Parkes unworried by uncertain future

Blackburn Rovers' mid-season revival owes much to the faithful servant who knows that his 26 years at Ewood Park may soon come to an end. Guy Hodgson talked to the man who may be the most successful caretaker manager ever
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The Independent Online
A look under the heading Blackburn Rovers in the Rothmans Football Yearbooks for the seasons 1991-92 and '92-93 is interesting. In the first, Tony Parkes is listed as assistant manager; in the second his name appears nowhere. Kenny Dalglish, Ray Harford, Asa Hartford, the list goes on, Parkes seemingly entering into a twilight world populated by football's forgotten many.

In reality, Parkes had not disappeared and was ahead of Hartford in the blue-and-white hierarchy - even if you would not know it from the black- and-white print. The message, nevertheless, is loud and unyielding: the permanence of a job in football is like the proverbial verbal contract, not worth the paper it is written on.

A new manager's broom frequently sweeps away people who deserve better, as Tony Book discovered at Manchester City. Parkes has been at Blackburn for 26 years but there is no guarantee he will make it to a 27th even if he could claim, with justification, to be the most successful caretaker manager ever. When Roy Hodgson arrives from Internazionale in the summer, it might signal his leaving.

Yet meet Parkes now and he exudes the same outward nonchalance about his future that has marked his relaxed spell in charge of Blackburn since Ray Harford resigned last October. "Come into the caretaker manager's office," he says, knowing no room of that name exists. As he walked past the door he pointed to the place where the prefix should go ahead of the word "manager".

He said, until his face matched the blue of his club's shirts, that he did not want the job on a permanent basis and now, with Hodgson due from Italy, his wish has been granted. It could be an abdication of responsibility or an acute perception of his limitations, but where Parkes goes now is anyone's guess. Certainly it is not within his compass.

"I'm sure the club, the board, the chairman and the owner would want me to stay," he said. "They've actually told me that. But my answer is: `It isn't up to you, it's up to the new manager'. You can't expect a man to come into a club and work with one hand behind his back which he might feel he's doing if I'm here. It's the manager's decision and if he says I've got to go, it's acceptable. That's part of football.

"People ask me: `Where's that going to leave you?' and I can't honestly tell them. If I worried about what's going to happen to me every time I've had a caretaker's job I wouldn't go to sleep at night."

Parkes, who was an industrious, "sort you'd want with you in the trenches" type of midfield player for Blackburn, has been in temporary charge at Ewood Park on three occasions. After Bobby Saxton, Don Mackay and Harford he has done the tidying up for a new manager, always surrendering authority with the club in better shape than he found it.

In 1987 he was unbeaten, four years later, after Mackay was sacked, he got 17 out of 24 points and presented the side in eighth position to Kenny Dalglish, who guided them to promotion via the play-offs that same season. This time he has lost three League matches out of 15 and fears about relegation have diminished, if not entirely disappeared.

Hodgson will benefit from this stewardship just as Dalglish did in the past and Parkes, who comes over as the last person to grumble, will be a welcoming figure - even more so since the original choice, Sven Goran Eriksson, left the club close to Parkes' heart in limbo by reversing his decision to come to Blackburn instead deciding to remain in Italy.

"I'm very happy," Parkes said. "Everybody is looking forward to his coming. He's a big name in world football and Blackburn need someone of that stature to get us back to where we were two years ago. One or two of the players sank a bit when it was clear Eriksson was not coming, so the news about Hodgson so quickly afterwards lifted them.

"I've never spoken to Roy but I expect I'll be flying over to Milan shortly to meet him. It's similar sort of situation to Eriksson, where I went to Genoa. He's got a team to run and pick and so have I, so it's not that easy to find the time. Perhaps we'll get together in an international week."

By then Parkes' principal aim, 14 points to reach his estimate of safety, might have been accrued, which will be no meagre resurrection after Blackburn managed only four draws and no wins in their first 11 Premiership matches and seemed destined for relegation only two seasons after winning the championship. It would not be a total exaggeration to note it as a triumph for humour over adversity.

"I just got the magic wand out and waved it about a bit," is his response to questions about the change he brought. As soon as Parkes walked into the manager's office, the lightness of touch was obvious in comparison to the heavy downbeat of Harford's final days. When he is being serious, he says being temporary helped - and that he had no ambition to succeed to the job.

"Managers are dour and miserable," he said after one win. "I want to stay a happy go-lucky chap. Wait until Mr Souness comes, he's a proper manager." On cue, the Southampton boss arrived, the pain slipping out from under the mask of smiles a testimony to Parkes' words.

