Football: New faces for 1999 - Practice just perfect for Parker

Art imitates life as a schoolboy steps up from a television commercial to a career in professional football.

THE ROOM at Charlton Athletic's training ground was marked "Homework" and Scott Parker, a member of the club's productive and much-praised school of excellence, often used to sit in it trying to concentrate on maths or English, rather than dreaming about becoming a professional footballer. This week, for the first time, he was able to relax there and reflect on having started a first-team game. Touchingly, he seemed rather thrilled by it all.

"When I was a little boy sitting in the crowd, watching the teams run out, I just dreamt of it," he said. At half past one last Saturday, with half-a-dozen appearances as a substitute behind him, the dream came true as he was given the nod to start Charlton's FA Cup tie at Blackburn on the right of midfield. He earned good reviews before succumbing to cramp late in the game as familiar defensive howlers undermined his team.

Now aged 18, Parker was old enough and wise enough to play things simple; no juggling the ball on his thigh or flicking it up and catching it on the back of his neck, which were the sort of tricks that had first brought him to the nation's attention five years ago, in a televised advertisement for McDonald's. These days he seems a little embarrassed by it all, but has no need to be. In coming through the audition from 50 of his contemporaries, he demonstrated qualities of skill under pressure, a sunny disposition and commendable patience in his first exposure to the media - it took six hours of filming in a back garden in Friern Barnet to produce the 30-second commercial.

The theme, according to the advertising agency, was that practice makes perfect. The 13-year-old took it to heart, and within a year or so was determined that a football career was for him. Remarkably, he had been training with Charlton since the age of eight and would stay with them despite the efforts of the club he supported, Tottenham, and others, to prise him away. At the FA National School at Lilleshall, he shared facilities with older northern boys such as Michael Owen ("a really good lad"), Wes Brown and Michael Ball and, while others of his own age grew homesick, Parker grew up. Highly regarded by the England hierarchy, he played international football at under-15 and under-16 level and has now graduated to the under- 18 side, preparing for their Uefa youth championship qualifying group in March.

Charlton have long been aware of what a potentially good player they had and knew that being able to offer early opportunities of first-team football, as they had done to youngsters such as Robert Lee and Lee Bowyer, was a powerful incentive for him to stay with them.

The point was dramatically made early last season when left-back Paul Konchesky, at 16, became the youngest player to turn out for the first- team, to be followed soon afterwards by Parker, as a substitute at Bury.

As manager Alan Curbishley acknowledges, both would have been given more opportunities this season had Charlton not won through the epic Wembley play-off final against Sunderland last May to earn an unlikely place in the Premiership. "If we hadn't gone up, I wouldn't have bought Neil Redfearn and Chris Powell, so there'd have been more openings," he said. "But Scott's come in last week and done very well. He needs to improve on his defensive responsibilities, and he can finish a bit better, given the positions he gets into. Apart from that, he's very comfortable, very tidy, a good passer, very fit and has a good football brain. We feel he's got a great chance and I think he feels he should be playing a bit more."

The chance will undoubtedly come, if not in this weekend's critical relegation set-to at Southampton, then before long. And he will have done his homework.

Sport
The sun rises over St Andrews golf course, but will it be a new dawn for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club?
sportAnd it's Yes to women (at the R&A)
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
footballToure's lack of defensive work is big problem for City
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Food Technology Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week