The recent sad death of Alex Parker at 74 triggered a flood of recollection for Evertonians of a certain age. And, as usual, recollection has little to do with the raw statistics of 220 games and 5 goals (for which numbers, and others herein, grateful thanks to Steve Johnson's marvellous website at http://www.evertonresults.com/index.htm). Everybody filters memory through their own cultural sieve. But if you love the rich folklore and myths of Evertonian footy, you would have loved Alex as a classic right-back. He fitted in almost from the beginning of his transfer in 1958 from Falkirk with little Eddie O'Hara, who was an outside-left. Eddie tried hard but couldn't really hack it in English top-level football and left in 1960 after 29 games and two goals. Alex was with us for seven seasons and left in 1965, when he was succeeded by Tommy Wright. He epitomised Harry Catterick's observation, "You don't have to look for the good ones: they stand out." When he signed, he was one of a series of Scots that included Bobby Collins, Tommy Ring, George Thomson, Alex Young and Jimmy Gabriel. He was part of a different football era, not necessarily better, just different. Beware propaganda about "Good Old Days" - there weren't any, only periods of playing success or otherwise.
No sooner had he signed than he was whisked off to do national service in the army in Cyprus at a time when our beloved country was engaged in one of the dying Empire's last gunboat actions, this one against EOKA, who wanted enosis. (If you want to know more about the latter you'll have to get off your lazy arse and go check the historical reference and its context). At the time local pub peons wondered if Alex would end up bullet-riddled in a Nicosia back alley. Fortunately he survived and made his debut in February 1959 in a 2-1 home win over Tottenham. He never looked back and was a crowd favourite from the start. He even had a column in the local newspaper before he actually kicked a ball for us. Once he settled in he was usually only absent through international calls. He seemed to have everything.........talent, natural athleticism, physical strength, the right attitude and even movie star looks. I only ever saw one player give him a runaround: Brian Pilkington, during a 5-2 loss in a midweek August game at Turf Moor when a great Burnley team was on its way to winning the 1960 championship. But Alex learned quickly and nobody else did it to him until worn hamstrings took their toll in his last years with us.
He arrived during a torrid period just prior to John Moores' buy-out of the club. It was a weird era typified by three games that season, Leicester (H) 6-1 (starring an adolescent Gordon Banks), Newcastle (A) 2-8, and Birmingham (H) 4-0. Alex played in each of them. Gates that season lurched between 19,000 and 75,000. It was also the season Dave Hickson transferred out to Liverpool in the Second Division. We had players like Bobby Laverick - the only professional footballer I have ever seen who (I shit you not) toe-ended corners - Alan Sanders, Peter Harburn and Alan Shackleton. I know you have never heard any of these names, but there's no particular reason why you should. I tell you this merely to give you a flavour of the footy times. After John Moores everything changed. Alex survived the renaissance that began under Johnny Carey's short management from 1958 to 1961 and was then completed by Harry Catterick in the era up to 1972.
Actually, "solid" and "determined" are the two most applicable descriptions of his play. He mastered all the basic requirements of right-back play and that often gave him time and space to play the way he wanted. Over time he became so accomplished you could almost forget about any threat down our right wing. At about midway in his career with us he began to take on a more adventurous style and often attacked in close support of the right-winger, usually Billy Bingham, Derek Temple or Alex Scott. In many games he was so composed many fans thought him "stylish," but I think that had more to do with his playing confidence than his ball playing skills. He could use a slide tackle rather well too, the kind of thing (rightly) outlawed from today's game, but which fans loved then for its pure melodrama, especially in wet conditions. Mistime one of those and you could end up doing fearful damage to your opponent or the running track and spectator wall, depending on your accuracy. I can't recall Alex doing any such mayhem but then I am as biased as you are.
I can remember only one of his goals, in the Street End to make it 3-0 before half time against Manchester United in our 1962-63 championship season. It fell to him right side of the penalty box and he smashed it home right-footed into the keeper's top left corner. To show you how times change, the mancs finished nineteenth that season and avoided relegation by only three points, and that was after buying Denis Law from Torino. Everton won the title by six points. He played a total of 38 games in all competitions that season and his solid form played a large part in the success.
