TALES FROM THE TAPE
PHIL PARKES - CLEAN SHEETS & DIRTY TACKLES
“You alright son?” came the voice from behind the goal. A young Phillip Parkes had just let in his ninth goal for Red Star, in a 9-3 defeat to West Bromwich Boys Club. That voice was to change his allegiances from stripes… to becoming a star.
Born in West Bromwich to a Baggies-supporting family, Phil was a regular at The Hawthorns with his father as he lived ‘a goal kick away from the ground’. Phil told me: “Me and my Dad used to go to games when there were 40 to 50 thousand-odd in the ground. They used to pass me down to the front of the stand so I could see as I wasn’t very tall back then! My idol was Ronnie Allen, who eventually gave me my debut for Wolves.”
There was a huge journey ahead of the young man whose football started at West Bromwich Schoolboys and subsequently Staffs Schoolboys. “I got invited to West Brom on a Monday night and there was one guy looking after about 30 kids. It was mayhem. I started playing for a new team who had been formed to playSaturdays, and that was Red Star. We lost one game 9-3 and I was in goal. Some old guy was standing behind the goal and told me he was a scout for the Wolves and asked if he could speak to my parents and that was that.”
The standards at Wolves were streets ahead of their Black Country counterparts and Phil was in awe as he got to Molineux. “I went down to Wolves and they had seven or eight coaches, who at the time, were all Wolves legends. There was Joe Gardiner and Alf Crook and there was Bill Shorthouse and Billy Crook who had played in the 1949 FA Cup Final.”
Phil had joined Wolves in the summer of 1960 as a schoolboy and became a professional in 1964. ‘Lofty’ as he is affectionately known (more about that later) was still catching a bus from his native West Bromwich to training each day. “I remember my third day as a professional. We went running over Cannock Chase and I fell down a rabbit hole and injured my ankle. I had done my cartilage and still had to go to Molineux every day for treatment. I was getting on the bus one day and walking up the stairs and suddenly my knee locked. The bus driver couldn’t go anywhere as I was stuck on the stairs and the whole bus was going mad at me.” I joked of how times had changed, but for Lofty they hadn’t. To this day he has still never enjoyed the freedom of a driving licence and still catches a bus now, but it hasn’t stopped him from being a Number One, all over the world.
Phil, quite literally, had to work his way up and it wasn’t the football dream that he had envisaged growing up. “When I started at Wolves I was an amateur and they found me a job at a steelworks in West Bromwich. It was hard work but it gave me even more hunger to make it as a professional.”
It was Stan Cullis who was manager at the club when Phil was making his way, and he remembers back then, who the boss really was. “We had Tuesday night games at Castlecroft and the lads would be terrified if the manager was coming down to watch. I remember a cockney lad called Ray telling me that if Stan takes his hat off in the dressing room, he will go crazy at you, and if he keeps it on, he won’t say a word. I thought he was joking to be honest and didn’t take much notice. That day he left his hat on and had very little to say to us. Then one day, he came bursting into the dressing room and took his hat off and went berserk at us…it was true!”
Phil wasn’t to get his opportunity under the great Cullis and in turn had to wait for Ronnie Allen to be given the reins. A tough act for a West Brom legend to follow. Lofty made his league bow on 19th November, 1966 during the 1966/67 season at Molineux against Preston, and saved a penalty. Of course he did. “I was fourth choice at the start of the season behind Fred Davies, Jim Barron and Bob Knight. Bob and Jim left and Ronnie Allen put me in the reserves, then Fred got injured. I hadn’t even played that many reserve games when I was thrown in. I’ll never forget they had a centre forward called Alex Dawson who had previously played for Manchester United and was on his way down. He was built like a brick sh*thouse and had a nose like a punch-drunk boxer. At ten minutes to three, Ron Flowers told me that whatever I did, not to get involved with Alex as he would kill me. My confidence straight away went from my head to my feet.”
The fun began. “For 20 minutes he just kept flattening me, Ron told me again not to get involved. I got fed up of it in the end and I went up for a ball, knees high and flattened him. ‘No need for that, my career’s nearly over’, he said to me. ‘It will be if you come near me again’, I told him. I never saw him again after that.”
Then came the penalty. A pilot’s dream is to be on a plane when the call comes over the tannoy: ‘Is there a pilot on board’? Just as Its every goalkeeper’s dream to be called into action and to save a penalty on their debut. There was no drama with Lofty. “I stood still, waited till he kicked it and reacted. Luckily I went the right way. I saved two penalties in the UEFA Cup semi-final as well. I dived the wrong way both times and just stuck my legs out!” At least he was honest. Late on, Terry Wharton converted from the spot and it was a victory for Wolves and Lofty’s journey to becoming a Wolves legend was underway.
