Charlton’s best period of the modern era coincided with the rise of Parker as their midfield general but his switch to Chelsea was ill-timed and ill-advised
21 September ~ In a self storage unit in west London, buried within a box containing assorted Charlton Athletic memorabilia, lies a signed photograph of Scott Parker. It’s a typical action shot, ball at feet, eyes looking up, driving past a despairing marker – I think the image dates from our away win at Leeds United in December 2002, when Parker scored arguably his greatest goal for the club.
He picked up the ball just inside Leeds’ half and then set off on one of his signature thrusting runs. He glided past three or four players, scurried into the box and fired home, winning us the game 2-1. He ripped off his top in celebration and ran towards our delirious support.
The photo was given to me by my wife as a birthday present in the autumn of 2003. On the day I unwrapped it, Parker got his first England cap against Denmark at Old Trafford. Charlton were flying in the table and weeks later we were to batter Chelsea’s star-laden line-up. But even as I smiled appreciatively at his signature, a frisson of doubt came over me as I wondered if we would sell him January. I secretly wished the photo could somehow morph into unsung Bulgarian utility man Radostin Kishishev instead.
Little did I realise when I watched us dispatch a relegation-bound Wolves team at The Valley in early January 2004, this would be the last I would see of Scott Parker in an Addicks shirt. His departure was pretty acrimonious. Manager Alan Curbishley said Parker was in the chairman’s office half an hour after the Wolves game, hair still wet from his shower, pressing for a move to Chelsea. That fact was more than enough for most Charlton fans. Our dreams of making the top four effectively died right there and our comparatively disappointing seventh-place finish was largely owned by one player who spent part of the remainder of the season on Chelsea’s bench.
Ultimately, Parker’s transfer to Chelsea was a tale of what might have been. If he had stayed, even until the end of the season, perhaps Charlton’s European adventure might have stretched beyond a couple of years in the Anglo-Italian Cup in the 1990s. For Parker himself, the move took the momentum out of a career that was just taking off. The following season he was effectively consigned to Chelsea’s League Cup team and did not make enough appearances in the Premier League to qualify for a champions medal.
Less than 18 months after joining Chelsea, he moved to Newcastle to rebuild his stalled career. But the damage had been done. His subsequent clubs – West Ham, Spurs and Fulham – represented a rung below where Parker would have been aiming when he left us. Likewise, his international career was a relatively disappointing affair, with only 18 caps. He finally became an England regular, briefly, under Roy Hodgson almost a decade after his debut but by then he was approaching his 32nd birthday and, to my biased eyes, he was just past his best. He still had all the attributes of a no-nonsense central midfield “guvnor” but he was now making fewer of those trademark searing runs. There was a faint touch of the Ray Wilkins about him.
Hearing of his retirement last month was a mixed experience for Charlton fans. Parker was not popular after his departure but our traumatic fall from grace since 2007 has had a chastening effect. He now represents a slightly tarnished figure from a golden era, one in which he was perhaps the star turn.
The pain we felt when he left was because of the manner of his leaving. He was a homegrown player, intrinsic to what Curbishley was so wisely and unpretentiously building. We all knew he would leave us one day but not in the way he did. Yet the years of famine and incompetent ownership that have plagued Charlton over the past decade affect one’s perspective. Scott Parker had made more than 100 appearances for Charlton in the Premier League by the time he left, which represents a solid period of time. It was rumoured Chelsea offered him a humongous increase on his £15,000-a-week deal at The Valley. How many of us could turn down that kind of money? He was always only one bad tackle away from retirement.
If, post-Curbishley, we had managed to survive in the Premier League, perhaps Parker might have chosen Charlton, and not Fulham, for his final destination. A few seasons recreating the good old days would undoubtedly have enhanced his reputation. The photo rests in the very same wrapping paper in which it had been placed when I received it. Somehow it never found a place on a wall. Jonathan Miller