I recall too an exciting game at Bolton which we won 4-3, and in which Alex gave away a penalty. Albert Dunlop saved it before being deluged by congratulating defenders, but he turned on Alex in vehement fashion and berated him in front of the jiving travelling support. It was a sign that all wasn't well, which eventually turned out to be all too true when, tragically, a couple of years later Albert sold scandalous stories to the Sunday papers and also tried to commit suicide. It was a fortunate early lesson to discourage belief in a football fantasy land.
One of the few occasions Alex got a smidgeon of national recognition was during a BBC late broadcast of the film of our home European Cup tie V Internazionale in 1963. If you think media coverage is imbalanced now you had to experience it then to believe it. The match finished 0-0 thanks to a defensive display designed by the Inter coach, Argentinian Helenio Hererra. Their formation allowed Alex a then-unheard of raiding role down the right wing. The commentator was a notorious Tottenham supporter named Kenneth Wolstenholme, later displaced by David Coleman, but even he couldn't deny how good Alex was that night. Little did we know Alex had only one more year in him. Inter went on to win the tie 1-0 in Milan and then won the European Cup, though their dour approach blighted the game for many years afterwards.
Evertonians often regret Alex only managed a few games in full-back partnership with Ramon Wilson, a truly great player. By the time Ramon arrived in 1964 Alex's hamstring problems had virtually finished his first-class career so we never did get to see just how formidable they would have been together.
We were fortunate when Tommy Wright eventually replaced Alex, because Tommy - a remarkable conversion from inside forward - became a great player for us. But nobody who ever saw him will forget Alex Parker. He was a fine player with a lot of character and presence.
So, two non-playing, folkloric anecdotes from a different era: At that time you could usually find Everton and Liverpool players drinking together very late on Saturday nights in the Royal Tiger club (long since demolished) in Manchester Street - if you could bluff your way past Jack on the door. Done up in a suit Alex bore a passing resemblance to Dean Martin, an American pop singer of the day. Later, it emerged Harry Catterick and Liverpool manager Shankly sometimes had people outside taking down car numbers so they could confront the "guilty" parties at a suitable time during training. But I never saw Alex drunk the way some of the others were.
At the time there was a barber - they weren't called "hairdressers" then - near the bottom of Everton Valley called, I think, "Tony's." Many of the players used to go there for haircuts. Pride of place inside went to a huge photograph of Tony cutting the treasured locks of the Golden Vision himself, Alex Young. Alongside this were smaller photos of other players. One day I was in there for the usual trim, and Alex Parker's DA hair was being lovingly tended to by Tony, while off to one side a noisy supporter of our unloved neighbours made "funny" remarks about Everton. ("DA" was an acronym for "duck's arse," which described the brushed-back sides of a popular hairstyle). After Alex's hair was finished he got up and said wearily but quietly to the noisy one, "Look, I don't support them either. I just play for them." At which, whatever illusions I had left about footy, loyalty and professional footballers went flying out of the window. It was a good and cathartic moment that formed my main view of football down to this day. In view of the retain-and-transfer system, Alex was right. But you can't say that to people blinded with chauvinist "loyalty."
After Alex retired from playing he managed a pub called The Swinging Sporran somewhere in Runcorn. Later still he acquired a season ticket for analfield. Gawd knows what that knowledge would have done to his contemporary reputation amongst the crazier "supporters." Then again it was a time when, unknown to virtually all fans, John Moores was helping the affairs of both Everton and Liverpool. Once Moores died relations between the two clubs - already badly deteriorated - came to a dead stop. These days it is almost impossible to imagine the existence of circumstances at the Royal Tiger and "Tony's." As I said, it's a different era..........worse in some ways, better in others.
The last time I saw Alex was at the Adelphi Hotel before an Alex Young tribute dinner. He arrived as dapper and handsome as ever but had difficulty walking and negotiating four or five steps into the guest lounge. You couldn't help feeling sad but protective of one of your boyhood heroes in difficulties, though typically he refused help from anybody. To the end he was his own man, and a gentleman. And he left us some wonderful football memories.