Harry Parkes: Reliable and tenacious Aston Villa full-back who regularly outplayed more illustrious names

Harry Parkes's prowess as one of the best uncapped English full-backs did not represent anything like his full value to his only professional club, Aston Villa, in the decade following the Second World War.

He was the dressing room's resident comedian, an irrepressible joker who could be relied upon to lift morale no matter how dire the circumstances. His propensity for clowning also fostered a lively rapport with the fans, with whom he was in the habit of exchanging quips before, after or even during a match.

Parkes, who was voted Villa's most popular player of the 1940s in a retrospective poll of supporters in 2000, began his working life as an apprentice toolmaker with GEC, the electronics and engineering factory in Witton, Birmingham, not far from Villa Park. Spotted while playing for local amateurs Boldmere St Michaels, Parkes joined Villa as a 19-year-old amateur in April 1939, turning professional four months later, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.

During the conflict he guested for West Bromwich Albion and Northampton Town, and helped Villa to beat Blackpool in the final of the Football League North Cup in 1944, which was not classed as a senior competition because of the ad hoc nature of the wartime game. Still, it was an honour much prized by Parkes, who was never to collect a full-blown medal.

At that point of his career the sturdy Midlander was a utility player, making his senior debut for Villa as a right-half in a 1946 FA Cup tie at Coventry. From then on he occupied every outfield position except outside-left, before settling at right-back during the 1948-49 season, although he still swapped roles as the team's needs dictated. Such extreme versatility possibly cost Parkes his international chance, with the England selection committee which held sway at that time invariably opting for specialists. Parkes was, however, in the running for a cap in 1946, only to be thwarted by an arm injury.

Serving under three managers, Alex Massie, George Martin and Eric Houghton, Parkes helped First Division Villa to plough a steady mid-table furrow in most seasons he was with them, the peaks being sixth place in 1947-48, 1951-52 and 1954-55, the trough being 15th in 1950-51, when relegation was averted by only five points.

Through it all, Parkes offered a vein of near-metronomic reliability, proving a taxing and tenacious opponent even for world-class wingers such as Stanley Matthews of Blackpool, Tom Finney of Preston North End and Liverpool's Billy Liddell, a particularly tough and dynamic performer whom many defenders dreaded to face but against whom the Villa man invariably shone.

Parkes was quick and strong, he never shirked a physical challenge and he was also ahead of his time in that he enjoyed an occasional foray into opposition territory, probably a legacy of earlier experiences as an attacker. It was an adventurous approach rarely employed by full-backs in the middle years of the 20th century and it endeared him further to his legions of admirers on the terraces.

Although Parkes peaked in the late 1940s, he played some of his most attractive football in the first half of the 1950s, joining in smoothly with passing movements along the right flank involving the thoroughbred likes of wing-half Danny Blanchflower, the thoughtful Irishman who would lead Tottenham Hotspur to the League and FA Cup double in 1961, and the clever inside-forward Tommy Thompson.

Parkes, who had several spells as Villa captain, was 35 when he retired in the summer of 1955 to continue developing his sports goods business, supplying his former employers with boots from his shop in Corporation Street, which became a celebrated haunt for local footballers and professionals alike.

In 1968, at a time of turbulence in the Villa boardroom, he became a club director under the new chairman Doug Ellis, though the two men experienced differences of opinion which led to Parkes's departure in the early 1970s. He later served as a director of neighbours Birmingham City, but it is as a trusty bulwark of the Aston Villa rearguard, and an unfailing source of good cheer, that he will be remembered most vividly.

Ivan ponting

Henry Arthur Parkes, footballer: born Birmingham 4 January 1920; played for Aston Villa 1939-55; married (one daughter); died Solihull 4 March 2009.

News
peopleActress speaks out against historic sexual assault claims, saying things have 'gone quite far now'

Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Life & Style
Guests enjoy food and cocktail parings by Chefs Jimmy Bannos, Jimmy Bannos Jr, Daniel Rose and Mindy Segal with mixologists Josh King and Alex Gara at Bounty & Barrel: A Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Dinner Series at Heaven on Seven on April 9, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
news Sprinkle Palcohol 'on almost any dish' for 'an extra kick' firm says...
Arts & Entertainment
Charlotte Brontë, the English novelist, poet and the eldest of the three Bronte sisters who lived into adulthood, has been celebrated with a Google Doodle depicting her most famous novel, Jane Eyre.
arts + ents "Reader, they doodled her".

Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Arts & Entertainment
Oxegen in Ireland has been axed as promoters decide it is 'no longer viable'
arts + ents Promoters have axed the event as it is 'no longer viable in current form'
News
The troubled star is set to give fans the biggest insight into her life away from the headlines
people Star made the announcement during the final episode of the programme, entitled Lindsay
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players