Ray Parlour was the type of player who always had a twinkle in his eye rather than his feet. An honest player in a workaholic sort of way who was as happy in central midfield as he was wide right. A player prepared to add a touch of steel and graft to the cause in a manner that exuded both reliability and tenacity. That said Ray could also turn on some driving runs, provide some powerful, if somewhat erratic shooting and more than the occasional killer ball. Above all however those fans who appreciated his value to our team loved him for his honest commitment on the pitch and his never-say-die spirit.
Described by Marc Overmars as 'Romford Pele', following one particular prolific dribble during training, the name stuck. As did 'Pizza Parlour' following an entertaining night out with Tony Adams that culminated in an incident involving a fire extinguisher and some upset customers in a Pizza Hut. Ray's disciplinary problems also included a run in with a Hong Kong taxi driver whilst on tour. And he possibly missed out on the '98 World Cup because Hoddle wasn't amused when he famously asked Eileen Drewery for a short back ’n’ sides.
Overshadowed as he was by the enormous talents of Vieira and Bergkamp playing along side him his style of play could never be described as cultured or expansive. Never a darling of the press Ray's shock of curly blond hair was however a regular feature in Arsenal sides for some 12 seasons of top grade football. Born in Romford in 1973 he came through our youth system to make his first team debut against Liverpool in 1992 where he conceded a penalty in a 2-0 defeat. Despite twelve Under 21 appearances for England he only acquired ten full international caps but gained an incredible medal collection with the Arsenal, including winners medals under both Graham and Wenger and of course not one but two prestigious doubles. You have to assume, from the evidence of his disciplinary record, that Ray didn't perhaps take football as seriously as he might until the arrival of Wenger who altered not only training methods and diets but also the attitude and drinking culture amongst the home grown lads in our squad.
Man-of-the-match in our 1998 Cup Final win over Newcastle it was Ray's superb through ball that put Anelka away for our second goal. This however was far from being the only major game in which Ray excelled. Who can forget his 'It's only Ray Parlour' moment at the Millennium Stadium where he silenced Chelsea with a memorable and absolutely stunning goal. Or his captaining our team in their 5-1 slaughter of Internazionale in the San Siro, or indeed his superb, if rare, hat trick at Werder Bremen.
Always an Arsenal favourite amongst those fans who understand football thanks to his honest graft on the field and also, one suspects, because of his early Jack-the-lad attitude off it. Ray's winning medals collection takes some beating: a League Cup in 1993, European Cup Winners Cup 1994, three FA Cups in 1998, 2002 & 2003 plus three League championships in 1998, 2002 & 2004. Ray Parlour will be remembered as the last player at Highbury happier with a pint than a prune juice, never a superstar but perhaps one of the most underrated and highly decorated players in Arsenal's history.
This piece is one of a series about on the thirty-two Arsenal legends who can be seen on our Stadium's cores linked arm in arm. Ray was number 3 of 32 in the series which is still ongoing. This piece originally appeared in issue 204 of 'The Gooner' fanzine but has not previously appeared online - for further details of 'The Gooner' or its website, the very excellent Online Gooner go HERE. Back copies of The Gooner are available HERE.