Football: A fugitive from glory

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The Independent Online
TONY PARKS was one of the first penalty shoot-out heroes. The dramatic device for deciding the outcome of a match had not long ceased being a gleam in its inventor's eye when the 21-year-old goalkeeper produced two astonishing saves which clinched the 1984 Uefa Cup final for Tottenham Hotspur. He was the toast of half of London and he wasted no time in reciprocating.

Last week Parks was playing for Doncaster Rovers, the Football League's impecunious bottom club, when he made a hash of a back-pass in the closing minutes. His miskick went straight to an opposition forward who promptly scored. This was remarkable not because it served to illustrate how far the mighty can fall but because Parks was appearing at all.

Despite fervent initial efforts on his part to ensure that it would be otherwise he has now been in professional football for nigh on 20 years. Doncastermight be at the extreme edge and in imminent danger of going clean over but for Parks they represent a significant chance to resume his career.

"That final for Spurs against Anderlecht was so obviously the single highlight for me," he said. "It has stayed like that all these years. Two saves, we win the trophy and I'm hailed as the man who did it. But if on the last day of this season I can help Doncaster to get out of the mess they're in and acquire enough points to stay in the League that would mean just as much to me."

Parks was 35 in January and is on loan to Rovers from Burnley, where he had spent all season on the substitutes' bench. Last season he did a similar job for Blackpool and did not make a solitary first-team appearance. But he retains the desire to keep playing and he recognises that a greater miracle by far than the two historic shoot-out saves is that he has gone on for so long.

"After the Uefa Cup I suddenly found I had about 150 friends who I'd never met before," he said. "I fell in with them. I loved it, didn't I, and I was daft. Some of the headlines in the papers were a bit extreme but I was definitely a Jack the Lad. I got done for drinking and driving twice and I was very lucky not be the first footballer to be sent down for it.

"I remember good seasoned pros like Ray Clemence and Steve Perryman used to tell me what I might be wiser to do. But I used to look at them as if they were mad. I didn't think I'd ever be old like them. On the pitch I thought it was still fine. It doesn't matter out there even if you're playing in front of 40,000 people. It's still like being in the park with you and your mates again."

But the Parks lifestyle and approach unquestionably interfered with his progress. He never quite established himself in nine years at Spurs and eventually arrived at Brentford. Two lively seasons there were followed byunproductive spells at Fulham, West Ham, Stoke. In three years he played only 11 League matches. It looked all over for him. And then came Falkirk.

"It was Falkirk that changed things," he said. "Different place, different culture from what I'd been used to. But it made me take a look at myself. Was it worth playing the game, was it worth trying to work at my marriage, did we want to be together? The answer to all of them was yes and I had a lovely time up there. The Scots couldn't have been kinder to me."

Parks stayed for four seasons. In his second, Falkirk were First Division champions and in his third were within a decent run-in of qualifying for Europe. The season after they were relegated and Parks fell out over a new contract. After a move to Lillestrom in Norway fell through he was offered terms by Blackpool. There, he and his wife Sandra and 10-year- old son Joseph are settled. He still trains with Burnley and would like to see the season out with Doncaster. The archetypal London boy will probably not be coming south again.

"I cycle along the front for miles here," he said. "Very bracing. People from the past probably couldn't believe it. I'd like to play for a couple more seasons, then hopefully get into goalkeeping coaching. It's a bit frightening to think of, not really knowing what I'll be doing but I think I'd be pretty good at telling youngsters where they can go wrong."

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