A transfer deadline day signing in March 1994, Joe Parkinson arrived at Goodison a 22-year-old unknown – despite boasting a wealth of lower-league experience. On signing the £250,000 midfielder, Mike Walker admitted that it might take the Mancunian a year to break into the first team, but Parkinson had other ideas, making his senior debut as a substitute on the opening day of the 1994/95 season.
By the end of this debut season, Parkinson was an FA Cup winner, having been one of Joe Royle’s ‘Dogs of War’ – the foundation stones on which the new manager built Everton’s recovery. A hard, willing player who sat just in front of the back four, Parkinson was the archetypal midfield harrier, tackling, passing and moving, before stepping back to shield his defence again. Safety and simplicity were Parkinson’s principal objectives, and seldom could he be seen rampaging into his opponent’s half. Yet there were goals, few more finely crafted than his side-footed winner from the edge of the Aston Villa penalty area on the last day of the 1995/96 season. Tactically his was one of the most difficult positions, and traditionally only more experienced players excel in it. And yet Parkinson never looked out of place and brought a veteran’s composure to the heart of the Everton team.
By the end of the 1995/96 season Parkinson was considered among the most important members of the Everton squad. More expansive players thrived in his presence and the team appeared a more cohesive unit when he played. He was attracting the notice of the England and Wales international managers – both of which he was eligible to play for.
But just as he approached his prime, so he was cut down by injury. A knee cartilage injury suffered over Christmas 1996 waylaid the midfielder for a month, during which time Everton’s form collapsed dramatically, signalling the beginning of the end of Royle’s managerial reign. So vital was Parkinson to his faltering team that he was recalled prematurely, apparently propped up by pain-killing injections. But this was a disastrous step, aggravating the existing injury. Parkinson hobbled out of Everton’s encounter with Leicester City in April 1997 with their Premier League status nearly assured, but the midfielder’s part in saving Everton had cost him his career.
There followed a fruitless 30-month battle to save Parkinson’s career, but despite having his knee reconstructed the damage caused by playing on through the pain was just too great. In November 1999, still aged only 28, Parkinson announced his retirement from professional football. ‘I could be bitter about it, but that’s not the way I am,’ he said at the time. ‘Yes, my career was cut short, but I’ve looked after myself, I’ve got a nice house, good family, a decent life and I’ve won a few medals. I look back on football as a chapter of my life that’s closed now. I’ve got the videos and the cuttings, kept all my shirts and my medals. But what’s the point in being bitter? It only rubs off on the people around you and they end up disliking you.’