So, where did the nickname ‘Lofty’ come from? I asked initially, thinking I would get a straight answer. “Well, I thought it was because I was 6 ft 4’ but people have since been telling me it’s because I kicked the ball a long way. I really don’t know.” Well I am glad we cleared that up.
Lofty played the last 13 games of his debut season as Wolves finished runners-up to Coventry City and regained promotion to the top flight. It was Lofty’s first real taste of success… and also travel. “At the end of the season I went to America and played for Los Angeles Wolves. That was my first trip out of England, I had never even been to Wales! We were there for eight or nine weeks and I enjoyed it so much I didn’t want to come home.” Lofty never gave up on the transatlantic dream and it had been written in the stars that he was to eventually end his career stateside.
Bill McGarry had taken over from Ronnie Allen and there was a new dawn at Molineux as Wolves returned to a more regimented regime. “Ronnie Allen was different class to be honest and a great man manager. The training had been so different to how it had been under Stan Cullis. He was the only manager that could get Waggy (Dave Wagstaffe) back to training voluntarily on a Tuesday afternoon to work on his crosses.
“I think Ronnie’s downfall was selling Alun Evans to Liverpool. He became the first £100,000 teenager and Liverpool beat us six with him in the side and he scored a couple. They sacked Ronnie and I felt for him. When we got introduced to Bill McGarry, John Ireland bought him into the dressing room. The big double doors were kicked open and this midget of a guy walked in. ‘My name is Bill McGarry and I’m the new manager of this football club. You don’t need to like me, just respect me. Skipper Mike Bailey, in my office NOW’.”
Stories concluded from players of that era was that McGarry was the stereotypical ‘Marmite’ character. I’d have thought that he wouldn’t have been on Lofty’s Christmas card list, but he told me different. “McGarry once said to me, ‘you amaze me big man’! ‘Before Christmas you are ok, but after Christmas you are brilliant… I’m thinking of putting a Christmas tree in the dressing room in August’!” Lofty took it as it was clearly intended, tongue-in-cheek, but not everybody saw eye to eye with Bill. “I got on with him, but the Doog (Derek Dougan) didn’t like him. McGarry called Mike Bailey, Michael, but he called Derek Dougan ‘Doog’, and he took exception to it.
“There was an old guy Jack Davies who used to make us Horlicks after training during the winter. We all used to have a mug and Doog used to have his in a cup and saucer. One day McGarry came in the dressing room, saw this, and asked Derek who he thought he was. They didn’t always see eye to eye it’s just a good job the Doog did the business on the pitch!”
The changing rooms were smaller back then but the characters that frequented them were larger than life. These huge personalities were taken out with them onto the Molineux pitch and underpinned with skill in abundance. This led to a successful period in Wolves’ history following on from a tough few years, where Wolves had battled with their identity after such a successful 1950’s era.
“We had some great players all over the park,” said Phil. “The Doog was a really good player and with Waggy (Dave Wagstaffe) on one wing and Wharty (Terry Wharton) on the other, we always created chances for him to feed off. Frank Munro could do anything with a ball. He was playing for Aberdeen in America when Wolves spotted him after he scored a hat-trick against us. He was way ahead of his time and had such natural talent.”
This talent spread far and wide away from the football pitch too. “Frank could do keepy-uppies with a tennis ball, a golf ball, even a peanut! His party piece was on a Saturday night in the Lafayette Club when he would throw half a crown into the air, catch it on his forehead and slide it into his top pocket. George O’Neill, who was a boxer from Wolverhampton, used to try the same trick but ended up getting more cuts off the half a crown than he would in the boxing ring!”
Then there remains the enigma that is Peter Knowles, arguably the best of them all, and still to this day a good friend of Lofty’s. “Peter Knowles was absolutely different class too. Peter was good at all sports. He could play golf, cricket and table tennis and was good at everything. I was very close to Peter and when he said he was going to quit the game we didn’t actually think he would stick to it, but he did.”
To put faith before football was a huge leap. Peter certainly didn’t covet the adulation and stayed true to his word. Lofty continued: “I still see Peter now and again as he lives by me and I have a coffee with him. I remember when Frank (Munro) came back from Australia after he had had his stroke. We organised a benefit game for him and we asked Peter to play. He agreed to do the first 45 minutes. A big black Mercedes pulled up, chauffeur driven and out came Peter. I remember saying to him, ‘this Jehovah’s business looks alright, can you get me in’?” A joke was never far away from Lofty and everybody that knew him, knew what context to take it in. Maybe Peter did miss the adornment of football and his team-mates after all. That, we will never know.
