Legendary Wolves goalkeeper Phil Parkes inducted into hall of fame
What is it they say about goalkeepers being mavericks? The life and soul of any dressing room. Even slightly crazy perhaps?
Step forward Phil Parkes. Perhaps better, and more affectionately known, as Lofty.
A man who remains so indelibly etched into Wolves folklore, who still lives just a couple of miles up the A449 from Molineux, and who has remained closely associated with the club ever since hanging up his gloves after a stint in America.
There were 12 years between the first and last of his 382 Wolves appearances, a figure which puts him joint-sixteenth on the all-time list and only behind two other fellow goalkeepers, Mike Stowell (448) and Bert Williams (420). The three share very good company.
So much was packed into those 12 years including saving a penalty on his debut against Preston in 1966, and then, for his swansong in 1978, being effectively called whilst having some farewell drinks on a Friday night having taken all his gear ahead of joining Vancouver Whitecaps, to replace the injured Paul Bradshaw in a 2-1 win at West Ham the following day.
With Lofty, drama was never too far away.
He had plenty of ability too. You don’t make that many appearances between the sticks, the vast majority in the top division, without a mix of natural talent and a determination to work hard.
And yet, if events had moved in a different direction, the incoming Hall of Famer might actually have plied his trade elsewhere on the Black Country patch. At West Bromwich Albion, no less!
Born within a stone’s throw of the Hawthorns, he would head there on a Saturday to watch
the likes of Ronnie Allen – later his manager at Wolves – Derek Kevan and Ray Barlow.
Already a goalkeeper – “I was too lazy to run about” - he did go and train within Albion’s youth system one Monday night but didn’t really enjoy it.
But, still playing regularly at weekends for several different teams, at 14, Parkes was spotted by a Wolves scout – and, this time, things were more positive.
Wolves legends Bill Shorthouse, Joe Gardiner and Bill Crook were all involved in the backroom set-up at the time, and, unlike at Albion, Parkes settled quickly, and settled well.
Taken on by the club after leaving school, Parkes spent two years playing as an amateur alongside a job in a steel construction factory before turning professional.
Working his way up from that Wolves’ amateur team, the fifth out of six the club fielded over a weekend, the departures of Jimmy Barron and Bob Knight left a young Parkes as the reserves’ keeper and cover to Fred Davies in the first team.
It was injury to Davies that handed Parkes his dramatic debut against Preston, at just 19, and he was back in the side for the final 13 games of the season as Wolves clinched promotion to the top division.
At the end of the campaign Wolves headed out Stateside, to turn out as Los Angeles Wolves in the United Soccer Association, a professional league which imported teams to represent American cites.
They won, beating Washington Whips, represented by Aberdeen, in the final, but for the young Parkes, it was win-win whatever the result.
The young and wide-eyed gloveman hadn’t even left England before, but his first trip overseas was to Los Angeles. Maybe that sowed the seeds for what was to follow later.
Back to Wolves, however, and so many memorable moments during that glut of appearances.
His penalty-saving exploits weren’t confined solely to his first team debut. He also saved from the spot in both legs of the UEFA Cup semi-final with Ferencvaros as Wolves reached the final which, despite ending in defeat against Tottenham, offered up so many experiences on the continent for Parkes both of football and life in general.
“I went the wrong way for both penalties but saved them with my legs,” is the secret of that success.
Those European trips to the likes of Portugal, the Netherlands, East Germany, Italy and Hungary offered plenty of interesting times off the pitch was well as successes on it.
From being refused when trying to buy some goalkeeping gloves ahead of the Carl Zeiss Zena game in East Germany, to being spat at by later England manager Fabio Capello during the draw in Juventus (Capello’s wisest move was not coming over to Molineux for the second leg) or having to help put a slightly worse-for-wear John Charles to bed after the Welsh legend travelled with the team for ambassadorial duties in Turin. For Parkes, life on the road was never dull.
Another big final, the League Cup of 1974, offered equally bitter-sweet memories for Parkes as he missed the Wembley win against Manchester City after breaking his ankle in training following the semi-final win against Norwich.
Parkes had played in every one of the previous rounds but was forced to look on, albeit with delight for his replacement Gary Pierce and the team who upset the formbook with a 2-1 victory.
