Eric Parsons: Winger who played a leading role in Chelsea's 1955 title win

Eric Parsons was a diminutive winger who made a colossal contribution as Chelsea became Football League champions for the first time in their history in 1955.

Nicknamed "The Rabbit" for his remarkable pace and distinctive bobbing gait, he overcame initial scorn from an over-critical faction of the Stamford Bridge crowd following his arrival in 1950 from West Ham United to become one of the Blues' most popular performers.

And well he might. During the title-winning campaign Chelsea made nonsense of the music-hall wiseacres who lampooned them cruelly and undeservedly by outstripping, comfortably in the end, the much more fancied likes of Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester United, and throughout that glorious process Parsons was a constant star. He played in every game, scoring 11 goals – including two on the afternoon the prize was secured with a 3-0 home triumph over Sheffield Wednesday – and catapulted himself from comparative obscurity to the fringes of the England team. Indeed, but for the incomparable quality of Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney, he would surely have earned full caps to go with the two games for his country's "B" side which were to remain his sole international honours.

The 5ft 7in wide man was both a maker and taker of scoring opportunities. At his peak during that championship season he maintained a stream of inviting crosses on which the stylish centre-forward Roy Bentley capitalised expertly, and when the goal tallies were finalised he lagged behind only Bentley himself (21 strikes) and inside-right Johnny McNichol (14).

Parsons, a prodigiously promising athlete during his schooldays, was spotted by West Ham playing for Worthing Boys and recruited to Upton Park in 1943. After Army service in North Africa during the war he made his senior debut for the Second Division Hammers in January 1947, quickly establishing himself as a regular and not missing a match in either of the next two seasons.

As well as being quick, Parsons was tricky, intelligent and industrious, the latter quality being comparatively rare among wingers of that era, many of whom merely hugged the touchline waiting for the ball to be delivered to their feet. He was ready to chase back and assist his wing-half, even his full-back, when needed, foraging tirelessly for the ball, clearly unafraid of the consequent physical effort and risk.

After two years in the upper reaches of the second tier, West Ham fell away badly in 1949-50, narrowlyavoiding relegation, and it seemed unlikely that such an emerging jewel on the threshold of his pomp would remain with a struggling club. Duly, in December 1950, Parsons was sold to Chelsea for £23,000, an immensefee at the time and a club record for the Blues. Expectations were vastbut he didn't hit his best form immediately, partly due to a series of debilitating knee problems, and despitefrequently working himself to a standstill he was jeered by some of his new "supporters".

He was tried at inside-forward, but that didn't help. Even a return to his favoured right-flank berth did not pay immediate dividends, and it was not until Ted Drake replaced Billy Birrell as manager in 1952 that his fortunes changed. Drake nursed a high regard for Parsons and by praising himlavishly in public he massaged the winger's hitherto fragile confidence.In fairness, the fans had always recognised him as a trier, and now they warmed to his re-awakening skills, too, as in 1952-53 and the following season, as Chelsea improved markedly as a team, his personal performance level soared.

But it was in the next momentous campaign that Parsons truly fulfilled his potential, linking beautifully with his fellow forwards, particularly McNichol, whose perceptive passes inside opposing full-backs offered endless opportunities for the dapper winger to shoot or to despatch precise deliveries to the predatory Bentley. On the penultimate Saturday of the season, when the Championship was secured, Parsons was the hero, scoring against Wednesday with a smart header from left-winger Frank Blunstone's cross and a hooked shot. Afterwards, as the Stamford Bridge pitch was invaded by celebrating spectators, they feted him royally, chants of "We want the Rabbit" issuing from the same folk who had condemned him so roundly a few years earlier.

Though by then in his thirties, Parsons remained a potent operator, but after another season he gave way to the young Peter Brabrook – one of "Drake's Ducklings", as Chelsea's evolving side was now referred to in the press – and in November 1956 he accepted a free transfer to Brentford of the Third Division South. Like the dedicated professional he was, Parsons buckled down to life at the lower level, putting in four seasons of dedicated service at Griffin Park, during which he suffered a broken leg.

Having played more than 450 games and scored close to a century of goals in senior football, he moved on to non-League Dover Athletic in the summer of 1961. Later he worked as a grocer, then ran a cigarette supply business. His death came only a week after that of Les Stubbs, a fellow attacker in the Chelsea side which had made the comedians eat their words.

Eric George Parsons, footballer; born Worthing, Sussex 9 November 1923; played for West Ham United 1943-50, Chelsea 1950-56, Brentford 1956-61; (married, wife deceased; one daughter, deceased); died Worthing 7 February 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'