Finding truly villainous individuals associated with Hull City is quite easy, provided you look in the right places. The boardroom, for example. Or the dugout. But the pitch? Hmmm, that’s harder. The territory one needs to occupy in order to blast even the most defective ex-Tiger becomes quite dangerous. Footballers are, after all, just footballers. But villains come in all shapes and sizes. There are the spiteful, the incompetent and the frustrating. Players tend to fall into the final category.
No player in Hull City’s history underperformed out of spite – certainly if they were accused of such, they would demand to see proof – while bald incompetence is always a subjective issue, with numerous players in any All Time Worst XI having something in their non-City careers to be proud of.
Simon Trevitt was a very popular and effective player at Huddersfield for a whole decade, for example. He was utterly dreadful in a City shirt, but his previous record could put that down to a bad period of form for an otherwise perfectly reasonable player. And players not in form look even worse when the whole team is underperforming – Trevitt was an epitome of this.
So we’re left with those who frustrate, and in one way, they are the most unforgivable. Evil players, should they exist, are flushed out and given no second wind; incompetent players are also replaced as soon as a manager is allowed. But frustrating players – men of clear talent who waste it due to a stinky attitude – are the worst as they bring along as much hope that they can perform as they do despair when they don’t perform. As a modern footballing phrase goes – one can handle the despair, but not the hope. Ryan Williams was one such player. And Jon Parkin was another.
It could have been easier for Parkin when Peter Taylor signed him in the January window of 2006. Little was expected of him, despite the £150,000 fee, because he had come from Macclesfield and, more pertinently, he had been frequently chastised, abused and written off as an unfit, immobile buffoon by City fans each time he had played against the Tigers, be it in defence for York City or as a converted striker for the Silkmen. Reaction from online Tigers supporters upon the news of Parkin’s recruitment was not especially welcoming. Just about everyone expressed disbelief and anger at the decision, even the more tranquil of opinion-formers at least wondered where Taylor was taking us. Yet while their misgivings would ultimately be borne out, what initially happened was the most ludicrous, spectacular and thrilling opening weeks to a City career many of us had ever seen. Parkin was perfect.
Tall, extra stocky (as opposed to overweight) and clearly brave and keen, he debuted against Crystal Palace and gave their centre backs all sorts of trouble, even though one of them still had time to pop upfield for a set-piece and score a goal. City went 2-0 down before Parkin silenced the doubters – well, he stopped them expressing concern over the decision and had them cheering instead – when he timed a run through the offside trap immaculately, chested down a ball dropping behind him with the delicacy of Teddy Sheringham and steered an instinctive shot under the bloke with the pyjama bottoms. A debut goal, instant cult status, and though City couldn’t equalise in the second half, a star – and a nickname – was born.
The Beast then went on a two-month burst of form which was the single key factor in City not being ever dragged into a serious relegation battle. A heel-toe turn and smart shot which put us 2-0 up at Stoke a week later had to be seen to be believed, then a tap-in at Luton which proved the key goal in a 3-2 win and then a tremendously timed run and shot at Millwall added to what had become an extra-quick City legend. The fans adored him – for his bluster, his bravery, his determination not to respect reputations (he had gone from being marked by Mark Greaves to being marked by Michael Duberry, and didn’t give a hoot at the contrast) and his goals. He could also drop deep and distribute, with Craig Fagan, Kevin Ellison and Stuart Green reaping the benefits of a centre forward who was willing to play a team game rather than wait on the last man with his arm in the air.
Then it started to go a bit wrong for Parkin. When a couple of dubious decisions went against him, it was obvious that there was a confidence issue running through his head, especially as he had just earned a huge move up the divisions and had started so well. Taylor would have told him that purple patches can end and do end, and the character of Parkin was to face its real test when the goals dried up, when the referees began to pre-judge fouls based on his sheer size, and when results were affected. He had a legitimate goal – which would have earned a point – ruled out at Cardiff, then earned a penalty from Everton-bound Joleon Lescott against Wolves, only for Green to miss it and City to go on to lose. Worse, he played his heart out at Leicester, setting up two goals, but didn’t see his guts and thunder performance reciprocated by slipshod, desireless team-mates and City’s 3-2 defeat represented the biggest fear of a battle against the drop of the season.
