An Exclusive Interview with Paul Parker

Paul Parker spent four years at QPR in our back line, starting as a central defender before merging his way into becoming a top quality full back. He went on to play for Manchester United and represented his country 19 times at International level. Sam Taylor exclusively spoke to Paul, last Autumn, regarding all things QPR, football then and now and gives an insight into the game he’s spent his life playing and following.

To begin with, we thought, considering some of the less memorable days in recent years, we’d find out about the better years at QPR. With many highlights throughout his time at QPR, Paul picked out for us his greatest hits in an R’s shirt.

PP: “I think I would say the first season finishing fifth in the league I think me personally was playing my first game for QPR against my local team West Ham and winning 3-0 against people I knew and a lot of people watching I knew as well. I think just all and all really, I had a great time at QPR. That one season on the plastic pitch helped me ease my way into it, I think that plastic still owes me a lot of skin!”

Since leaving QPR, and retiring from football, Parker has ventured into the world of punditry, regularly visiting Loftus Road through work as well as personally to revisit the club he had such a positive four years with in his playing days. Recently, he returned to join the forever Rs club, the club’s ex-player association.

PP: “Well, I come back as often as I can, and it doesn’t really feel exactly the same, it’s moved forward. They always have described it as a community club, supporters used to literally live on top of the ground, though that’s changed a bit since my day. The club is still a communal one though, and the work they’ve done for things such as Grenfell, around the corner, prove that. It’s a home, the fans see it as their own, and that’s something that hasn’t changed at all at the club. “

“Football matches have always been played on the edge of a cliff at Queens Park Rangers, and every time I go there, people are always far too concerned! It would be nice to go down there and people actually don’t say a word to me because that would imply everything’s going just fine! They always say, ‘Oh can you go get your boots on for us!’, I mean why would they want a fifty year old fella to go and get his boots on! I wanna go there and actually enjoy it myself!”

“Football matches have always been played on the edge of a cliff at Queens Park Rangers, and every time I go there, people are always far too concerned!

In his time in the blue and white, Parker played alongside some astounding footballers. Those include players of the calibre of David Seaman, Ray Wilkins and Les Ferdinand. Despite the quality of so many of his team mates at QPR, Parker signifies one standout associate as the finest to play alongside.

PP: “Well, given his age and what he’d done before and still what he wanted to achieve, I’d have to say Trevor Francis. Trevor Francis was absolutely amazing, that hat-trick against Aston Villa was incredible. Absolutely incredible as a footballer, as a trainer, he was well in front of everyone in his habits, and that obviously stemmed from him being in Italy. But, lo and behold, everything he was doing so uniquely in football then, everyone seems to be able to do now, but he was undoubtabley an incredible footballer.”

“Obviously, he couldn’t sustain those levels for that long, because of his age at the time, but his quick thinking and quick feet when he got in front of goal was absolutely incredible. To play with him was just fantastic and to play against him must’ve been a complete nightmare!”

Paul Parker played at all the different levels of football. Ranging from the absolute minimum quality of that small unheard of team regularly referred to as ‘Ful-Ham’ (or something like that), to the absolute peak of his career at QPR, to the slightly lower peak of his time under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. Therefore, we asked Paul as to the element of football that distinguishes the best from the rest when it comes to coping with the next level of football in the Premier League. Teams like Watford have managed the step up, and teams like Huddersfield have not. If QPR want to survive there one day, what is it we must achieve to do so? Paul Parker gave his view.

PP: “I think you have to say that with teams like Watford, they got promoted, got relegated, got promoted again and I think they learnt from the first time about their spending and how they’re going to spend in the future etc. But what they’ve done is they’d built a foundation, maybe on their relegation and parachute money, so that when they got back up they had that financial start, preparation and experience to stay in the Premier League. They didn’t come in all guns blazing spending money.”

“When you look at Huddersfield, they just came up and hoped they could survive without spending any money, Burnley did a similar thing and they went down. Huddersfield are an example of how you have to do something, you can’t just expect to get away with below standard players trying to play a sort of negative style football, because it just doesn’t work and that’s what happened. They’ve gone back to where they’ve come from and they’re struggling. The way they went about it [in the Premier League] wasn’t too good, they were looking for durability rather than improvement and that’s why they didn’t succeed, in my opinion. “

Football has changed a lot since the days of which Paul Parker laced up his boots and pulled on those famous blue and white hoops. The main discussion of today seems to revolve around the change of technology in the game. The question as to whether or not technology has a place in the game, comes best answered by someone who’s played in the times of no technology in football at all, who has also more recently been analysing the technology in depth in the worlds of football punditry and commentary.

PP: “Yeah, it does, goal line technology has proved that. Definitely the moment the ball comes down the line and the ref says no, the crowd agrees, there’s no debate because they know that it works. Now, it’s still hit and miss with VAR. Football is so subjective. An example to analyse is the penalty incident with Spurs, there have also been a number of incidents even just recently. But it’s incredibly difficult to call these decisions and be a hundred percent right, all the time. It seems that with VAR, it’s still a person making the decision, there isn’t an 100 percent law on what is and what isn’t a penalty, it’s still open to interpretation and is still open to opinion. Even when it goes back to the slow motion replays, you could still potentially getting it wrong. From different frames and angles of the incident it could look different, some may show contact some may not and it all eventually comes down to what frame you want to use. “

The question is also as to the quality of the officials doing the reviewing in the VAR studios, whether or not they are of the same quality as the ref on the pitch. I highly doubt that’s the case considering the number of games that have to be covered and filled with appropriately trained officials. The guys sitting there don’t have the first hand view that the on pitch referees do and may just decide they want to go grab a cup of tea, take their eye off the game for a second and miss out on something important. So he hasn’t actually watched the incident in play, he hasn’t seen the transitioning of play before hand or the context of the incident sp has to watch it back on replay so there’s a longer wait inside the stadium.”