Danny Hegan was another one of Lofty’s much loved team-mates. “We were due to go on a mid-winter break to Jersey. You would train with Danny and you would know when he had been out for a few as you could smell the fumes as he run past you. This one time he had been missing from training for three or four days. Me and my wife Maureen are in bed and the phone went. ‘It’s Danny,’ Maureen said, ‘he wants to stop here’. An hour later Danny rocked up and convinced my wife that he wanted to sleep with me so Maureen ended up going in the spare room. Next morning there’s banging on the front door, it was Danny’s wife! I heard the footsteps up the stairs and the bedroom door bursts open and all hell broke loose.
“I remember Sammy Chung panicking when Danny went missing. I’d be phoning Freddy Lavender at The Tavern in The Town to find him. He’d always say he was never there, but he was. Danny would then play like a world-beater on a Saturday and nobody on the pitch or in the crowd would know what he had been up to all week.”
The 1970’s was Lofty’s golden era. Asked about personal achievements, there were most certainly highs, and lows. The high would be the 1972 UEFA Cup in which our keeper became a hero. “I saved two penalties against Ferencvaros in the semi- final. One away in the first leg and one at home in the second. It was the same guy that took both penalties and I dived the wrong way both times but managed to save them with my legs. The biggest disappointment for me was the final. With two English teams playing it should have been really special but as it was across two legs, and at our own grounds, they felt like league games. In my opinion, it should have been at a neutral venue somewhere in Europe.”
The final was memorable for Lofty, if only for a memory that close friend and ally Steve Daley always refers to in his renowned after dinner speeches. “Martin Chivers hit one from about 25 to 30 yards away and it flew into the top corner. It came back out off the stanchion and Ralph Coates has hit it again and I have tipped it over the bar. Steve joked with me that it was a great save, until I told him I was still going for Chivers’ shot!’’
It could have all been so different. “Pat Jennings cleared a ball to the halfway line and Danny Hegan has hit it first time. Pat just got back to it at full stretch – that goes in and it’s a different game.”
The route to the final saw Wolves travel to Turin for the first leg of the Quarter Final as they faced Italian giants Juventus. “We beat some good sides to get to the final and when we were drawn against Juventus nobody gave us a chance. They were one of the best sides in Europe at the time and we went to their place first and drew 1-1.
“It was just before that match that Bill McGarry had one of his better brainwaves. John Charles, who was the Welsh legend who had previously played for Juventus, got invited over to the game by the gaffer to be our ambassador and take us around the city. It rained and rained the first day and we had to wait for Juventus to finish raining before we could use the pitch as it was the only training ground available. There must have been two or three thousand watching Juventus train and they were absolutely fanatical. The Doog had got a bit of a strain so Bill McGarry asked John Charles if he could take Derek back to the stadium for treatment. As they started leaving the training ground the thousands of Italians watching began to clap. The Doog looked up and waved at the fans. John Charles turned around and said, ‘they’re not clapping for you Derek, they are clapping for me’! That was the Doog all over.”
Lofty had fond memories of the trip. “John Charles took us out shopping. We went to a tailors and all got new suits and didn’t have to pay for anything. He was hero worshipped in Turin. I remember on the night of the game, there was an old boy on the dressing room door who had clearly worked at Juventus for years. When he saw John Charles he went to his knees and kissed his feet. I had never seen anything like it! After the 1-1 draw John told us that we had won the tie and that Juventus didn’t travel well and that it would be a different side showing up for the second leg… and he was right.”
The first leg had already got ugly. Lofty recalls an ill-tempered and unsavoury moment with a future England manager at the Stadio Olimpico. “Fabio Capello spat at me. Gerry Taylor passed it back and I picked the ball up and he spat at me. I remember telling him – come to Wolverhampton and you’re dead!” Fabio Capello took heed and didn’t play in the second leg at Molineux.
In a career of such turbulence there would naturally be low points. One, no bigger than the 1974 League Cup Final. Lofty had played in every round of the competition but a broken ankle meant that he had to make way for Gary Pierce. Wolves lifted the trophy, Gary got man of the match and Lofty had to watch on. Knowing Lofty as I do, there would have been no envy, upset or hurt and he would have been pleased for his deputy.
