By Tony Attwood
Arsène Wenger speaks five languages – which, as the old joke goes, is five more than Sir Alex Ferguson. But Arsène Wenger does not speak Romford – for he confessed in one early interview that he couldn’t understand a word Ray Parlour said.
Ray was born 7 March 1973 in Barking. I believe that technically, as I write this in 2013 on the anniversary of his hat trick against Werder Bremen he is still technically registered with Wembley FC , but of course we know him as one of the great Arsenal players – playing for us for 14 years from 1992 to 2004, clocking up 339 league games (464 in total) and 22 (32) goals. He went on to play for Middlesbrough (2004/7) and for Hull in 2007. Although registered with Wembley as part of a marketing exercise he did not play for them.
Ray joined the club in 1989 as a 16 year old trainee, played his first game on January 29 1992 – and thus was very much a George Graham signing. He soon started playing for England’s under 21 team.
However during his first big season he 1994/5 George Graham was sacked and thus through his career Parlour had as his manager, George Graham, Stewart Houston, Bruce Rioch, Stewart Houston again, Pat Rice and finally Arsène Wenger.
Under Mr Wenger Ray became a regular and was a key figure in the 1997/8 double. The success under Mr Wenger however did not translate into success with England until 1999, and eventually he won ten caps. Ray was however part of the second double team in 2002, scoring in the final from 30 yards.
In March 2000, he hit a hattrick in the 4–2 away win in the Uefa Cup quarter final against Werder Bremen. Arsenal went on to the final and was the only player to score in the penalty shoot out for Arsenal.
Ray’s reinforced reputation came from sensational goals in fact, as well as high octane performances, and the feeling we got from interviews that he was a regular bloke. He scored a 30 yard winner to beat Valencia in the Champions League in 2001, and played as captain in November 2003 in the side that beat Inter Milan at the San Siro 5-1.
Ray’s divorce also reached the headlines after both he and his ex-wife appealed against a divorce settlement that included a salary of £212,500 for her, and the court of appeal sided with the wife and doubled the salary.
Looking back, Ray Parlour is a most un-Wenger like player, and yet Mr Wenger got the very best out of him, and to a large extent managed to get him to focus on the pitch, rather that on life outside the game.
No one is ever universally loved by fans, but Ray Parlour came closest, and Arsenal lost more than a player when he left.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal – crowd behaviour at the early matches