Romford Pele: It’s Only Ray Parlour

Thus far I’ve only really covered genre fiction, manga and comics on these book-related posts. But I wanted to take a moment to talk about the latest book I’ve read. You see, I quite like autobiographies, they’re almost always light, easy reads and I can normally read them quite quickly, especially if it’s someone talking about events that are prominent in my memory. Ray Parlour’s book fits that bill absolutely perfectly. You see, and I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this on here, I’m an Arsenal fan and funnily enough, my following of The Gunners almost coincides with the start of Parlour’s first-team career, I think he made his debut just prior to me following them, but his role in the team grew alongside my interest, he also happened to play for the team during their most successful era and played under two of their most important managers.

Parlour and Amy Lawrence (who at the time this was written was The Guardian’s Arsenal correspondent) open things up with a time that was really key to me during my adolescence. May 2002, my first proper girlfriend (I could never talk to girls at school, well I could, but I never had the courage to ask anyone out, so didn’t start dating until I was 18) and the second Double under Arsene Wenger, plus going out every Thursday and getting drunk to some excellent music, looking back I had a lot of fun then and Parlour’s retelling of both the FA Cup final that year and then in the same week clinching the Premier League title at Manchester United’s ground carried me along on a wave of nostalgia. I recall that night vividly, I’d gone back to said girlfriends house for the first time, her Dad had the football on, I wasn’t aware he was a Man Utd fan, though when he asked who I supported I was honest with him. I felt Arsenal would win it, he was confident Man Utd wouldn’t let their biggest rivals at that time win the league title in their back yard. He offered me a beer, then the commentator screamed WILTOOOOOOD, Kanu vaulted over the French striker and I was politely asked to leave. The girl and I actually only dated for a month, she had dumped me by the end of the month, but it all turned out okay in the end as I met my current partner that September.

But that whole period sums up Parlour’s book as he discusses everything from the Cup Winners Cup win over Parma in 1994 through to Arsenal’s Invincibles season ten years later, there’s a warmth and fondness as he reminisces about the key beats of his career. It would be so easy for a player to have played during this period to just get bogged down in talking about results and key games, but these moments are condensed, with the focus being purely on how much he loved just being a footballer, being around his mates every day and just living life, in doing so Parlour’s book provides a positive look on a career that a lot of people have overlooked, labelling him as a workhorse, ignoring his achievements due to him playing alongside such greats as Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira.

In actuality, the majority of the book takes place off the field, instead spending time away from the game with the likes of Tony Adams and the drinking culture that was prevalent at Arsenal prior to Arsene Wenger’s arrival, but once the Frenchman begins to change the behaviours of the players, we also get to see Parlour grow, with life being less about getting drunk and doing stupid stuff, but about how he can still have fun but take his career seriously. In fact the anecdotes about the pranks he pulled and the fun he had with the other players during this period, especially how he and the other English players helped the new foreign players settle in really makes the book speed by, though the best stuff is saved for Martin Keown who seemed to suffer at the hands of Parlour’s pranks on a more regular basis than anybody else at the club and I’m sure there’s stuff that’s been left out that Parlour could make into a completely separate book.

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