Parkin carried the team that day at the Walkers Stadium, but would never do so again. This was not because the team drastically improved, but because already it was clear his eagerness had gone. Energy-free and lost, City fans put the new profligate Parkin down to fatigue – he’d joined midway through the season from a slower division and the change had caught up with him. He was, at the time, worth the benefit of everyone’s doubt. With victories now more vital than ever, Taylor refused to change the team on the acceptable understanding that a half-bothered Parkin was still useful, but the valueless heroics at Leicester would be Parkin’s last very good game for City. Moments would still come, not least over the Easter period, but suddenly his ability to dominate, or even play an actively practical role in the team, had dissolved.
The argument about what we should have reasonably expected of Parkin starts here. Because he came in with all guns blazing, scoring goals, beating up defenders and generally spawning comparisons with the iconic Billy Whitehurst in his prime (albeit with a far better first touch), it meant that he became a real disappointment when he inevitably slid down into a more serene and bland contributor to the team. City won two games 1-0 at the KC to fend off the brief post-Leicester fears and Parkin was largely nondescript. By the time we got a 1-1 draw at Ipswich his lethargy was obvious, and were it not for the prospect of facing Leeds United in the most emotionally important home match in a generation (well, for those who only went to City when they weren’t struggling at the bottom of Division Four, anyway) then Parkin may well have been rested, if only because the goals had dried up.
City 1 Leeds 0, and Parkin was the goalscorer. A far post header, climbing majestically above a rattled White Shite defender to bury the ball from Green’s divine cross. The tiredness/sluggishness of previous weeks fell from his being as he celebrated under a pile of team-mates and the city then celebrated all night under a pile of beer bottles. The result also assured City of safety in all ways bar the math, and Parkin should have gone on holiday there and then. He didn’t – Taylor picked him for the rest of the season and he didn’t score again.
However, the received wisdom was that Parkin was just tired. He needed a long holiday, to rest his weary limbs and then prepare for his new division properly with a Championship-standard pre-season. Unfortunately, his love affair with Hull City ended promptly when the first photograph of him in the new kit, during a pre-season friendly at North Ferriby, was published. Not since Brian McClair’s Celtic shirt shrunk in the wash in 1986 has a player looked so ungainly in the clothes of his trade and, in Parkin’s case, unfit. Worryingly so. Ever seen Jan Molby playing Masters football on Sky? Yep. Parkin had clearly embarked upon as good a time as possible on the ale and burgers over the summer and, while many a footballer has claimed an entitlement to let himself go a bit while on his holidays as much as the layman does, somehow it seemed Parkin had been gluttonous and irresponsible. He’d gone too far. And with Taylor gone and the inexperienced Phil Parkinson in, we waited to see whether the new manager had it in him to tell his newly-inherited talisman that he’d cocked up his calorie plan and was on a strict diet and fitness regime.
Parkin was embarrassing at West Brom on the opening day of 2006/07. He couldn’t jump, couldn’t gain control, was hopelessly out-fought by the highly-rated but not superhuman Curtis Davies and was substituted by the new manager. The defeat, and problems elsewhere (dreadful marking, the early withdrawal of Stuart Elliott, the denial of a late penalty), meant that Parkin’s woes weren’t central to the inquest, and when he scored twice at home to Barnsley three days later, we briefly thought we had our Beast back, especially as the goals were contrasting enough – a smart sidefooter and a Beasting of the goalkeeper prior to the bulging of an empty net – to suggest all aspects of his game were not beyond rediscovery.
City squandered it, infamously, and lost 3-2. Parkin scored a penalty in the next game – a 2-1 defeat on Sky to Derby – and Parkinson began to make noises about signing reinforcements up front. It was obvious to him and the rest of us that Parkin was not only lacking in fitness, but also lacking in any real desire to alter the situation. Bad management may have contributed – certainly there were enough conjectures via the KC grapevine over this wretched period to suggest that Parkinson was struggling to deal with any problem correctly – but ultimately the professional footballer must act professionally to play football. Parkin didn’t.
