John-Willie Parker was very much the man for his time; the ultimate late developer, he did not make his league debut until in his mid-twenties, having cost just £10 from the anonymity of St Lawrence CYMS in 1948. It was a victory for the prudence that governed the club during these austerity years and one in the eye for those critics of Cliff Britton who said that Everton needed to spend big in order to halt their decline. Through Everton’s darkest days the £10 man’s goals would be crucial to the club.
An inside left by trade, Parker could also spearhead the attack as centre forward and in either position was a clinical finisher and prolific goalscorer. As ‘Ranger’ observed in the Liverpool Echo: ‘His deceptively lazy and nonchalant style lulls defenders into a false sense of security. By the time they wake up to it it is usually too late.’ Like T.E. Jones he made his bow in the relegation campaign though it was not until the onset of life in Division Two that he fully staked his claim in the first team, eventually concluding the 1951/52 season as Everton’s top scorer with 15 goals.
Parker was a clinical, instinctive six-yard box player who formed a lethal partnership with Dave Hickson. Their goals would not only save Everton from the abyss of Second Division mediocrity, but see them rise triumphantly above the mire and to promotion. They were contrasting players: Hickson big, bold and brash; Parker, small and deceptively casual. Half a century later Hickson told the author Becky Tallentire: ‘I always believed there are players for players and they hunt in pairs. You’ve got to have that blend and I think John-Willie was ideal; we used to read each other.’
During the 1953/54 season the pair formed the deadliest post-war forward partnership that Goodison has seen, between them scoring 56 goals – Parker 31, Hickson 25 – without which Everton would not have been promoted. Their partnership made a promising start to life back in the top flight and with 10 games left in the 1954/55 season, Everton moved up to fourth, four points behind league leaders Chelsea, and with three games in hand. Could this most ordinary of Everton teams put together an unlikely title challenges? The team’s overall lack of quality shone through: Everton lost seven, drew two and won just once, finishing the season 11th; the forwards between them scored 31 league goals, Parker contributing 19.
At Bury the goals flowed again, and he set a record, scoring in seven consecutive games.