"I set off to try to be a little bit jovial and laid-back," Parkes said. "We'd had the doom and gloom bit and it hadn't got the results, so let's try and attack it a little bit differently. More jovial, more unconcerned. I did it consciously in the hope it would rub off on other people.

"I'm serious at the right time, don't get me wrong. Not everything is a laugh and a joke but, if you're happy in your job, you do it better, it's a psychological fact. And if you can keep pressure off people by trying to be humorous, all the better. People are under enough pressure.

"I brought in a couple of players who hadn't been in the side and tinkered with the formation a little bit, but there was no magic formula. Beating Liverpool 3-0 in our first home game after Ray's departure was the turning point. Football, like any ball game, is about confidence and, as the points came in, we got better."

Per Pedersen, a Danish striker, has been bought from Odense for pounds 2.5m to buttress that self-belief, a signing made without reference to anyone in Italy and which reinforces the faith that the club have in Parkes' judgement. It also underlines the heady distance Blackburn have travelled since his first stint as a caretaker. Then he also bought a player, Sean Curry, but he cost pounds 5,000.

"That's the difference between then and now," he said. "From day one when Kenny and Ray came, things just happened so quickly. We went from being a sleeping, average Second Division club to an all-action Premiership club. We were buying players every day, whoever was for sale was coming to Blackburn. The car park changed almost overnight. We had BMWs and Mercs. The Cortinas had to go."

Which is why Parkes is adamant he will never be in permanent charge of the wheel at Ewood Park. "I wouldn't say I'll never be a manager, but I wouldn't want to be manager of Blackburn Rovers. Possibly six years ago, before we were promoted to the Premiership, that might have been my time. But now, it's a big, big business, you need someone in charge who can bring the players in."

Will that business have space for a one-club, low-profile man, no matter how good a servant? "The future for me is 10 weeks," he replied. "What happens from there is too distant. Until I speak to Roy Hodgson, I'm no wiser."

Tony Parkes: The caretaker extraordinaire

First spell: 30 Dec 1986 - 3 Feb 1987

30 Dec 1986: Blackburn, placed 22nd of 22 in the Second Division with 17 points from 20 games sack manager Bobby Saxton. Tony Parkes, 38, then team coach, took over for his first spell as caretaker manager. His record was:

Played 5 Won 2 Drawn 2 Lost 1

Second Division

Blackburn 1 Portsmouth 0

FA Cup third round

Portsmouth 2 Blackburn 0

Second Division

Blackburn 2 Grimbsby 2

Leeds 0 Blackburn 0

Blackburn 1 Oldham 0

3 February 1987: Don Mackay appointed new manager. Blackburn, now 18th, and out of the relegation zone, had not lost in the league under Parkes, and had taken eight points from 12.

Second spell: 2 Sept - 12 Oct 1991

2 Sept 1991: Blackburn, 21st of 22 in the Second Division, with one point from three games, sack Don Mackay after 2-1 home defeat by Ipswich. Tony Parkes, team coach, took over for his second spell as caretaker. His record was:

Played 8 Won 5 Drawn 2 Lost 1

Second Division

Derby 0 Blackburn 2

Sunderland 2 Blackburn 2

Blackburn 1 Port Vale 0

Blackburn 1 Watford 0

Leicester 3 Blackburn 0

Blackburn 0 Tranmere 0

Millwall 1 Blackburn 3

Blackburn 5 Plymouth 2

12 October 1991: Just before kick-off against Plymouth, Kenny Dalglish's appointment as manager is confirmed. Blackburn are seventh, having taken 17 points from 24 under Parkes.

Third spell: 25 Oct 1996 - ?

25 October 1996: Blackburn, 20th of 20 in the Premiership, with four points from 11 games, appoint Tony Parkes, team coach, as caretaker, after sacking manager Ray Harford. Parkes' record so far is:

Played 17 Won 7 Drawn 6 Lost 4

FA Carling Premiership

West Ham 2 Blackburn 1

Blackburn 3 Liverpool 0

Blackburn 1 Chelsea 1

Nottm Forest 2 Blackburn 2

Blackburn 2 Southampton 1

Leicester 1 Blackburn 1

Wimbledon 1 Blackburn 0

Blackburn 1 Newcastle 0

Derby 0 Blackburn 0

Everton 0 Blackburn 2

F A Cup third round

Blackburn 1 Port Vale 0 FA Carling Premiership

Blackburn 4 Coventry 0

Sunderland 0 Blackburn 0

Tottenham 2 Blackburn 1

Blackburn 2 West Ham 1

F A Cup fourth found

Blackburn 1 Coventry 2 FA Carling Premiership

Liverpool 0 Blackburn 0

Today: Blackburn are 15th in the Premiership, having taken 24 points from a possible 45 in League matches. Roy Hodgson will take over as manager in the summer.

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