“It’s very difficult but I think it’s jumped far too quickly and the hardest thing with football fans is that many are reluctant for change in their game, and we love to go and talk about it after each game. The biggest conversation in pubs now is VAR, not about the players or the foul, and in theory this is what is really wrong with it really. It’s a question of time really and it comes down to whether or not the referees on the pitch, in the middle, want to continually be questioned and brought up on their job, waiting for someone else to be making the decisions for them. “

“I was at West Ham the other day and the ball went out for an obvious corner, but because of the new rules and the VAR checks the linesman wasn’t allowed to flag until the referee indicated so, which is essentially a waste of time for these types of obvious decisions. FIFA are actually looking, apparently, at getting rid of assistant referees, meaning that people are now potentially going to be losing out on their pocket money. “

“The most important thing is that emotion is being taken away from football fans. As soon as a goal goes in it’s now just ‘Stop, Stand Still and Wait’. We call that SSW! Stop, stand still, Wait. At City vs West Ham the other week, when the third goal for City went in, Pep didn’t even celebrate. Everyone went back to the half way line, the ref had his finger on his ear and blew to carry on. The goal had gone in but it was completely muted. Maybe it’s one of those things that’s just moving a little too quickly. Yes, technology can make football better, it’s just about how that technology is being used.”

Earlier last season QPR midfielder, Josh Scowen, disabled his twitter account due to heaps of unaccounted for abuse he was receiving on social media. This platform of communication between fans has become toxic. Paul Parker gives his view on social media’s influence and usage in today’s game.

PP: “The problem is, on social media, freedom of speech, everyone thinks they should be allowed to say whatever they want to say to anyone about anything. Now, they go on there and they’ve got to say something. If QPR don’t play well there always has to be a reason why. Never because the other team were the better side, it was because it was someone else’s fault that they don’t like, it’s all personal. We’re human beings and if there’s someone we don’t like, the person we turn to is that person when things don’t turn out right. Social Media is just a seriously negative tool. Predominantly it is absolutely negative. What kind of person wants to go out and voice their neagtivity personally? Who thinks ‘Oh I’m having such a bad day, I’m going to go out, pick up my phone and tell everyone about it’, why do you want to do that? Why would you want to go and do that? The fans are the ones spending the money to go watch this football, so they should try and take as many positives out of what they’ve seen as possible to try and get the most value out of what they’ve just spent money to see. When these people go to work every day they sometimes have bad days, make a mistake. Would they like someone at the end of the day to stand up in the office and talk about how they’ve made a mistake in work? No, they wouldn’t. That’s essentially, an invasion of privacy and they shouldn’t be doing it, but they still continue to do this to other people themselves.”

“That’s the problem now, it used to be just a club forum, or something like that, used as network to connect with other fans, but now it’s a platform for complete, anonymous, negativity. Twitter is now just used to abuse people from a distance and the reason why is because they can hide, it’s brilliant for them, they can say what they want online and then suddenly become someone else the next day. It’s one of those things that needs to be fixed and they need to govern it properly to try and limit this abuse the best they can.”

“No players turn up to work and say, ‘I’m gonna be crap today and I don’t care’, they just don’t. They go on and try be the best they possibly can, and that’s what these fans are missing and that’s what they just don’t understand. You never aim to have a bad game. You’re never going to have all eleven players having the best game of their lives, that happens very rarely. It’s not a game in which one bad performance is what the result relies on, it’s a team game. Fans who criticise otherwise, are barely fans at all“

Many ex-players see their ex-clubs as just a place they were once employed. Paul Parker still today follows Rangers and tries to come as much as he can to Rs fixtures.

PP: “Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to see QPR this season live, as I’ve been covering other games at work, but I’m hoping I get assigned to one soon. I gotta hope that QPR beat Portsmouth and then get a decent draw in the next one, as I’m very much hoping I get assigned to QPR in the next round! If QPR get through to the next round that’d be incredible, that tells me that good things are gonna happen this season if they can do that. If it’s at home then I’d love go and do that and if it’s a big game away from home I’d also love to do that as well! I’d rather go to Loftus Road to be honest though!”

QPR are in for an unpredictable, but exciting season ahead of them. Optimism is a hard trait to come across when you support a team such as QPR, but Paul Parker verifies that Rs fans should definitely stay optimistic this coming year and leaves us with a distinct message of optimism.

PP: “I would say that I was very optimistic when I saw who the new manager was. I would say I’m even more so now seeing the way they’re going about it, and you can see they’re really starting to score goals. They’re looking a lot better. Players like [Ebere] Eze, we are getting more from him especially, there’s not too much pressure on him, the manager’s making the young boy believe in himself, maybe instead of saying everything to him to make him feel great, ‘Oh you’re this, you’re that, you’re great’, he’s saying the right things to him. He’s still got to have a good appetite because he’s no where near a top player yet, though he could be!”

“So I would just say that QPR fans, this season, just go with this manager. He’s done a pretty good job at that small side down the road, and now he’s come to a much bigger team in West London and having what looks to be a good, steady season which hasn’t been done for a long, long time.”

Interview by Sam Taylor

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