Football: Parkes the man to calm a crisis

The caretaker's caretaker is back in charge at Blackburn and the Premiership's bottom club could not be in better hands.
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SOME people are born great, others have greatness repeatedly tapping on their shoulders. Tony Parkes says until his face is as blue as half of a Blackburn Rovers shirt that he does not want to be a manager on a permanent basis, but come a crisis and he is summoned.

On Sunday, for the fourth time in his 28-year association with Ewood Park, Parkes will be leading from the bench.

The match is against Liverpool, the very same opponents against whom Parkes got his first win the last time he temporarily moved his stuff into the Blackburn manager's office two years ago. To some people that would be an omen, in his case it is barely worth a mention. He is, after all, the caretaker's caretaker.

Parkes was an industrious midfielder with Rovers, nothing flashy but just the sort you require to allow the brighter lights to shine and in many ways it foreshadowed his off-the-field career where he has been happy to let others take the plaudits while he has beavered away behind the scenes. In some, such a lack of ambition would be condemned; in him, you can only acknowledge his loyalty and sense of duty.

On his three previous occasions he has filled a void after Bobby Saxton, Don Mackay and Ray Harford left and in his own quiet, humorous way he has stepped back into the shadows, leaving Rovers in far better shape than he found them.

In 1987 he was unbeaten, four years later, after Mackay was sacked, he got 17 out of 24 points and presented the side to Kenny Dalglish gift- wrapped in eighth place and in position to earn promotion to the Premiership via the play-offs that same season. When Harford left in October 1996 Blackburn had four points from 11 games, yet Parkes saved them from relegation and lifted them to 13th.

Some people would assume an arrogant air with half those achievements but one of Parkes' great abilities is not to take himself seriously. Last time around in the hot seat he found humour was the best medicine, explaining his attitude after one match with: "We've had the gloom and doom bit and that didn't work so let's try and attack it differently. More jovial, more unconcerned."

On another occasion, after Rovers had beaten Southampton, he said: "Managers are dour and miserable, and I want to stay a happy-go-lucky chap. Wait until Mr Souness comes, he's a proper manager."

Not that Parkes has had much to smile about this week after Saturday's dismissal of Roy Hodgson after Blackburn had slipped to the bottom of the Premiership. "It was a shock, it always is," he said, "because I always felt Roy would be given time to sort things out. The biggest danger for me was that he would resign. Roy has mood swings, he gets very, very down and he wanted success so badly for the club."

Saturday was shocking for it suddenness. At 5pm, Hodgson was talking to the BBC cameras about the tasks ahead. By 6pm his dismissal had been announced to the bemusement and disappointment of his coaching staff. "Roy came down to the dressing-room area having spent 10 minutes with Jack Walker [Rovers' owner]," Parkes said. "He shook hands with all the back-room staff and left. He wasn't in the frame of mind to have any long chats.

"It was a sad weekend, but we have to look forward. I'm not a better manager than Roy Hodgson, nor am I a better coach but sometimes a change can produce an upturn in fortunes. We certainly need that."

Names like Hendry, Evans, Dalglish and Kidd have been linked to the Ewood vacancy while Parkes picked up the pieces, but through a difficult week he has retained his sense of irony. "I'm glad you reminded me about that," he said to reporters as they asked him about Anfield on Sunday. "I was just beginning to feel a little bit better chatting to you lads but there is a football match ahead isn't there? Liverpool are as good as anybody to start with. All games are difficult when you're not playing well but we've had a chat in training this week and with luck we'll be positive."

If they are, it will be down to Parkes... Again.


Born: Sheffield 5 May 1949

Midfielder: Joined Blackburn Rovers May 1970 from Buxton

Blackburn playing record 1970-1980:

345 appearances, 38 goals

First spell as caretaker manager (after Bobby Saxton's departure): December 1986-February 1987

Second spell (Don Mackay): September-October 1991

Third spell (Ray Harford): October 1996-July 1997

Fourth spell (Roy Hodgson): November 1998-