As a player Brian Parkinson was a very skilful forward thinking one, but like so many others his professional career was ended early because of injury. A youth team and later reserve team player for Spurs, where he was a regular for a number of years during the 1960s, Brian Parkinson later played non-League football with Kings Lynn and Stevenage Borough. I recently had the great pleasure of talking to Brian about his time at Spurs.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Brian: That would be school football, which was at Ashmore in Southgate. All I wanted to do was to kick a ball. In the end I got picked for the district, Barnet, which then went on to the county which was Hertfordshire. When I was nearly coming up to 15 there were some scouts that came down to look at some players, and they were from Man United, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal. There was one bloke called Dickie Walker who really stood out, and he was chief scout for Tottenham. He came round to my house, and so then I didn’t want to go anywhere but Spurs, and that was all that I wanted. I just started going training a couple of evenings a week down there to start off with, and then when it was my 15th birthday Spurs wanted to sign me as an apprentice, which was a dream for me. There was another player who played for my district and county, and he was called Alan Oliver. He was an excellent player, and they (Spurs) were going to sign him as an apprentice on the Monday like me, but he had a school cup match on the Saturday, and he broke his leg. That did his career in.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs?
Brian: John Collins, Stuart Skeet and Johnny Pratt were my friends at Spurs when I first went there. We used to do chores, like cleaning the boots, but the biggest memory was going to the gym. Johnny Wallis was a lovely guy and he was like a dad to me, and he used to send me and John Collins down the gym to sweep it out, but we always had a ball there and would play one touch football for hours, and I think that he knew that. They were absolutely lovely times.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Brian: The one for me had to be George Best, as he was my hero. When I was 17 they used to do Five-a-side football at Wembley, and there were eight of us who got picked and I was one of them. We got through to the quarter-finals, and then we played West Ham and I got picked to play as one of the five. Out came Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst, and I just couldn’t believe it. So anyway we played and we won 1-0, and then we got through to the semi-finals and we played Man United! And George Best came out! In those days in Five-a-side you weren’t allowed any physical contact. I came out and was on for I think two minutes, and that guy did some things with the ball that I’ve never seen in my life, and I just stood there staring until they took me off. That’s one thing that I’ll never forget.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Brian: During the early years there was a little inside-forward called Tommy Harmer, and he was like a magician. He was very, very small like I was, and he was the guy who I wanted to be like. So he was my biggest inspiration. After that came a very, very good friend of mine called John White, and he was such a skilful player. So people like that were my influences at Spurs. But also you had Alan Mullery, who was the loveliest man who I’ve ever met in my life. He would come back in the afternoons and teach us and tell us things one by one and in his own time.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?
Brian: I was a greedy player, who loved to beat players and put the ball through their legs, so you could say that I was flash, I suppose. During my time in the reserves I played against Portsmouth at White Hart Lane, and Bill Nicholson and Eddie Baily were watching as the first team weren’t playing. They told me that I was beating the full-back and instead of crossing the ball I was turning round and beating them again. So what they did was they put blinkers on me in front of a 6,000 crowd, and so I went out and played the second half in a pair of blinkers. And that’s a true story! But that was to try and teach me a lesson.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Brian: In the early days it was the winger Cliff Jones, who was absolutely amazing. Then as I progressed and got into the combination side it was Derek Possee. The guy was so small and he had so much speed. His timing when he jumped was absolutely amazing, and so I tried to model myself on him a little bit to try and get my timing write. Another magician who I looked up to and got on well with was Keith Weller, and he was a very skilful player. So I looked up to people like that, but I was sort of my own enemy because I wanted the ball all of the time and wouldn’t pass it. That was my biggest fault.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Brian: It was absolutely fantastic and the people were fantastic, and if I could do it all over again then I would definitely do the same thing. The people such as Bill Nicholson, Eddie Baily and Johnny Wallis were absolutely amazing, and they helped people so much that it was unbelievable. But if you’re not meant to play for the first team then you’re not meant to. And injuries got in the way in the end, even though I was on the verge of playing for the first team.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Brian: Well I was put on a free transfer after getting injured in a game against Leicester. I went into a tackle and it was a fair one, but afterwards I looked down and my foot was facing the other way, and to the point where it was pointing backwards. I’d done all of the ligaments and cartilage in my leg and so I was out for about four months, and then I started playing and training again, but every time I played my knee would come up like a balloon. So after every match that I played I couldn’t walk or anything for three or four days, so I had that to contend with that. And in the end Bill Nicholson said that he didn’t know if my future was in professional football, and that was how it really ended. But because I loved the game so much I went to Kings Lynn up in Norfolk for about a year, although I didn’t used to train as I just used to play on the Saturday. Then when I left there I came back to Barnet and got a phone call from Stevenage asking me if I’d be interested in joining them on trial for a while. After two weeks they signed me and I was there for four years. After the second year my mate Steve Pitt came along. But playing football was very hard, because every time that I played my knee would come up like a balloon.
What has been the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Brian: It would have to be the Five-a-side one with George Best. The other one was when the first team played at White Hart Lane and the reserves didn’t have a game, so we were on the line watching. In that game Pat Jennings came out to punch a ball and on the edge of the box George Best got it and he just stood there and lobbed it, and the only place that he could put it, he put it there. And even Pat Jennings stood there and clapped him (he got told off for it). I just thought that George Best was unbelievable.
Who has been the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Brian: I think that skill wise and for dedication it would definitely be Keith Weller, and even though he played for England a few times, he should have gone further than he did. He was absolutely amazing and whereever he looked, that was where the ball would go. He was sort of like Bobby Moore, when he used to pass the ball.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories or ones which stand out from your time in the various Tottenham youth teams?
Brian: I remember when we went to Holland over on the boat, but anyway we won the tournament and Bill Nicholson flew out, and we also had flowers and watches given to us. Keith Weller, Tony Want, Roy Brown John Collins, Steve Pitt and me were all there. I think that that was the best time that I ever had at Spurs.
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
Brian: When I signed apprentice they would let you train with the first team for two or three weeks. When I went into the gym and we played five or six a-side I got hit right against the wall all of a sudden by Dave Mackay! Then two minutes later I went into another tackle with him and he got me by the scruff of the neck and said “ right, you did not pull away from me and you wasn’t frightened of me. Well done! ” He was the hardest man that I’ve ever seen in my life.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
Brian: As I say it was John Collins, Stuart Skeet, Jimmy Pearce, Steve Pitt and Jimmy Walker, as well as Tony Want. John Collins came to my wedding and I went to his as well, and so we were friends as well as colleagues.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
Brian: I wanted to be an individual like George Best, but there are no characters nowadays. So I would say to try and be your own person.
After all these years how do you look back on your time at the Lilywhites and is Spurs a club who you still hold close to your heart?
Brian: I’m just grateful for the way that I was treated and the way that Spurs looked after me. I was a very, very greedy footballer and they (Spurs) tried everything in their power to get that out of me, and I wished that they had have done, as I think that I could have gone further. The club were absolutely amazing.