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The History Boys: Garry Parker V Everton (1989)

Garry Parker played a vital role in the neat and tidy Forest midfield of the late 80s. Join me to relive those numerous Wembley visits.

Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

The Full Members Cup came into being as a result of the ban imposed on English clubs from competing in European competitions after the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985. In the absence of the European Cup, UEFA Cup and the sadly defunct Cup Winners Cup, his gave clubs a shot at competing for another trophy alongside the FA Cup, League Cup and the Championship. It ran from 1986 to 1992, enjoying various sponsors along the way by Simod and the enjoyably futuristic Zenith Data Systems.  Ignored by some, mocked by others, it nonetheless produced some highly enjoyable and surprisingly open finals with bags of goals and scorelines resembling Tennis sets. All hugely enjoyable for those who cared to throw their boots into the ring.

Nottingham Forest of course loved a day out at Wembley around this time. If there was a trophy available, Brian Clough would send his team out to win it and Garry Parker was a vital cog in the club’s residency at the famous old stadium. Signed from Hull City for £260,00 in 1988 after a frustrating start to his career at Luton Town under David Pleat, Parker slotted neatly into Forest’s intricate triangles forged between Nigel Clough, Neil Webb, Stuart Pearce and Gary Crosby. Dubbed Mr Suntan by the legendary ‘Brian’ fanzine at the time, he looked right at home in the 80s with the occasional streaked highlight to add to his seemingly permatan. But boy, this lad could play football and instead of a foot on the end of his right leg, he just happened to have a beautifully ripe peach.

Having already claimed the League Cup earlier in the month of April and destined to achieve a highly commendable 3rd place in the Championship, Forest came into this game full of confidence against a strong but ultimately disappointing Everton team who would complete the season in 8th place. However, if Clough's men were to bring home  another trophy, they were going to do it the hard way.

Things didn’t go swimmingly from the start. Tony Cottee’s run dissects the centre of the Forest defence like a cheese wire through bubbles and hands the Toffeemen the initiative. No matter though as a Tommy Gaynor Corner bundles its way across the edge of the Everton six yard line towards Parker who volleys the ball into the ground and somehow finds a gap between the defender stationed inertly on the line and the post. Neville Southall wearily gets to his feet and turns as if to ask how on god’s good earth has that one squeezed into the net. Goal for Parker but that's not the one that lasts long in the memory.

All square at half time but this party is only just getting started.  Kevin Sheedy maintains the high standards with a searching ball from the halfway line – he’s spotted Graeame Sharp plodding towards the Forest goal. With Terry Wilson and Des Walker bearing down on him, he knows he won’t get much closer to the goal and so understandably smacks one in despite being 25 yards out. It’s a beautiful finish to take Everton back into the lead.

And then it happens. Part of what makes Parker’s goal so celebrated and memorable is the fact that it all stems from an Everton corner, swung in by Pat Nevin. This puts the Forest defence in a bit of a tizzle – Wilson attempts to head the ball clear at the front post but makes a bit of a hash of it and only succeeds in flicking it backwards across the six yard line. Cottee is lurking but all he can do is crumple to the floor and the ball finds its way to the safe feet of Des Walker. It’s all ok – Des has got it. Wait. What’s he doing? He’s dribbling the ball a mere four yards from his own goal. Whack it, Des. Get rid of it, Des.

But Des knows better.  He’s Des Walker.

He reaches beyond the penalty spot, has a quick look up and shapes to clear it with his left foot. It is clearly apparent that this isn’t just a hoof it clearance – he’s seen his mate, the young number nine – our Nigel – making himself available as an outlet betwixt and between the centre circle and his own penalty area. Our Nigel has now grown accustomed to being clattered from behind by some burly bruiser so he ever so sweetly, ever so deftly strokes the ball to the forward running Parker with one delightful touch. Parker is clear but he’s still deep in his own half and the only support he’s got is Our Nigel who, bless him, isn’t blessed with pace.

The wide open green space of Wembley lays before him. He runs forward with the ball – Kevin Ratcliffe isn’t getting any closer to him. He shifts the direction of his run slightly towards the right side – he knows he’s got to create an angle for the shot before he gets caught since he too knows that in shuttle sprints in training, he and the number nine would saunter in last. Incredibly, he’s made it to the edge of the Everton penalty area. He shapes to shoot but hesitates for a split second – the angle’s not quite right, his shape could use some amendment. He allows the ball to run a yard further. Now. Perfect. Southall is on the six yard line – there’s not much to aim at. He could blast it – after all, he must be shattered having run from what might as well be the coach car park outside the stadium. But no, he trusts his right foot and backs himself. The ball is slotted neatly into Southall’s bottom right hand corner. He’s only gone and scored one of the great Wembley goals.