With Nicky Forster and Michael Bridges recruited, Parkin was nonetheless retained in the squad as City searched ceaselessly for a first win. He dropped, deservedly, to the bench to allow the newcomers a debut each at Birmingham, and was brought on with the score at an agonising 2-1 in the home side’s favour to bolster the attack, create fresh problems for the tiring, uninspired Birmingham defence and force the equaliser which the team’s display without him was beginning to deserve.
He hit the post. Unlucky.
Then he was sent off. Imbecilic.
There’s little doubt that the referee made way too much of Parkin’s second offence, a high challenge on Radhi Jaidi which left the not-exactly-tiny-himself defender rolling around like he’d been caught up in a drive-by shooting. The yellow and subsequent red was harsh. But Parkin, even though it was injury time and we were still losing, had no business going up for a dodgy semi-assault like that when he knew that his first yellow and the nature of it had clarified that the ref fancied grabbing a few headlines. Initial derision from the support for the official turned into derision for the player in the inquest as we trooped back towards the M42, still winless.
It was no coincidence that with Parkin banned for the trip to Leicester – the scene of his finest individual hour and a half in a City shirt – the Tigers looked vibrant and alive for the first time since the first half against Barnsley, and new boy Bridges won us the game. As if stung by the criticism, Parkin gave us one last hope that he might yet return to his combined attribute of scoring knack and amusing brutality when he hit both goals in a 2-1 win – on the telly, no less – against Sheffield Wednesday at the KC. The second was a superb reverse volley which was replayed over and over again and certainly rivalled his multi-crafted beauty at Stoke for aesthetic pleasure.
So, two wins in a row and Parkin had shown some fresh fight for the cause thanks to a suspension and the arrival of two high calibre rivals for the place he’d called previously his own. The only way was up. But once again, his star began to sink. The brace for the cameras against Wednesday was his last hurrah, the last time he would be a dominant City hero, as his own displays in future League games would come to epitomise the soulless, frightened philosophy of Parkinson. City were in desperate trouble by the time Parkinson fell on his sword in December, and Parkin’s only positive contribution had been a gimme of an equaliser set up by Fagan in a 3-2 success at Southend, a game City largely won because their opponents were faring even worse.
Phil Brown’s appointment as the stand-in manager, as is often the case, led to an upturn in fortunes, but Parkin had at last met his match. For all the things for which Brown received rightful criticism during his first six months in charge, one decision was warmly applauded and met with admiring comments when he publicly criticised Parkin, dropped him from the team and sent him on loan to Stoke. Dean Windass, a man who could show Parkin what being a real Tigers icon represented, was brought back on loan and instantly built up an anti-rapport with his new strike partner by openly moaning about him on the pitch. Stories of dressing room accusations surfaced and, as City’s form got worse and Parkin was incessantly held up (along with Ian Ashbee, to a lesser extent) as the mainspring of City’s problems, a watershed was reached at Oakwell.
I distinctly remember, on the short drive to Barnsley that night, that I and my carload of acquaintances all believed that a turning point was possible for Parkin. Still oversized and lacking attitude, he had the opportunity to raise his game in his hometown and put aside the horrors he must have felt when the 2-0 lead he gave City at the KC in August was clawed back and transformed into a 3-2 defeat. But we gave him way too much credit – from the kick-off we had a player who wouldn’t run, jump, chase nor show any signs of enterprise with the ball in his possession. It was reminiscent of everything which Dave Bamber had stood for a generation earlier – he clearly was not interested in playing for Hull City, he was not motivated by the club, his team-mates or the many thousand fans in attendance whose jobs and marriages were dominated by the sheer terror brought on by the prospect of an agonising, gutless relegation. What made it worse was that his particular style, when he was in the mood to show it, meant that he was often our only target for the midfield to aim at, and if he wasn’t complying, we had no plan B until substitution time. We were stunted, restricted, shorn of ideas and haemorrhaging goals and points. Frankly, Parkin had to go. Anywhere.
