Cult heroes reserve a special place in footballing history, they may not be loved by all fans but within their own clubs, they’re immortal. Here at Shoot! we like to celebrate each and every one of them.
To score in an FA Cup final, beating your local rivals, is every kid’s dream. For Ray Parlour, dreams did actually come true.
The “Real Romford Pele” (as he refers to himself), made over 450 appearences for Arsenal and is classed as a legend in North London, well, the red half at least. He won every major domestic honour you could dream of. The Premier League, the FA Cup, even the League Cup. He is a real Cult Hero.
Parlour was born in the East London town of Romford, some 9 miles away from Green Street; it was at the Boleyn where he fell in love with the beautiful game, watching the team his father adored, West Ham United. Maybe one day he could be held in the same regard as Hammers greats, such as Sir Trevor Brooking or Liam Brady. Just maybe.
In 1989, at the age 16, he joined Arsenal as a trainee. Who knew at that stage that it would be the start of a long love affair with the North London side?
Now, Arsenal v Liverpool clashes have always been of great significance. The most notable came just weeks before Parlour joined the Gunners, when future Liverpool star, Michael Thomas’ late goal earnt Arsenal the league title.
Nearly three years later, after the euphoria of “that Friday night” in 1989, it was another day that Parlour would never forget. It was the day he made his debut under then manager George Graham.
The clash with Liverpool turned out to be indecisive; Leeds eventually would win the League title on the penultimate weekend of the season. But, it was the start of a new era in the career of the Romford born midfielder.
He continued to play a role within the Arsenal set-up. He properly broke through in the 1994-95 season, as the Gunners raced to the 1995 UEFA cup Winners Cup final; Parlour featured in final although it ended in heartbreak for the English side as they lost to Real Zaragoza.
It wasn’t until the arrival of an unknown Frenchman in 1996, however, that Parlour started to progress into a real Arsenal legend. His name was Arsene Wenger.
Cue the greatest period in the history of the 13 time champions of England. In his first full season in charge, he led Arsenal to the double; while Tony Adams may have made the headlines for his goal against Everton to clinch the Gunners first Premier League title, do not underestimate the impact of players like Parlour, of whom featured in 35 of Arsenal’s 38 Premier League games that season. He also added to his medal collection a second FA Cup medal, following victory over Newcastle United.
Despite missing out on the World Cup squad, 1998 was not a bad year for Parlour.
He continued to enjoy success at Highbury. A second Premier League title followed in 2002; this time it was clinched against Arsenal’s fiercest of rivals Manchester United at the Theatre of Dreams. And, well, you guessed it; it came in a double winning season as well. A 30-yard strike sent North London into pure pandemonium, as he scored the conclusive goal in the FA Cup Final, against neighbours Chelsea.
It was a strike that sent him into the record books forever and ever. Whatever happened in the future, no one could take such an accolade away from him.
They always say to leave on a high. Two years later, he did most certainly that. He made 25 league appearences during Arsenal’s 2003-04 campaign; they didn’t just go on to win the league, but remained unbeaten in England’s top flight throughout the season. They became the first ‘Invincibles’ in Premier League history.
Spells with Middlesbrough and Hull followed with his retirement coming at the end of the 2006-07 season. He returned with Wembley for a brief spell in 2012-13, mixing it in with his media work for various television and radio outlets. However, whatever he does in the world of punditry, one thing is for sure: the words “Arsenal” and “Ray Parlour” will forever be linked.