Ben Parker: “Guiseley Gave Me My Love For Football Back”

Simon Bullock interviewed Ben Parker to find about his media career, his times at Leeds United, Bradford City, Harrogate Town and finally what it felt like achieving promotion with The Lions on a dramatic day in Chorley. 

Q: You made your professional debut for Bradford City on loan from Leeds United. How valuable were the 41 games you played that season in helping you make the transition to men’s football?

A: Those games were massive for me. I’d was doing pre-season with Leeds and I thought I’d have a chance to be with them that season, then I got a phone call from Colin Todd, who was the Bradford manager at the time and it was the next progression for my development. I’d been playing with the England youth teams and I just wanted to go out and play men’s football. I loved my time and experience at Bradford. It was something totally different and not what I’d been used to. They gave me a great platform to build my career on.

Q: You made your debut for Leeds in the season that followed in the League Cup, what was that feeling like, having spent all of your youth career there and did you feel much pressure, with the club then in League One?

A: It was a dream come true. I’d always been a Leeds fan growing up and my only ambition was to play for them. It was a massively proud moment for me and my family. I didn’t feel much pressure, I was just determined. It wasn’t the greatest time for the club, being in League One but it galvanised everybody. It made me more determined to do the best I could for the club, to try get out of League One as quickly as possible.

Q: The season after, you played 31 times for Leeds but the season after that, you were hampered by injury problems, making only five more appearances for the club in the seasons that followed. How frustrating were those injuries and do you think if not for the injures you would have been the club’s first choice left back for years to come?

A: Any footballer will tell you that injuries are the worst part of the game and unfortunately, I had my fair share. I was having one operation after another and I just couldn’t get back into the rhythm of things. At the time, we had a lot of great players coming through the ranks but I always believed in my own ability and feel I could have played in the Premier League. A lot of my teammates at the time went on to play in the Premier League and I always thought I could make the step up but it wasn’t meant to be. I loved every second of my time at Leeds and wished it could have continued for a lot longer, but that’s football and injuries are part and parcel of the game.

Q: Whilst at Leeds, you were capped by England at various youth levels. What was it like playing alongside the best players in your age group in the country and which former teammate has gone on to have the most successful career in football?

A: It was a great honour for me. I started at U16 level when I was Year 10 at school and it was a massive deal. Games were shown live on Sky Sports so my profile became a lot bigger because of it. People become aware of you; they’re doing their homework on you, just because you have a reputation of being an international player. I loved my time playing for England and met some great characters along the way. It opened my eyes to a different way of learning and I saw how some of the best coaches in the country worked. I came on leaps and bounds. We had a good core of players who have gone on to be very successful; Joe Hart, Micah Richards, David Wheater and Mark Noble are just a few who spring to mind. We had a good squad and probably should have won the U17 European Championship but we lost to a last minute Cesc Fabregas penalty, but it was a great experience.

Q: A year after leaving Leeds, you did some radio work for BBC Radio Leeds. Was commentary something you had always wanted to do and how much did you enjoy it?

A: It was something that I’d never really thought of doing. Any footballer will tell you that they want to stay involved in the game after they retire, whether it’s in a coaching capacity, as a scout or doing media. BBC Radio Leeds had just won back the rights to commentary for Leeds matches and they needed a summariser. I hadn’t signed for a club at the time so my weekends were free and I was thrown in at the deep end really. I had known Adam Pope for a few years and he was covering Leeds games, so I’d seen him up at the training ground quite a bit in previous years. As a player, I’d always find time for the media side of things and, although some players can be a bit ‘stand off-ish’, I always kept a good relationship with Popey so when he called me, I jumped at the opportunity and I really enjoyed it. It’s a balancing act because at the start I tried not to be too critical of my ex-teammates, but also tried to be honest. I loved doing it and it set me up well for the work that I would find myself in a few years’ time.

Q: You resumed your career at Guiseley at the beginning of the 2013/14 season. Was it a big decision to make the step down to Conference North and how much of an influence was Mark Bower in your decision to sign?

