Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

A look back at Bangor footballer John Parke’s sparkling career

John Parke, the Ireland left-back, chases a German forward during the game at Windsor Park.  7/5/1966
John Parke, the Ireland left-back, chases a German forward during the game at Windsor Park. 7/5/1966

When John Parke, a young Bangor man, signed for Linfield as a 17-year-old in 1954, little did he realise the merry-go-round which was to follow including spells in Scottish, English and Belgian football.

John Parke was a tough, talented all-round footballer, and while at Windsor played in every position with the exception of outside left.

It was in his home town of Bangor that John started off playing for 4th Bangor Boys Brigade side and in 1953 his big break came when, as a 16-year-old, he signed for Cliftonville where he won five youth international caps and a ‘B' League medal with Cliftonville Olympic.

It didn't take Linfield long to spot the brilliant Bangor prospect, and they nipped in ahead of a host of other club scouts for his signature.

John signed amateur forms for Linfield the following season and was only in the unpaid ranks at Windsor for two years before putting his name to a |professional contract.

In those early days at Windsor he won a Junior cap for Ireland against Scotland at Solitude in 1956.

It was only a matter of time before the brilliant Parke made the inside right berth his own at Windsor, pulling on the famous blue jersey in such exalted company as Tommy Hamill, Jackie Milburn, Tommy Dickson and Bobby Breathwaite. He played in his first Irish Cup final in 1958 at the Oval when the Blues were beaten 2-0 by Ballymena.

It wasn't until 1962 that Parke won his first Irish Cup medal when he played left-half in the Linfield team that beat Portadown 4-0 at the Oval.

With the Blues, John won almost every honour in Irish League football and in 1959 he was selected as reserve for his country against Scotland at Windsor Park.

In 1963 John, who had been attracting a lot of cross-channel interest, signed for Scottish club Hibernian at a record fee of £15,000.

This fee beat the previous highest of £11,500, also paid to Linfield, for Billy Simpson in 1950.

At the time of his transfer, John said: “This is what I have wanted for a long time, something I thought was never going to come my way.

“It was English league football I had in mind, but I am not really disappointed that it is to be Scotland.”

And John realised his English football dream when he signed for Sunderland in 1964, after a season at Easter Road where he gained a lot of experience.

John joined forces with two other Ulster men, Martin Harvey and Johnny Crossan, but he |didn't go immediately into the Sunderland side.

The Roker Park fans had to wait before seeing their newest recruit, as John was on international duty in Belfast.

That was one of 14 international appearances in the green jersey.

It was in the late Sixties that John moved to Malinois in the second division of the Belgian League, despite many attempts to bring him back to the Irish League. Glentoran and Linfield were just two of the clubs wanting his signature.

He finally retired from the game in 1975 following a series of cartilage problems and in 1984 moved into football management as the new team boss of the ambitious Amateur League Club, 1st Bangor Old Boys.