Homegrown heroes are beloved for many football fans across the world and, more often than not, these players are heralded as greats from a very early period in their careers – and Arsenal have established themselves as a hotbed for developing local players.
Things have changed significantly in modern football and, although the Gunners still boast numerous youngsters who have been around the club from a young age, the number of top-class English players overall has dropped significantly as clubs turn their recruitment drives abroad.
That was not always the case though and in the early 2000’s Arsenal had a wealth of England internationals in the squad; including Martin Keown, Tony Adams and the Romford Pele Ray Parlour.
Joining as a trainee in 1989, Parlour made his debut for the Gunners against Liverpool three years later and went on to spend 12 years in the first-team; making 339 league appearances, winning three Premier League titles and lifting the FA Cup on four occasions.
A veteran of Arsenal’s invincibles squad in 2004, Parlour is remembered fondly around north London and still has close ties to the club, working with the team by utilising his legendary status for a number of different uses.
While he enjoys stardom now, in the prime years of his career he often did not pick up the media attention he deserved as the likes of Patrick Vieira stood in the limelight – though he had his two best moments in FA Cup triumphs.
Man of the Match in 1998 against Newcastle United, assisting Nicholas Anelka for the second goal in a 2-0 win, Parlour went one better four years later by netting a stunning strike from 30 yards to overcome London rivals Chelsea.
Finishing his career as the player with the most all-time Premier League appearances for Arsenal, Parlour also played a key role in a famous victory against Inter Milan in 2003 – playing as stand-in captain in a superb 5-1 victory against the Italian giants at the San Siro.
A handful on the field of play and a bundle of fun off it, Arsene Wenger played a crucial role in the midfielder’s career and Parlour enjoyed the prime years of his spell at Arsenal under the guidance of the legendary boss.
Now working as a pundit, Parlour has got even closer to supporters by revealing some hilarious pieces of insight into his career – which includes a hilarious story about fellow invincible Kolo Toure’s trial at the club, where the Ivorian defender took out Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and even Wenger himself.
His openness shows why he is valued so highly by supporters as it is a chase for fans to feel closer to the action than modern football usually allows, where star players are now multi-millionaires showered in a lavish lifestyle – incomparable to those who flock to the stands on a weekly basis.
Arsenal will get homegrown heroes again and again but it will take a lot for the Romford Pele to be dethroned as the king of the capital. He might not be cast in bronze outside the stadium or ranked as the greatest ever but Parlour is in a different sort of league.
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