A: To be honest, I’d reached a point where I was falling out of love with football. I felt like I was never going to get back playing at any standard ever again. When I got a phone call about Guiseley, I knew who they were because I used to play against them in pre-season with Leeds, but I started to do my research about the club. I saw Mark Bower was there as a player, Gavin Rothery was there as well, so I already knew two or three faces which made the decision to sign quite easy. I went down to train one day with a view to signing on and Steve Kittrick was in charge. After that training session the same night he got sacked which wasn’t a great start for me, but then Mark Bower got the job and he was the captain at Bradford City when I was there and we had a good relationship because he looked after me when he was at Bradford so when he got the job and he told me that he wanted me to sign a deal. I’d been around the boys for a couple of weeks and there were some really good characters and that brought my love for football back a bit. Just being around the changing room environment and having banter with the lads was great, so yeah, Mark Bower was a big influence in me signing for the club.

Q: That season culminated in the last minute of extra time in a playoff final defeat to Altrincham? How devastating was that and was it difficult for the team to pick themselves, ready to have another go at promotion the following season?

A: It was heart-breaking. I’ve only had that feeling on a football pitch twice; the first time being getting beat my Millwall in the playoffs with Leeds and then that playoff final against Altrincham. We all believed we could win the game going into it but the manner in which we lost it, just a few seconds away from taking it to penalties was devastating. It was tough to take in the days that followed but we believed in the squad and the group of players that we had. The fact that lots of the players signed on for another season as well as adding two or three quality players gave everyone confidence that we could go one better.

Q: The season after, the club reached another playoff final, this time beating Chorley 3 -2. After going 2 – 0 down at Chorley, did you and the players believe the game could still be won or was the feeling one of frustration at, what was at the time, another potential playoff defeat?

A: When the second goal went in for Chorley, we thought it would be unlikely, but we didn’t throw the towel in. Nobody gave up and we still felt we could go on and win. It was a strange day because we got to the ground at about 14:30 when kick off was at 15:00. We requested for the kick off to be put back but Chorley didn’t grant that request so we had to start at 15:00. We had about a five-minute warm up, then went straight out and onto the pitch for a play-off final which sounds crazy, so it’s probably no surprise that we went 2 – 0 down after 15 minutes. We always thought we could win though, as man-for-man we believed we were the better side and to actually go and come back from that deficit was an incredible feeling and there were incredible scenes afterwards.

Q: What was the feeling like when Nicky Boshell scored the third goal, and then 15 minutes later the full-time whistle went and promotion was secured?

A: It was almost like we scored the third goal too early in a way, because we were hanging on for quite a while at the end but the scenes afterwards were what you play football for, to experience moments like that. The lasting memory of Nicky Boshell with his shirt over his head, swinging it around with his hairy chest out was fantastic. There were some lads who had been at the club longer than I had and you could see what it meant to them after missing out and coming so close so many times previous. To finally get over the line was so satisfying, particularly for those lads.

Q: How was that season in the National League, coming up against bigger teams like Tranmere Rovers and Wrexham, as well as more final day of the season joy, beating Torquay 4 -3 on the final day to secure survival?

A: It was very difficult because we were still part-time, competing against a lot of full-time clubs. One of the memories that sticks out really well, for all the wrong reasons, is the game away at Cheltenham Town on a Tuesday night. We were leaving to set off at around 15:00 which meant that 90% of the team had to finish work early to travel down to Cheltenham who were top of the table at the time. We had a man sent off early on and ended up losing 5 – 0. Then the reality is that we were getting back home at about 02:00, then getting up for work a few hours later, being unable to recover properly and then there’s another game on the Saturday against another full-time outfit. It was to compete with the resources that we had, going up against clubs like Tranmere and Wrexham which made things very difficult but we had a close-knit group and were all mates with each other, doing nights out for a bit of team-bonding and that’s probably what got us through the season in the end, staying up on the final day.

