Football Star in Victorian Lancashire, a tragedy and a mystery

Jonny Parker – Chorley 1893-98 with Peter Dunn on his right and Eddie Harley to his left

John Richard Parker or Johnny Parker to give him his footballing or soccer playing name was my great grandfather. I knew him as a rather dapper gentleman, never appearing without a tie or his walking cane. He had a presence, a man who filled the room even though he was in his late 80’s when I became aware that we were related. I only ever saw him at my grandparents’ house in Preston. He would always be there when we arrived to visit, and this was the pattern for the years up to his death in 1967. He would enjoy his lunch and then take his leave while the rest of us menfolk would head off to Deepdale to watch Preston North End. His son, my grandfather, seemed to me to be in awe of him. When we were there, he became his young son again, a visitor in his own home. Yes, he had a presence.

I do not in all honesty ever remember passing a word with him, but back then children were still seen and not heard.  Looking back over the years after doing so much family research I so regret that I never could have asked him about his life. Writing this I do have many details that have come to light, but I can never have the full story. I shall do my best to paint his portrait, especially his footballing times with Chorley FC.

Chorley football club today is a particularly important part of the local community. In recent times and particularly this season in 2021 they have become visible on a National scale by their FA Cup exploits and in lately reaching a higher tier of English football. In the late Victorian times of the 1890’s Chorley would attract considerable crowds to their home games on Dole Lane, Chorley.

Chorley FC at Dole Lane Ground 1897

Back in those days there was no Sky Sports showing virtually every topflight football game. If you wanted to watch the highest level of English football you had to go in to Preston and watch North End, paying your admission. Consequently, the clamour for space on the terraces exceeded supply and clubs like Chorley filled a gap for the mill workers to still be able to go and see a live game and enjoy a distraction from what were still extremely hard-working lives. Local men in Chorley would also appreciate having a good standard of football available close to home and so avoid any travelling costs to Preston. The difference in standard between a top First Division club such as Preston North End and Lancashire League or non-league Chorley was not that great. Footballers such as my grandfather may have had decent jobs and to give that up to play full time at Preston for possibly less money did not make sense to them. My great grandfather became a mill manager and the attraction of that wage and a little on the side from Chorley FC was certainly the way to go for him. His partner in the Chorley defensive line was Charles Ostick.

Chorley team 1896/7 – Love this photo of a supremely confident, smug almost, group of players. Charlie Ostick back left, then goalkeeper Archie Pinnell with Johnny Parker next to him.

Charles worked for the local council as an inspector. Most likely that employment was arranged in conjunction with the football club. Quite often a way of paying a higher wage to quality footballers in Victorian times was to ensure that they had a regular, secure employment and Chorley would have taken that approach.

A great photo of Chorley with Johnny Parker looking confident and sure of the result to come – atmospheric shot of the members in the reserved seats

Johnny Parker gave great service to Chorley and even sixty years later he was remembered as one of their stalwart players from the early days of the club. He appears on the team photo for the season 1893/4 when he would have been 19 years old. His final game sadly would only be some five years later in 1898.

The photo of him at the start of this article shows him aged about 86 alongside two of the current players of the team in 1960 shows him being held in high regard by the club.

The local newspaper published

the photo with a report of the game.

He also featured in this cartoon in the newspaper.

Despite so many years and two world wars passing he had left his mark in local football circles. There is a sense of pride in his face in this photo, it is the same feeling in him that I detected when I knew him. It is that sense of owning the space, this is my moment, my home. The two Chorley players, Peter Dunn on the left and Eddie Hartley on the right also stay slightly aloof, knowing the photo is of the star of the show – Johnny Parker, back in the limelight. And it would have been the limelight back in his playing days. Players like my great grandfather would have been well known, local celebrities really. The crowds as we said were large and they had come to see their local heroes. I imagine Johnny Parker’s wages were supplemented by fans with the odd pint or two at the local pub after the game, especially if the result had gone the right way.

Johnny Parker left a great impression in local football circles which is surprising because his career ended cruelly early at the age of 24. Let us go back to that fateful date on December 14th 1898.

That day Chorley were at home at their Dole Lane ground to a strong Burnley side in the Lancashire Senior Cup. It is a testament to the quality of the Chorley side that they more than held their own against a side that would go on to finish 3rd in the English First Division and contained full internationals in their line-up.

