Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Australian Football Legend

2006 saw Australia qualify for its first World Cup Finals since the days of 1974 when most people watched them on remote less black and white TVs. Tonight we see further evidence of Australia's coming of age on the world stage as Adelaide United take part in the Asian Champions League - the first 'stralian side to reach this far in Asia's premier competition.

My links with Australian football go back to 1987 when I landed in Sydney on a working holiday visa. Forget the Lonely Planet the first thing I was interested in was the local football but the tourist office in Martin Place had no idea.

I found a tabloid called Australian Soccer Weekly and found out there was a game pretty local to me at St George Stadium. Marconi were the visitors, playing St George and it was a culture shock for me coming from England I can tell you.

A couple of things stood out that game. Marconi's young striker, a lad named Frank Farina, and a St George fan I met. I never saw Farina again butthe fan kept crossing my path during my lengthy Aussie sojurn.

Don Parkes lived in Woy Woy on the Central Coast but travelled down when ever he could for St George games. An English emigre, a one time Fulham fan, he followed St George because they were the side that was the most 'open'.

At that time football was heavily ethnically charged. A derby match would feature Sydney Croatia v Melbourne Croatia while games between Heidelberg Alexander and Preston Makedonia were a recipe for disaster. I was an expert on the Balkans fragmentation thanks to lessons learned on Australian football terraces.

St George were initially Hungarian but they played down their roots in an attempt to attract a more cosmopolitan fan base. It never really worked and come the end of the National Soccer League St George, despite boasting one of the best stadiums in the country, fell off the footballing map.

I spent a few years watch St George home and away. There was about 8-10 of us and Don was always around somewhere. We called ourselves the Saints Sunday Service and for home games we'd divide ourselves into two 'firms'. One group berhind the goal, they were called the Runway End 'cos Sydney Airport was right behind us. The rest would be in the Main Stand and the Mexican Waves we did, all 10 of us, were a hoot.

Don of course was in the main stand.

Back then Australian internationals would often be played at Parramatta Stadium. Primarily a Rugby League venue. When the Socceroos played their invariably home fans would be vastly outnumbered but Don Parkes could be relied on to support his adopted home.

Don was also a big Fulham fan. After a trip back to London I had picked up some stuff from the Fulham club shop and boy you should have seen his face light up when I gave him them at St George Stadium.

I left Australia back in '91 and never returned. But when Fulham got promoted to the Premier League I raised a glass to Donny Parkes. And when I heard Central Coast had its own team in the A League another coldie went down in his honour.

The game down under has changed way beyond what I knew, way beyond the game Donny Parkes supported at a time when no one else did. Names like Johnny Warren and John Kosmina maybe more recognisable heroes to many but for me Donny Parkes was a legend on the terraces.

He's now 75 years old and the other day attended Sydney v Central Coast, dressed up in yellow like a 'budgie'. This extract comes from an e mail I was forwarded.

As a great mark of respect for Donny the Mariners supporters group appointed Donny as patron of the "Marinators" and the tri-annual pre A-League game played between the Marinators and the Cove supporters is called the "Donny Parkes Cup". Donny told me they have also put a photo of him with Georgie Best up in the Kendell Bar in the Central Coast Leagues Club where they meet for prematch drinks.

What a legend...

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