Arsenal’s Parlour Games
‘The Romford Pele’ better known as former footballer Ray Parlour ‘rabona-ed’ an audience of sports fans at Sussex Cricket club with highly amusing anecdotes from a playing career with Arsenal lasting 12 years (1992-2004). Appearing in 333 games for the club and winning three Premier League titles (1997-98, 2001-02, 2003-04), four FA Cup wins (1993, 1998, 2002, 2003) and a UEFA Cup winners medal (1994) among other trophies.
Considering what he achieved Parlour was often an unsung hero in highly talented Arsenal midfield which included Patrick Vieira, but now is building a strong reputation as a hilarious after dinner speaker and broadcaster on TalkSport radio.
Parlour addressed his audience with the confidence of a comedian, completely comfortable with the hand held mike and used no notes as the tales flowed from him with the grace and delivery of a professional. During his speech Ray showed a wonderful warmth towards his past Arsenal team mates in particular Martin Keown and Tony Adams plus much respect and admiration for the manager Arsene Wenger. But amongst the love there were many laughs which the audience were keen to hear.
The hardest player on the pitch he played with was team mate Martin Keown who he was close to but loved to tease. Parlour believed he could ‘read him (Keown) like a book’. Therefore, the occasional torment came Keown’s way, which included putting it around that Arsenal had bought the Bayern Munich centre half, threatening Martin’s place, which they hadn’t. Also antics on the Arsenal subs bench after they had won the league in good time, with Keown (having had an injury season) eager to get on the pitch to qualify for a premiership medal.
The stories were so much from the heart you knew they were true which made the humour so much more powerful. He described Wenger as a ‘very intelligent men’ but had some ‘inspector clouseau moments’ which caused hilarity throughout the team. The time Wenger was in the team hotel, helping himself to the buffet and placing a piece of apple pie on a plate and holding it, unknown to him the slice had fallen off and hit the floor. The players noticed and watched as Wenger walked past them carrying an empty plate, sat down, took his spoon and starred at the porcelain in totally surprise and bewilderment. Looking below, around him on the floor to see where it might have gone. The players creased up in the corner. Another occurrence on a training day concerned a netted bag of balls that Wenger was trying to rescue and organise from a goal mouth. In carrying out this simple operation, somehow the balls got mixed up in the net, tangled within the goal and around Wengers feet which sent him to the ground, wrestling the nets in complete in entanglement with a squad of professional players and staff watching with complete amusement.
Along the way, Ray dropped in amusing references to his past divorce case which hit the media headlines in 2004 due to the amount that Ray needed to pay out, based on his future earnings. The case lasted a long while and reached the Court of Appeal, indeed from a legal position it was a landmark case, believed at the time future courts would give a more equal share to their former partner’s earnings which could increase the number of prenuptial agreements. Yet Ray’s humorous and happy go lucky approach to life, you wouldn’t know he cared. This attitude may have cost him his England place under Glen Hoodle.
Parlour recalled to the audience being in the England squad, carrying an injury. He was told to go upstairs to see a person called Eileen Dewery (faith healer) who he had never heard of. Sitting on a stool Eileen began carrying out healing on him by placing her hands on his head, whereby a bemused Ray said – ‘short back and sides please’. Dewery laughed but the remark got back to Hoodle and Parlour found himself out of future England squads.
His roommate at Arsenal was Tony Adams, Ray recalled a drinking session in a pub with Tony and the lads where Adams insisting he had to leave at three, could not stay, but before then he got tanked up with his usual few pints and could just about get himself up when a car arrived for him. ‘Where you off to then Tony?’ they asked. ‘I’m doing the FA cup draw on BBC’ he replied staggering to the pub door. All the players couldn’t believe it, from the pub they watched live on TV the draw with Adams in such a state. Parlour went on to wonderfully describe the action which left the room in hysterics.
So many of these football tales are mentioned in his highly acclaimed autobiography – ‘The Romford Pele’. Ray Parlour has a genuine ability to tell a good story, plus the right personality to win over a crowd whether you are an Arsenal fan or not. His after dinner speaking has been admired by comedians who have worked with him on the circuit.
Photos by Stephen Lawrence
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.