Chorley were the better side. The match report mentions that Johnny Parker was having one of his best ever games for the club.  Unfortunately, a deflected goal left Chorley one down at half time despite their dominance. It was early in the second half that tragedy struck. Burnley’s Irish international forward Tommy Morrison went into a tackle with Johnny Parker and the result of the horrific collision was a broken leg, just below the knee, for Johnny. The report describes the shocked crowd watching Dr Harris rush to attend to him and arrange for him to get to the local hospital. Sadly, in those days this was a profoundly serious injury and despite the best efforts of the hospital they could not fully repair the damage. Johnny Parker never played again, although his contact with the club endured and he became sufficiently mobile to serve as a linesman at games. He always walked with a limp for the rest of his life and a walking cane became essential. Parker and Ostick were a formidable back line of defence for Chorley. Ostick went on to play for Bolton Wanderers in 1900 and it is conceivable that Johnny Parker may also have eventually decided to take that step up into the Football League.

If we go back to the game, we can add some colour to the events that day. From all accounts it was an ill-tempered affair and Burnley were condemned as the instigators of that bad feeling. Other Chorley players also had injuries from Burnley challenges albeit not as serious as Parker. Even following his removal to hospital foul play continued from Burnley, despite knowing the consequences of Johnny Parker’s injury. The Scotsman Jimmy Ross was perhaps the most famous member of the Burnley side, although shortly he was to join Manchester City. He played in the legendary Preston North End team that won consecutive League championships at the start of the Football League and gained the distinction of being one of the ‘Invincibles’. In the game against Chorley he was involved in a deliberate piece of serious foul play and had to be warned by the referee as the situation between the players and spectators was becoming inflamed.

Match report of that fateful game for Johnny Parker – play became a little rough is probably a bit of an understatement

Jimmy Ross was nearing the end of his career which was in any case concluded by illness at the end of the 1900/1 season. He sadly died early in 1902. His funeral was an impressive well attended affair with wreaths and tributes to ‘An Old Invincible’.

What of Tommy Morrison. He was commonly known by his nickname ‘Ching’. He came from Belfast and was the first native Irish raised player, also as a Protestant in a predominantly Catholic Club, to play for Celtic in Glasgow. Tommy was brought up in the Sandy Row area of Belfast, a staunchly Loyalist area with its own code of conduct, not a place for the faint hearted. It is a part of Belfast made famous in song by Van Morrison (no relation as I know). Of Tommy it is said that he was told at Glasgow Celtic to curb his tongue and to subdue the habits that he had learned in his tough upbringing of East Belfast. The picture is of a man who is not to be messed with. Did that affect his challenge on Johnny Parker. There is no suggestion in the report that it was a foul challenge. Yet, the atmosphere of the game would have seeped into the play of a man of the disposition of Tommy Morrison. Maybe, he challenged just a bit to hard, was fired up with the way the game was being played. We will never know. Morrison went on to have a fine career with Manchester United before drifting into non-league football at Colne in 1904 before a short spell with Glentoran in the Irish League. He died in 1940 back in his native Belfast.

So, back to our original photograph, taken for the Chorley Guardian in 1960. The two players were, as was my great grandfather, well respected Chorley stalwarts. Both Peter Dunn and Ted Hartley were awarded benefits during that season, hence their appearance on the photo. Both joined the club in the mid 1950’s and were regular members of an impressive Chorley side until the early 1960’s. Peter Dunn was the first to leave at the end of the 1960/61 season. The benefit raised £150 each for them, nothing by today’s standards, but back then some 60 years ago they would have been happy with the esteem in which they were held at the club. Life moves on and teams change, this photo represents a full circle in the life of the club and now it is almost frightening to reflect that both these players in the photo would be older than Johnny Parker was when it was taken.

Peter Dunn and Eddie Hartley receive the recognition of their loyal service to Chorley

It is amazing how much interest just one photo can raise and where it can lead. It has been fascinating to add this detail to my family history, something I have researched for many years. Chorley Football Club has always played a part in my sporting life. Firstly of course because of my great grandfather but mainly as an opponent that needed to be beaten, but rarely was. In my youth I became a fanatical supporter of Darwen Football Club, not a million miles from Victory Park. Darwen had an illustrious history but latterly never had quite the infrastructure or access to the best players that Chorley enjoyed. We played at the same level for many years, Chorley moved on for a while and then we re-joined them in the Cheshire League. I can only personally recall Darwen ever beating Chorley on two occasions. Once in 1967 at the Anchor Ground, Darwen and once at Victory Park in 1980. I did enjoy those fleeting moments of triumph. Having said that Chorley was one of the results I always looked for and still do even today, a legacy of the attachment to the club of Johnny Parker.