Parkes had however got his hands on a winners’ medal three years earlier, as an ever-present in the successful Texaco Cup campaign of 1970/71 which concluded with victory over Hearts in a two-legged final.
There was plenty more drama to enjoy during his days between the Molineux sticks. He cites his best performance as the one at Old Trafford against Manchester United in the 1-1 draw in the quarter finals of the FA Cup in 1976. Whilst fans will of course remember him getting slightly hot under the collar in a big local derby against West Bromwich Albion in 1967. Parkes saved a penalty – again! – scored an own goal and then got sent off for his angry reaction after Tony Brown handled in providing the final goal of an entertaining 3-3 draw.
One hugely notable landmark that Parkes chalked up during his Wolves career, and one that may never actually be broken, is in the number of consecutive appearances he made in the period from September 1970. He embarked on an incredible run of 127 consecutive league appearances and 170 in all competitions, including playing against Chelsea with a temperature of 104, with a broken finger against Bristol Rovers and a broken toe against Burnley.
Recent Wolves skipper Conor Coady actually went close to overhauling Parkes’ record by reaching 119 in the league not so long ago. Whilst Parkes is a huge Coady fan, and wouldn’t have minded him taking the record, part of him is probably secretly happy it is a piece of Wolves history that he continues to hang onto!
As Bradshaw emerged as an impressive successor to Parkes, the big man took the opportunity to broaden his footballing horizons and build on that enjoyment of playing overseas.
During a seven year span Across the Pond, he represented Vancouver, Chicago Sting, San Jose Earthquakes, Oklahoma City Slickers and Toronto Blizzard.
It also saw him continue to play with, and against, some of the true greats from the world of football.
He turned out alongside George Best for San Jose – “the best I have ever played with or against” – and featured in a ‘Pick of the League’ side against a New York Cosmos to mark the legendary Franz Beckenbaeur’s farewell.
And, talking of legends, one of the goals he conceded in the farewell friendly – was from the boot of a certain Pele!
During his time with Vancouver, a young Bruce Grobbelaar was just setting out on his own career which would bring so much success with Liverpool, and the two got on well, as you might imagine.
Living in the same area in Vancouver, Grobbelaar would often babysit Parkes’ sons Greg and Dean, and, back in 2021, returned as a surprise guest for a wonderful nostalgic tribute event at Molineux staged for Parkes by Steve Plant and They Wore The Shirt.
Family and friendships have always been of huge importance to Parkes.
He counts himself privileged to have stayed in such close touch with so many of his former Wolves team-mates and he has, for many years, been on the committee of the Wolves Former Players’ Association which helps and supports former players and local charities.
And, when suffering the devastation of losing wife Maureen to cancer back in 2010, Parkes has since worked with family friend Sheila Edwards to raise thousands of pounds in her memory for the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust.
Parkes has always remained settled in the local area and, with a passion for cricket, was a half decent bowler with Fordhouses long after his football career came to its conclusion.
He also spent 22 years as a roofer, working for the Cricket Club Chairman’s company, whilst enjoying several football coaching assignments alongside former team-mates Steve Daley and Mel Eves for the likes of Bromsgrove, Telford and Willenhall Town.
With an association and love of Wolves now stretching to some six decades, Parkes continues to be a massively popular figure among the Molineux fanbase, with his wonderful sense of fun and good humour always to the fore, especially if you bump into him in McGhee’s in the city centre!
He may not have hit the complete pinnacle of the goalkeeping profession, racked up scores of England caps or a cabinet full of winners’ medals, but that doesn’t either reflect his level of consistency or ability and in any case, even with those club records of successive appearances, there is always more to a footballer than mere statistics.
Parkes always gave it everything when he stepped, gloveless, onto the pitch to guard that Wolves goal. Rain or shine, good, bad or indifferent.
And that is all the Wolves fans would ever ask for and why his popularity and effectively cult status continues to endure.
He remains a much-loved part of the Molineux furniture, with a personality as engaging and approachable as so many of the team-mates he played alongside, and one whose place in the Hall of Fame will be as warmly received as it is so thoroughly deserved.