NORMAN GILLER is surprised at the hostile reaction to Scott Parker’s selection as the FWA’s Player of the Year, and remembers a time 40 years ago when a top player did not need expensive legal help to keep his indiscretions quiet
A word of advice to any football scribes who voted for Scott Parker as Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year: keep a low profile in online football forums, where your judgement, sanity, eyesight and even your parentage is being called into question.
In the 50-plus years that I have been writing about the game, I have never known the FWA choice trigger so much controversy. Apart from with claret-and-blue blooded West Ham fans, the selection of Parker has caused a mixture of incredulity and mockery.
I am – how sad is this? – something of a walking record book on the history of the Footballer of the Year award. In harness with our SJA President Sir Michael Parkinson and undisputed king of football freelances Dennis Signy, I wrote a Golden Heroes tribute book, celebrating 50 seasons of the Footballer of the Year.
We interviewed every one of the winners, starting with the first recipient back in 1948, the Wizard of Dribble, Stanley Matthews. He won the first of his two awards at the end of the inaugural season when the Football Writers’ Association was formed.
“I was overwhelmed when I won the first award,” Sir Stanley, by then in his 80s, told me when I interviewed him in 1997.
“You have to remember there was no such thing as a trophy of this type anywhere in the world, and I considered it a tremendous honour. I remember it was handed to me by a distinguished football writer called Ivan Sharpe at a dinner at the very posh Hungaria Restaurant in London. There were 100 people there, football writers and their guests and I had to leave before the dessert because Blackpool were playing Manchester United the next day in the FA Cup final at Wembley.”
The main instigator of the Football Writers’ Association and the award (six months ahead of the SWA) was England international footballer-turned-journalist Charles Buchan. This was during a season in which a record 83,260 fans crammed into Maine Road to see Manchester United play Arsenal in a First Division match (Old Trafford was closed because of bomb damage). It was also a season that drew an aggregate 41,271,414 spectators, so no wonder Buchan was inspired to launch the world’s first football magazine: of course, Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly.
On the Football Writers’ Association website I am surprised to find Charles referred to as “Charlie”. Where’s your respect chaps?
To ensure that the guest of honour at least stayed beyond the coffee and brandies, the awards dinner was switched to the Thursday before the FA Cup final, and back ‘”in my day” it was an excuse for an almighty booze up.
I remember in 1970, the year that Leeds United skipper Billy Bremner won the coveted trophy, my guest Mike Bailey (ex-Charlton and later Wolves captain) and I were literally thrown out of a Leicester Square nightclub that we had staggered into after the dinner at the Café Royal.
We had made the poor judgement of querying our bill, and were picked up by monster bouncers and tossed out on to the Leicester Square pavement, followed by our other companion and my Daily Express team mate Steve Curry.
A parked cab driver witnessing our humiliation did a double take when he saw it was Mike Bailey making a nose-first exit from the club. He just happened to be a Charlton Athletic fan and opened the door of his cab and ushered in his hero and me.
Steve meantime had recklessly decided to argue with the bouncers, one of whom produced a flick knife. If you see Steve, ask him to confirm that he touched Usain Bolt speed as he scooted off into the night.
As our volunteer cab driver motored through the Soho side streets we caught sight of a prominent international footballer who had drunk more than his fill at our dinner, kicking at the door of a stripclub from which he had been barred.
Not a word appeared in print. Unprofessional? No, I prefer to think we knew how to separate the public and private lives in those days. There was no need (or knowledge) of super injunctions back then.
WHERE DO I STAND on the Scott Parker vote? In a topsy-turvy season few individuals have consistently stood out in the Premier League, the PFA members seemed equally confused and Gareth Bale got the Players’ Player of the Year award. Bale had a wonderful purple patch but is unlikely even to win the Spurs Player of the Year award ahead of the inventive Luka Modric.
Playing in a team that has been under the cosh for most of the season, Parker has won neutral man of the match ratings in more than 60 per cent of his appearances. He is a committed competitor who lifts and motivates with his performances, and has played well enough to get back into the England squad despite many of his clubmates struggling to match his standards.
I can just about make out a case for Scott winning the prestigious trophy, but I am not going to put my head above the parapet in the forums where football writers are being crucified. Chicken, moi? But I have to admit I find it difficult to mention Parker in the same breath as previous winners like Matthews, Tom Finney, Bobby Charlton, George Best, Eric Cantona, Gianfranco Zola and the like.
I wonder what “Charlie” Buchan would think?
Read Norman Giller’s previous columns for the SJA website by clicking here
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