The player on the left of the photo intrigued me for a time as I was always told that it was Peter Watson, Chorley’s record goal scorer. I always doubted that as I knew Peter Watson back in the 60’s as he lived close to us in Darwen and apparently still does today. Peter, like my great grandfather was most certainly a local celebrity in the day. Darwen valued its achievers in sport, even if like Peter Watson they plied their trade elsewhere. The town had a strong tradition of producing fine weightlifters and these strongmen were feted in the town. I imagine going into town for them must have been a long process as they were stopped everywhere for a chat – I imagine Peter had the same problem. I distinctly remember as a child that it was a case of ‘that yon mon’s Peter Watson, ees a gret gowel scourer tha noes’. Happy days.

Peter Watson from a team photo in 1962 – The players either side of him Paddy Sowden and Ken Garrity went on to play for Darwen in my first season of watching football. Eddie Hartley is front left.

My thanks to Keith McIntosh at Chorley Football Club for getting the research underway and to Ian Bagshaw for patiently providing an incredible wealth of information and photography from the Chorley archives

Chorley Football Team

in a montage set of studio portraits taken at Luke Berry photographic studio Chorley included in the album I inherited from my G/grandfather

1898


===============================================================

There is a final postscript to Johnny Parker’s story at Chorley Football Club, a mystery still unresolved. The montage photos of the Chorley team back in the 1890’s were taken at the photographic studio of Luke Berry in Chorley in 1897 and 1998. Berry’s operated only for a short period after this time. These photos I inherited after the death of my great grandfather and he had placed them all in an album alongside many other family studio portraits. Loose in the album was a tiny (75mm x 35mm), studio portrait of a fashionably attired young lady.

Loose in Johnny Parker’s album was this

tiny (75mm x 35mm),

studio portrait of a

fashionably attired

young lady.

It was also taken at Luke Berry Studio in Chorley

This photo had clearly

been well thumbed over

the years, perhaps

having been in a wallet.

I have tidied it up on the

above cropped photo

to some degree.

It is most certainly not his wife, my great grandmother – she is shown next to Johnny Parker in a studio portrait taken in Preston. This memento must have meant a lot to him to have kept it until his death, obviously admiring it many times. Who is she? Is she the first Chorley FC ‘wag’? No doubt the players had many admirers and Johnny Parker was a good-looking young lad. Johnny had no other connection to Chorley other than he travelled there to play football from his hometown of Preston. The photo of the young lady must have been taken at the same time as the football portraits and no other photos in his possession were taken at Berry’s – all others were in Preston. If anyone has this mystery woman in their archives, please get in touch – I would love to solve this one.

Elizabeth Nightingale Johnny’s wife & my G/grandmother
John (Johnny) Richard Parker

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Published by Neal Atherton

My passion is writing about travel and particularly French travel. I have traveled extensively in France and wine and food has always featured on my travels and now in my books. My friends always await our return from France with the latest new finds from the vineyards and I was more than happy to keep sampling. I am from Lancashire in the north of England but have now relocated to Somerset (nearer to France) and able to enjoy devoting my time to writing and new discoveries. France came late to me as a destination, in fact so conservative was my travel upbringing that it was a long time before I even ventured to Cornwall. I have more than made up for the slow start and have enjoyed helping many others with their travel plans to France and especially to Paris and Provence. I have written a series of four books on France - Three are now on Amazon:THE FIRST TIME WE SAW PARIS about our first steps in French Travel, THYME FOR PROVENCE our discovery of that glorious region and the people and places we met and discovered, A DREAM OF PARIS a personal memoir of our times in Paris with friends. France has been fun, we have been burgled on our very first arrival, we discovered the best cafe that changed our travel lives on the very next day, we learnt about French wine, we escaped from the most horrendous gite, we found the best of gites, B & B's and people, we laughed and cried with dear friends in Paris, I was hosed down by a crazy owner to cool me down in Provence, our breakfast in a remote village was served by the French army, we stepped totally out of our comfort zone and discovered the best of French culture. The experiences are varied and many and please come with me as I retell the stories and my footsteps are there to follow. I am also writing about ancestry and genealogy and my first book about our incredible family story themed around war and the military is now on Amazon - A BULLET FOR LIFE. I love the English game of cricket, golf, soccer, photography, walking and cooking. Oh, and travel of course.

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