Alex Parker was one of a litany of gifted Scots to journey south of his country’s border to play for Everton in the late 1950s and early 1960s. A graduate of the famous Scottish junior team, Kello Rovers, he made his name with Falkirk, lifting the Scottish Cup with The Bairns in 1957, and winning the first of 15 Scotland caps in 1955.
The right back signed with winger Eddie O’Hara in summer 1958 in a joint deal worth £25,500, with Parker valued at £18,000. His Everton debut was delayed by his national service commitments with the Royal Scots Fusiliers in Cyprus, but his belated introduction in November 1958 helped lift a team shorn of confidence. Everton were facing a relegation battle having lost their opening six games of the season and had suffered their record defeat a month earlier. Parker, with Bobby Collins – signed shortly before his debut – and new manager Johnny Carey, helped steady a listing ship and lift Everton to relative respectability by the end of the 1958/59 season.
Thereafter, he rarely looked back and was an important part of Everton’s renaissance. Although stockily built and slightly lacking in pace, Parker compensated with an impeccable sense of timing when entering a tackle. It was said that Parker had ‘elevated the sliding tackle into an art form’. He was also renowned for his last-ditch clearances from the goal line. Bert Slater, who kept goal for Falkirk and Liverpool, used to joke that he was the best full back he ever played in front of. And yet, Alex Parker was always something more than just a defender. He possessed the skill and poise of a winger and his fine distribution was of particular benefit to his wingers. Billy Bingham later described Parker as the best full back he ever played alongside.
Parker was a fine exponent of the overlapping full back role, passing the outside right and playing an early
centre ball to one of the centre forwards. He scored just five goals in his Everton career but few were better than a 30-yard effort in the 6-1 drubbing of Nottingham Forest in January 1960. On one of his forays up the field, and not seeing an Everton player in a forward position to pass to, he curled the ball past the Forest goalkeeper, John Armstrong, to send the crowd wild. ‘It wasn’t Parker’s first goal,’ the Daily Post reported, ‘but he will never score one so meritoriously.’
Parker also possessed the unusual distinction of being both an Everton player and close friend of Liverpool manager Bill Shankly. Both were Ayrshire sons, and long-standing family friends. At Falkirk, Parker played under his brother Bob Shankly, then a year after his arrival on Merseyside Bill Shankly took the Liverpool job. ‘Bill would always give me stick for playing for Everton and he was a terrible swearer,’ Parker would recall. ‘Bill would say, “How are you getting on with those blue so and so’s?” He told me it was the only mistake I ever made in my life!’
Arguably the right back played in the final era of great wingers. For Everton and Scotland he came up against such figures as Tom Finney, Stanley Matthews, Cliff Jones and even a young George Best. But seldom did he look ruffled, he always seemed cool and composed. ‘He was,’ recalled Alex Young, ‘the best right back in Great Britain during the late 50s and early 60s … His technique was laser-like. His timing was unparalleled, his execution was fluent. And his appearance was sophisticated. Possibly the only British players to have possessed his defensive skills
was were Jimmy Armfield at Blackpool and Ray Wilson at Huddersfield.’
In 1964, a year after Parker had won the First Division title, Wilson became an Everton player. It should have been a world-class full back partnership, but the reality was that persistent hamstring injuries had started to erode the right back’s career. Parker and Wilson played just two games together at the start of the 1964/65 season and then injuries struck again. In his place a young Tommy Wright proved an excellent replacement, lessening the burden of his absence.
In September 1965 Parker, now aged 30, joined Southport for £2000. In 1968 he was appointed manager of Ballymena United in Northern Ireland. In 1970 he returned to Haig Avenue as Southport manager, but lasted just a year. He subsequently slipped out of the game, becoming a publican in the Scottish borders.