Parker

Given this, he’s rather casual as he trots on a few more yards – obligatory inflatables waved jauntily in the away end. Gaynor, Lee Chapman and our Nigel catch up with him and give him a big hug. He’s earned it. Extra time beckons.

Apart from the whole move stemming from virtually the Forest goal line, it’s the calmness that makes the goal special. Parker had a knack for scoring special goals on special occasions, none more so than the thunderbolt he smacked in at Ashton Gate in the semi-final of the League Cup to eventually see off the almighty challenge of Bristol City in extra time under biblical rain. Admittedly, this wasn’t the FA Cup Final – it was The Full Members Cup after all – but it was a Wembley final and the chance to slot another trophy in the cabinet, an achievement that Brian Clough would never underestimate.

And here's the moment when our collective red hearts were in our collective dry mouths:

Sure enough, Forest went on to secure the trophy in extra time. Lee Chapman chipped his team into the lead only for Cottee to bag his second with a header from a Nevin cross. This extra time malarkey is pulsating stuff.

In the second period, Steve Sutton somehow prevents Sharp’s effort crossing the line by deflecting his low shot up and onto the crossbar before getting up and running towards his own goal to catch the thing on its way down. It’s a minor miracle how he prevents himself from carrying the ball over the line but he surely does since the only other person with a clear view of this is Cottee as he’s found himself in the back of the Forest goal. He clutches his head in frustration, clearly indicating to all and sundry that the ball hasn’t crossed the line. Fair play to him for his Corinthian values – no doubt a player in his boots these days would celebrate the goal regardless in an effort to convince the officials that the ball was over. It’s clearly Forest’s day.

For the umpteenth time in his career, Clough drops deep and strokes the ball forward to Neil Webb who keeps the momentum going by stroking it out wide to the onrushing Franz Carr. For once, Carr succeeds in not spooning the ball high over the goal but calmly passes the ball to Chapman who simply cannot miss from six yards out. He doesn’t. An extra tub of Brasso to clean another trophy is ordered back at the City Ground.

Forest would go on to claim the last Full Members Cup in 1992, beating Southampton on a rain sodden day 3-2 in a predictably pulsating final. With English clubs (apart from Liverpool) allowed back into European competitions for the 90-91 season, this sideshow of a competition’s days were numbered. The European ban denied this exciting Brian Clough team a few shots at Europe, denied entry for the UEFA Cup in 88-89 for finishing 3rd, again in 89-90 for another 3rd place finish and for lifting the League Cup and just for good measure, and again in 90-91 for retaining the League Cup. Bitterly disappointing but lifting a trophy at Wembley helped to put a few smiles on faces.

Parker went on to see off the challenge of John Sheridan for his place after the club sold Neil Webb and also partnered Roy Keane before leaving for Aston Villa in 1991 after scoring 17 goals in 103 appearances. A spell with Leicester City followed where he made the acquaintance of Neil Lennon who, since moving into management, has employed Parker as a coach at Celtic and currently at Bolton Wanderers.

He is fondly remembered at Forest though, none more so than by Brian Laws, with whom he remains close:

I’ve been very lucky to play with some great players, but my closest friend was probably Garry Parker at Nottingham Forest. We came in at the same time and went through the processes that everyone else had to – in terms of waiting our turn to get into the first team. We played a lot of reserve team football prior to that and gelled together. Our friendship is still there now. We keep in touch regularly. He is probably one of my closest friends in football.

In 2010, when working for Celtic, Parker suffered a mini stroke while recuperating at home from a broken leg sustained while playing in a veteran’s game. Parker, then 44, told the Daily Record:

I was in shock about the whole thing, especially the mini-stroke. I was back home having a kip and my wife Petra noticed one side of my face had dropped. She had seen the TV campaign and recognised the signs immediately. If she had not been so quick I could have died or been left disabled. She was great.

But you have to put everything into perspective. I had treatment in the John Radcliffe Hospital, which is where they do post-mortems on the lads who have died in Afghanistan. I saw the bodies come in and you value even more what they are doing. I just have to get on with it. If I have to take tablets for the rest of my life so be it.

Garry Parker didn’t quite get the recognition he deserved but he was perfect for this Brian Clough team: a nice young man who could play football extremely well. If Paul Gascoigne had received the appropriate punishment for stamping his studs into Parker’s chest before scything down Gary Charles in the 92 FA Cup Final, perhaps he’d have an FA Cup winners medal too. However, he will always be fondly remembered for this goal and that belter at Bristol, making a fundamental contribution to the history of Nottingham Forest.