Q: At the end of the season you left the club to sign for Harrogate Town. Did you want to stay on at Guiseley or did you see Harrogate as a club on the up and wanted to be a part of that instead?

A: The season prior to that when Guiseley got promoted, Harrogate really wanted to sign me. They made me an offer but I decided to stay at Guiseley that season because I was the club captain and wanted to reward the club for the faith that they had shown in me as they had given me my love of football back. I wanted to stay at the club because they made me a good offer, but twelve months down the line it was probably Mark Bower’s decision at the end of the day to let me go. Harrogate gave me another really good offer and I had several conversations with Simon Weaver who outlined the project and vision for the club. A couple of years prior to me signing, Harrogate had gained a bit of a reputation for throwing money at players but I found that when you dive in deeper, the core of the club was based on hard work and wanting the right type of characters in through the doors. This was something that I could buy into straight away and I knew a few of the lads there, like Joe Colbeck and Simon Ainge. It came up at the right time for me and was a no-brainer to sign.

Q: In your second season at Harrogate you secured a second promotion to the National League in your career, beating Brackley Town in the playoff final. At the end of that season you retired from playing. Did it feel like the right moment to call time on your career, finishing off on such a high?

A: I had another year left on my contract and I started the following pre-season as a player. The promotion with Harrogate was fantastic and well deserved. In my opinion, we were probably the best team in the division and should have won it outright but Salford were more consistent throughout the season. The following pre-season, there was a part of my mind thinking that I could still do a job for the team. We had a quality side, some great players and I thought that I could easily make the step up, but going into the start of the season I wasn’t really playing as much as I would have liked and I was getting to that age where I was thinking, ‘I just need to playing football, I don’t need to be sitting on the bench anymore’. An opportunity came up at Leeds and I knew a lot of the guys in the media department there. I got offered a role at the club and the decision to accept it was easy.

Q: After retiring, you also took up a role in charge of the club’s Player Development Centre. Is coaching something you’ve always been passionate about what does your role in the PDC entail?

A: When Harrogate got their 4G surface down, they decided to set up a Player Development Coaching system. It was designed to develop young players because the talent within the local area was massive. We just wanted to give something back to the community, where you can bring your child, it doesn’t matter what age, and we’ll provide good quality coaching. When the club decided to go full time, I had discussions with Paul Thirlwell and Simon because they made the decision to set up the PDC. Paul then got bumped up to become the assistant manager for the first team, so he didn’t really have time to run the Centre, so I got offered the role and I was delighted because as a player you’re always looking towards what you’re doing after your career, whether it’s coaching or media as I said earlier, and for me it was a good opportunity to stay involved in football. I’d always enjoyed coaching the younger teams because I came through an academy system myself and I love that side of the sport. Unfortunately, I’m not coaching there anymore, I’m solely doing media jobs now but I always think it’s good to have more than one string to your bow. It’s something that I’ll always keep an eye on and I’ll always be observing matches tactically, but the media side is what I’m focused on at the moment.

Q: Finally, you are still doing some media work to this day, as a host on the LS11 Podcast and working for LUTV. How much are you enjoying that and is it something that you want to continue as your media career advances?

A: I work predominantly for LUTV these days. It covers a wide variety of things, like interviewing the players, gathering content together and coming up with features to produce. In terms of the LS11 Podcast, I was on it a couple of times as a guest and it came up that they were wanting another co-presenter alongside Darren Harper and Ryan Wilson from The Pigeon Detectives. I was approached and asked whether it was something that I would be interested in and I said yes because I don’t really see it as work, we’re just mates talking about Leeds United. It was a good opportunity for me to do something a little bit different to what I had been doing. I’d been on podcasts before as a guest but never as a co-host, so it was good for me to learn because I’d never done any qualifications in media. I enjoyed learning on the job, especially with Darren who’s got years of experience doing that sort of thing, so he was a really good person to learn from.

We would like to thank Ben for taking the time out to do the interview and hope to see him back at Nethermoor soon.

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