“On the Monday before the game McGarry organised a five-a-side. He asked me to go down with the kids to the Racecourse for shooting practice. One of these kids struck the ball and as I went to save it my boots got stuck in the turf and I knew what I had done straight away and knew I wouldn’t be playing in the final. On the Wednesday we had a reserve game. McGarry asked me to play as he didn’t want the press to know that I was injured and was unavailable and to put any undue pressure on Gary Pierce. My ankle was three times its normal size and they just strapped it up so I could play.”
How times have changed. I asked Lofty of the disappointment on what should have been one of the greatest days of his career, playing for Wolves at Wembley. “The biggest disappointment was that McGarry never thanked me for playing in that reserve game and didn’t even acknowledge it. After the final there was a meal that we attended and he didn’t even mention me. Up to that point I had always been lucky with injuries so I suppose I was due one.” Lofty’s humility never ceased to amaze me. He was genuinely happy for Gary.
Lofty can’t have any deep regrets about his days at Wolves, who were, incidentally, the only English club that he ever played for. To this day, he remains in third place in the all-time goalkeeper appearance records for Wolves and he still holds two further Wolves records of which he is unbelievably proud. A consecutive League appearance run of 127 games and, during that same period, 171 first team appearances in all competitions between September 1970 and September 1973.
There was no shortage of competition either within the goalkeeping department at Molineux to challenge him for the number one jersey and there were also injuries and ailments along the way. “I remember a game against Chelsea, I’d been in bed with flu on the Thursday and Friday with a temperature of over 100. I reported to the club and the Doc told me that there was no way I was playing with a temperature that high. I told him that he will have to tell the gaffer (Bill McGarry) as I’m not telling him!
“The Doc knocked on the manager’s door, there was a scowling response of ‘what do you want’? The Doc told him that there was no way I could play with a temperature of 104. McGarry replied that it was him that picked the team and then asked me if I was OK to play. If felt I didn’t have a choice so I had to play. We won the game and I hardly touched the ball!. I also played with a broken finger against Bristol Rovers in The Watney Cup and I had to have two injections in it. Then I played with a broken toe in a FA Cup tie with Burnley. If McGarry said you were playing….you were playing!”
One game he did play in was the 1971/72 season finale where the mighty Leeds United were coming to Molineux on the back of an FA Cup Final victory the previous Saturday in which they defeated Arsenal 1-0 at Wembley. The stage was all set. If Leeds drew the game or better, they would be crowned as champions and complete the double. All Wolves had to do was spoil the party. With rumours of bribery circling, Lofty put his own spin on the talk of the Molineux Street.
“There was talk and hearsay of players being offered bribes, but I can honestly say that nobody offered me anything…and I was the keeper. They must have thought I was cr*p! On the night of the game we didn’t have the best of preparation. McGarry told us all to make sure we left home early. Well I live in Fordhouses. I was at the Three-Tuns for 5.30pm and the traffic wasn’t moving. I had to stop a police motorbike for an escort and I didn’t get to Molineux till ten past seven! The game kicked off at 7.30pm and there were 53,000 inside Molineux but it felt like more. Just a few minutes into the game, the ball hit one of our defender’s arms and the crowd started going crazy. It was all fuelled by the rumours and we were all in a position where if you did make a mistake then people are going to point the finger. “Anyway, we did our job and won 2-1. The Doog and Frank scored for us and Billy Bremner scored for Leeds. I got man of the match and we stopped them from winning the league. As we walked off the pitch Jack Charlton said to me that he hoped that the same thing happened to us one day. I told him straight. ‘I wouldn’t want any team to roll over for me Jack’.” Liverpool won the league.
Lofty completed ten years at Wolves and was duly awarded a testimonial for his efforts. In his own words though, ‘it was a disaster’. I asked why. “The football had been cancelled for a few weeks due to the bad weather and there had been a backlog of games. It snowed on the night and there was a thunderstorm and lightning too. We had about 3,000 turn up and Bobby Charlton came down and played.” What an honour. I’m not sure if his kid brother Jack turned up to play that night though.
Lofty weathered the storm and after a career in the professional game came to a close in 1983, the highs of football were then replaced with the highs of…roofing! “I was a roofer for 22 years when I finished, maybe that’s where I got the Lofty nickname from!”
Lofty, throughout his career spanning nigh on 20 years, wasn’t always given the tools for the job. It wasn’t until the back end of his career he was even afforded the assumed luxury of goalkeeping gloves! “Earlier in my career we never wore gloves. Eventually we started making our own. I used to go into the men’s department at Beatties, buy the string gloves, take out the woollen inserts and then tape the string to my wrist so they wouldn’t fall off when it got wet. Peter Bonetti eventually bought out some green ones which were made out of the same material as the jerseys, but you had the same problem and as soon as they got wet they needed taping to your wrist. It wasn’t until I got to America that I used to wear proper gloves!”