Initially, the place he went to was the bench. His introduction as a last minute substitute to allow Windass a standing ovation as City beat Birmingham was greeted with severe indifference, while out-and-out booing was also clearly audible. It was an extraordinary and very sad transformation – at the same time 12 months earlier, he had been the heart and the guts of the team, the very embodiment of Taylor’s battling, unfussy brand of survival football. Now he was heavier, slower and a disgrace to his profession. He stayed on the bench for another two months before Stoke City, a suitable club in a suitable city for footballing wildcards, offered a way out via the loan system. Brown sent him away with a flea in his cauliflower ear, and Parkin settled in, scoring the odd goal and doing for Stoke exactly what he did for us when he was first purchased and unwrapped.
City certainly coped without him, but when a shortage of strikers forced Brown’s hand with four games to go and City vying for fourth bottom with two other teams, it was Parkin he turned to. Nobody wanted him back. The supporters of both clubs involved didn’t want him to go back to the KC, neither manager was particularly enamoured, and certainly the players felt the decision was none too distinguished. But we were short of options and we were on the brink of relegation, so he returned, went on the bench again and was booed on as City drew with Colchester at home. He then came off the bench again at, ironically, Stoke – having spent his warm-up period nattering to the home fans and joshing with the subs for the opposition – and contributed nothing, even though City secured a very late equaliser and emerged with what was regarded as the best we could have hoped for. He wasn’t allowed near the pitch as City and Windass secured safety with a win at Cardiff, and Brown felt able to leave him out entirely for the farewell match against Plymouth at the KC. Parkin partook in the lap of honour – a term not applicable to him in any shape or form – after the game in his suit. He was saying goodbye; he was possibly saying good riddance. We certainly were.
Parkin joined Stoke permanently and we made a small profit on him. I write this during the same week of his departure, a week when Stoke got their man and their fans have been seemingly painting the town red over the acquisition (that place needs more than a coat of paint to brighten it up, mind). Parkin likes the place and the people and he’ll either be a runaway success or he’ll replicate everything about his 18 queer months at the KC and lose interest almost as quickly as he gains heroic status. Not even the return to City of Brian Horton, the man most responsible for Parkin’s rise in stock during their time at Macclesfield, could seemingly convince Brown that there was yet hope for the wounded Beast. He was clearly a bad apple and needed to be tossed aside.
It shouldn’t give us any pleasure that Parkin has gone, because it’s not as if he was a waster from the start. He was a quite superb looking player with genuine footballing plusses to go with his physical qualities. He was cool under pressure, hard, skilful and, with confidence, a devastating presence in City’s attack. That his star fell so quickly, suddenly and drastically, complete with recriminations rarely seen aimed towards a mere player, is as remarkable as it is tragic. City’s consolation for Parkin’s appalling attitude was the health of the club, the repatriation of Windass and the incompetence at all levels of a certain Wessie club which contributed as much to City’s survival as the win at Cardiff did.
We have nothing to thank Parkin for. If you’re reading this with hindsight and think it’s a touch harsh, then that’s your prerogative. But players who aren’t good enough are forgivable. You blame the manager for their appearance in the team, and that manager is in a position to do something about them. But players who are good enough and choose not to show as such, well, they’re harder to forgive. They’re also harder for managers to drop. This is where we find Parkin, and it’s such a pity when we cast our minds back to the debut goal against Palace and the immense contributions against Stoke and Leicester, and wonder what happened to that player. As for the winning goal against Leeds, yes we’ll talk about it for years to come, but there will be eye-rolling accompanying the mention of the scorer’s name, and ultimately it’s the result that matters. The man who got the goal doesn’t. Imagine if City had beaten Leeds 1-0 last season with a goal from Mark Yeates…
For all his talent, great goals and shot-in-the-arm qualities, Jon Parkin was a disastrous, disruptive presence for 12 of his 18 months at the KC, and as those 12 months were the last 12, all visions of his good moments have a permanent cloud cast upon them. It’s harder to forgive the capable malingerer than it is the ungifted trier, especially when his endeavour-free presence comes in a relegation-haunted season, and for that he must be regarded as a villain. Not the worst villain, although it’s tough to think of many worse on the pitch, but a villain nonetheless.