Football: Short is sweet for rational Parkes

Simon Turnbull meets Blackburn's loyal servant who has stepped in as master
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Blackburn Rovers had found someone to fill their No 9 shirt. "We're trying to get it for Chris Sutton," Tony Parkes announced. "The trouble is the Premier League say you can't change a player's number during a season." For the time being, the manager's jacket at Ewood Park remains vacant too.

Parkes is the man not so much in the hot seat as keeping it warm. That much was evident by the ease with which he sat in it on Friday morning. "The first hate mail I get," he said, "I'll resign. I'm not having any of that." And Blackburn's weekly press conference duly dissolved into an all round laugh-in.

Later, as he prepared to supervise training for the day, Parkes confided: "It's an enjoyable job to do because I know it's short-term. If I was sitting here talking to you in six months it would be different." Parkes appreciates he has neither the experience nor the high profile image to contend seriously with the Sven Goran Ericssons of the football world for the job of managing England's champion club of 1995. As a caretaker, however, he is the ideal man to have stepped out of Ewood Park's broom cupboard.

For one thing, if you cut him in half (not that you could imagine anyone doing such a thing to such an affable fellow) he would probably have Arte et Labore and the rest of the Blackburn club crest stamped through him. He has been a Rover, of one or another description, since 1970. Eddie Quigley was the manager who signed him from Buxton Town and Howard Kendall was the man in charge in 1981 when a broken leg cut short his midfield playing days and prompted a move on to the coaching staff. As a Blackburn back-room boy, this is the third time he has picked up a management brush and pan as caretaker.

On the first occasion, in 1986, he only did a little tidying, in between Bobby Saxton's departure and Don Mackay's arrival. On the second, after Mackay's dismissal in 1991, he swept Rovers from fourth bottom to eighth top, gathering 17 out of 24 points. When Kenny Dalglish took the Lancashire club to Wembley at the end of that season, for the Second Division play- off final, he insisted that Parkes led out the team.

Only in the last four weeks, since Ray Harford's parting of the ways, has Parkes, at 47, stepped back into the spotlight. "People stop me for my autograph when I go shopping in Asda now," he said. It's hardly surprising. Blackburn have doubled their points haul, hammered Liverpool 3-0, and eased ahead of Nottingham Forest (who they face away from home tomorrow night) at the foot of the Premiership table.

Deploying Jason Wilcox and Kevin Gallacher as supplementary attackers on the flanks has proven a tactical masterstroke but Parkes's naturally sunny disposition has been equally vital. "My philosophy is to be positive, to have a smile on my face," he said. "We've had enough doom and gloom around here."

With that, Blackburn's smiling caretaker breezed off to the training ground that Jack Walker built. It happens to stand along a Crow Road, but fearing football's worst is never a concern of the man who merely keeps the seat warm.