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20 January 2021

Penning an ode to Scott Parker, a manager from another age, and other distractions

With that square jaw, those cheekbones and piercing stare the former midfielder could be a 1930s Hollywood heart-throb.    

By Hunter Davies

I was so looking forward to watching Spurs-Fulham, mainly because I wanted to observe one person. No not the Blessed Harry, or Nice One Son, and certainly not José, boo.

But oh God, the hurdles I had to jump before I could watch the game. It is an example of the greed of the Premier League, selling rights to so many different companies you have never heard of, forcing fans to pay fortunes, just to watch their team.

Was the game going to be on Sky Sports Premier League, or Main Event, on BT Sports 1, 2, 3, or Amazon Prime? Or, wonder of wonders, have the poor old BBC managed to acquire this game, a crumb thrown out, in order to make the Prem feel virtuous?

I missed the first 20 minutes of the game, faffing on, twiddling endless knobs, screaming and shouting. I knew I had all the channels, because I am daft enough to pay the subs, but could I find the right one? Could I heckers. It was partly my own fault, waiting till the last moment to tune in. I never watch pre-match studio chat or half-time analysis: I have my own half-witted remarks and banal observations.

[See also: Dominant in Scotland, Rangers may offer the happy ending Gerrard never had at Liverpool]

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At last, hurrah – I tuned in and set my eyes on the person who is currently obsessing me – Scott Parker. I first saw him when he was aged 13, in 1993, appearing in a TV commercial for McDonald’s. Such a weedy little lad, solemn and serious, yet doing the most amazing number of keepie-uppies. I wondered what would happen to him, having this freakish gift. It was one that I longed to have at his age, yet knowing it would get me nowhere in life, except the circus.

Over the years he has often been asked about this episode in his childhood – and he clearly does not want to talk about, still embarrassed. It probably led to him continually having the piss taken out of him at school.

Fiona Bruce, that honey-voiced, professionally smooth TV presenter, went to the same school as Scott Parker – Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College in New Cross, south-east London. Can you believe it? It was a grammar school at one time, now an academy.

Scott still has his Estuary glottal stop, and could easily be David Beckham’s younger brother, while Fiona, well, she is awfully posh. She went on to Oxford. Scott went on to be an apprentice at Charlton Athletic, getting in the first team at 16.

He has played for loads of big clubs, such as Chelsea, Newcastle, Spurs, West Ham, and 18 times for England, but was never exactly a cult figure. Managers were more in love with him than the fans. Despite his frail physique, he always got stuck in, a hard-working midfield corporal, a water carrier like Didier Deschamps.

[See also: Appreciation: Colin Bell]

What was strange about his playing career, and I watched him carefully during his Spurs days, was that he never betrayed any signs of that fancy-dan, ball-juggling, show-pony exhibitionist we had all enjoyed when he did that TV commercial. Perhaps he really had been ashamed of himself.

Now as Fulham manager he is doing a pretty good job with mediocre resources, giving them a shape and a purpose. But the reason I can’t take my eyes off him is how he looks.

That square jaw, those cheekbones, that piercing stare, he could be a 1930s Hollywood heart-throb –  a throwback to another era. His hair neatly parted, always the same length, looks as if his mum brushed it. There are none of those constant changes, whether beards or tattoos.

He favours short jackets, short coats, very narrow trousers, like a mod from the Seventies. I thought at first he was wearing clothes too tight, then I realised that’s his style.

Mourinho plays to the camera, expecting us all to be enraptured. Scott Parker seems unaware when all eyes are on him.

One of the side-effects of Covid, with no crowds and no pretty girls for the cameras to linger on, is the number of close-ups of managers.

When play gets boring, let’s have another shot of Bielsa crouching, or the Wolves manager Nuno Espírito Santo stroking his lush beard, or quick, camera number three, catch those cheekbones of Scott Parker. Oooh, rapture… 

[See also: Why I’m struggling to forgive Mourinho’s dire football]

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This article appears in the 20 Jan 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Biden's Burden