Now, boots. Lofty always had boots, but he had to make his own there too. “I had the same pair of boots for eight years at Wolves. A cobbler used to come in and tell me I needed new boots but I would just get him to repair them and they were covered in patches! In 1978, Vancouver thought they were looking after me and got me a contract with Nike in Portland. I tried what they had sent to me and they were like miner’s boots!. I remember walking through the Mall in Vancouver and saw a cobblers shop. I told him I needed a favour. Can you take the stripes of these Adidas boots and sew the Nike tick on, from these? ‘I can’t do that,’ he replied, ‘it’s fraud’. Anyway, the upshot was me giving him two tickets to every game and I wore Adidas boots with a Nike tick sewn-on for 18 months and nobody was none the wiser.” Only Lofty!
Lofty loved his time in Canada and America, and it was a success on the pitch proudly winning ‘Goalkeeper of the Year’ three times and off the pitch where his family settled well. Initially he went out on loan to Vancouver Whitecaps after Wolves had signed Paul Bradshaw. “I had played against Braddy (Paul Bradshaw) and he was good enough for England. I knew my chances were limited and Sammy Chung gave me a free transfer. My old team-mate Alan Hinton was the assistant coach and it was a fantastic opportunity for me and the family. My wife Maureen was pregnant at the time, so my youngest son Greg was born in Vancouver and my eldest son Dean had already been born. It was home from home. Bruce Grobbelaar was my understudy and for the first time I was being given proper goalkeeping coaching. Tony Waiters would train us and he was ahead of his time. He would show us videos after games and we would work on how I could improve. It was far removed from the days of Bill McGarry absolutely slaughtering me for a mistake!”
Lofty hadn’t been short of offers before he uprooted to the other side of the world. “I had a chance to go to Millwall, and could have gone to Derby under Tommy Docherty but I couldn’t trust him as far as I could kick him. I’d only played at the top level though and didn’t fancy playing for another club in England other than Wolves, so I wanted to try my luck abroad. I never looked back.”
Phil Parkes was amongst good company in the States. As the North American Soccer League took off, the biggest names in world soccer from across the globe were invited for a final payday. “Franz Beckenbauer was at New York Cosmos at the time and he had been given a benefit game before leaving America to finish his career back in Germany. The Cosmos fans had selected an All-Star team, picked from the league to face them, and luckily I was named as the goalkeeper. The game had sold 55,000 tickets and was being held at The Giants Stadium in New York. Pele said he would play 45 minutes and within two hours of that announcement it was an 83,000 sell out!”
I reminded Lofty that if he kept dropping out these names he may need to get the miner’s boots back on! He conceded: “Pele did score against me, but if I’m honest I let him… I felt sorry for him!”
The big names didn’t end there, and Lofty was on the same side as George Best for San Jose Earthquakes when the mercurial Irishman scored his wonder goal against Fort Lauderdale. “I am glad I wasn’t on the end of that one. To be fair, George Best was first class. I was with him for six months in America and it was around the time that his wife Angie had given birth to their son. He trained every day and never touched a drop of alcohol. Then there was Bally (Alan Ball). A Canadian lad stepped on the ball in training one day and Bally told him if it was meant to be stepped on they would have made the balls square!”
Lofty then tried his luck, briefly at indoor football, if only to keep him in the sunshine and his family in the new life they had become accustomed to. “We played on Ice Hockey rinks that had been covered in Astroturf. Every time I dived, it was like diving on a road.”
Lofty recently went back to his spiritual home of Vancouver as the Whitecaps invited back their legends for a 40-year anniversary. So much had changed since the 1980’s, especially in the boot-room. “One player had 15 pairs of boots!” he exclaimed. I joked with Lofty that with his lasting him on average eight seasons a pair, they would have lasted him for over 100 years! He loved Vancouver as much as he loved Wolverhampton. There was though, one other love in his life.
Since losing his wife Maureen, whom he simply adored, Lofty has now turned his attention to charity work and is the driving force behind the ‘Maureen Parkes Breast Care Fund’. His hard work and commitment has meant that he has not only raised tens of thousands of pounds in her honour but has also funded the purchase of several pieces of lifesaving medical equipment for use at New Cross Hospital to continue to change the lives of others. Not all heroes still wear goalkeeper jerseys.
They don’t make them like Lofty anymore. All I can say is, if you are fortunate enough to cross paths with the ‘Big Man’ he is one of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet and he will always have time for you. And if he heard that, it would mean more to him than playing in any League Cup Final.