the 3-1 defeat to Blackburn. Famously, after taking a the drubbing, Adams sat the team down and said the team was suffering and the back four were getting no protection from the midfield of Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira. Arsene said of the Blackburn game:-
After the Blackburn game, I felt let down. It was a huge disappointment. I do not usually talk to the players after the game but this time I told them what I felt.
After that Arsenal went on one of their now trademark runs, overturning a 13 point lead that Manchester United had held. The highlight being the 1-0 victory at Old Trafford:-
If there was a game though that the Romford Pele showed himself, was overturning Blackburn at Ewood Park 4-1 when he got 2 goals after Arsenal took a 4-0 half time lead. Kevin Whitcher described it as ‘possibly their best display of 1997-8 at Ewood Park’.
If one really wants to see the change in Parlour one only needs to look at his man of the match performance in the 1998 cup final, in comparison to the dire display in 1993. His pass to Anelka for the second goal, a delicate 30 yard chip into space, was pretty much pure class.
After one of Ray’s best seasons I think many felt that he was bound to go to the world cup in France. As Glenn Hoddle was in charge things, it didn’t work out that way. Hoddle felt Sick note, Darren Anderton (a player from Glenn’s team, Spurs) as the better choice. Parlour’s international career in many ways was a joke. He finally made his debut in 1999 in a 3-1 win over Poland. Ray rarely played for Glenn Hoddle and was dropped when Glenn asked him to see a healer called Eileen Drewery for an injury. Ray said when she saw her:-
I sat in this seat, I couldn’t see her – I thought she was going to come out with no clothes on or something! Anyway, she placed her hands on my shoulders – I had long hair back then – and I just said: “short back and sides, please, Eileen”.
He was later picked for England’s first two qualifiers for the 2002 world cup against Germany (managed by Kevin Keegan) at Wembley and Finland away 5 days later (managed by Howard Wilkinson). Having been beaten at Wembley, England needed something at Helsinki. With 3 minutes Parlour took a smack outside the box, with the ball hitting the underside of the bar and crossing the line. Ray said afterwards ‘I actually ran away celebrating.’ Unfortunately the referee did not give it. Ray played one more international. Capped a mere 10 times and no goals. I still think that goal would have aided his international career.
After 1998, Ray became an integral part to the Arsenal team, but sometimes dropped for Robert Pires ot Freddie Ljungberg. Ray could have some memorable matches. I mean here was a player who scored a league hat trick against Newcastle in 2000 and a hat trick at Werder Bremen in the UEFA cup:-
The season of 2001-2002 would see Ray again be a fulcrum to the squad, but not without a few errors on the way. As said previously, look back at any Arsenal double winning team and their trophies have often based upon adversity. In 1970-71 it was the 5-0 defeat to Stoke that caused Arsenal some introspection (as they openly discussed the issues the players were facing). In 1997-8 it was the home defeat to Blackburn. For the season of 2001-2002 it was another home defeat (our last league one as well) to Newcastle. Having taken a 1-0 lead, Newcastle won thanks to a dodgy referee giving Newcastle a penalty and Ray Parlour getting sent off for a fair challenge on Alan Shearer and with Shearer telling the referee it was a fair challenge. The feeling of ‘us and them’ can certainly be remembered for Henry having a go at the referee (see below):-
Arsenal then went on to win the double, with one of the most memorable moments being Ray’s first goal of the season. In the cup final against Chelsea. I think the goal is remembered for two things. First. It was Ray’s best goal. Secondly, Tim Lovejoy, a Chelsea fan, on seeing Ray charging through the midfield saying ‘oh, its only Ray Parlour’. Check the video below.
Over the next few seasons Ray became more of a squad player or was often injured. Still important to the squad and many of the important matches. For example, when Arsenal beat Inter Milan 5-1, Ray captained the team. Ray said that this improvement was often down to Bergkamp. In his recent biography Stillness and Speed: My Story Ray said of the game he said how:-
He and Edu thoroughly outplayed the Inter midfield when Arsenal won 5-1 at the San Siro in 2003. ‘They had some very well respected players but we pulled all the strings. They couldn’t get near us. After the game the Italians were saying ‘we didn’t expect you to control the whole game.’ But at that time, technically, I was just getting better and better.’
Ray played in the Invincibles team of 2003-2004, and the only real game of worth I remember him for was the battle of Old Trafford in which Ray got a £10,000 fine and 1 match ban. Still it was sad to see Parlour go at just 30 years old.
Its not as if Ray isn’t fondly remembered. I was recently listening to the podcast a Bergkamp wonderland, in which the panel was asked who they would have as the next statue. FK [i think] said the Romford Pele.
My personal reason for liking Ray was he was the first player I saw score in a league match when we defeated Bradford at highbury in 2001. A cracking shot from outside the area. Secondly, I once mentioned Parlour’s cup winning goal on twitter and putting his twitter handle on there. Christ alive he even responded:-
— Ray Parlour (@RealRomfordPele) December 6, 2013
Ray Parlour, a rogue but one who clearly had the hearts of the fans. Anyhow, lets hope we see a screamer tomorrow against Everton like we did at Wembley from Ray 12 years ago.