Now, I don't normally go lusting after footballers. As a fan, I am not the sort that goes to football to watch men's buttocks; I am genuinely interested in the football. But I became a big fan of Parky after a chance meeting one day in August 1998. It was Bank Holiday weekend and PNE were playing at Lincoln City. I drove up to Lincoln alone but was meeting a friend who was coming from Liverpool to see the match. I drove out to the point-to-point on the edge of the city to park there to meet my friend as they were going to be driving past so was a convenient place to stop.
When I pulled into the car park, I noticed the team coach. It was empty, apart from the driver. Being a)
After that encounter, Parky became my fantasy husband. I think I met him again, briefly, at a Player of the Year awards ceremony a couple of years later and he was as charming as before. Unfortunately, about six months after I met him, he damaged his cruciate and was out for a year and never really featured regularly for Preston after that so I didn't often get my fix of my favourite player. He left PNE for Blackpool in 2001, normally a move that would generate a lot of bad feeling, but no-one could really begrudge him moving on at the age of 33. He helped them win promotion that season and then retired from playing a couple of years later. He got himself a job back at Blackpool as head of youth after qualifying as a coach.
This story does not have a happy ending. Earlier this month, I was utterly gutted to hear the news that Gary had suffered a massive stroke and was critically ill in hospital. Although he has improved, there are now fears that he is suffering from locked-in syndrome, whereby he is unable to move, speak or swallow but is aware of what is going on around them. It is early days in his rehabilitation but if confirmed, the prognosis is not good as most sufferers die within the first four months. A few manage to overcome it with specialist care; I'm hoping, praying even, that he's one of them. He's only 42 after all. My heart totally goes out to his wife Deborah and their three children as I can only imagine what they are going through right now. And as for Parky, I've tried to imagine what it might be like right now; to be aware of everything around you, and yet not be able to respond, to express emotions, to talk to loved ones or even to move. Boy, is it scary and frustrating - and yet, I can shake myself out of it a few seconds later, move, type, talk and generally express myself. To be like that 24x7 - well, the thought makes me shudder.
I'm hoping in the months to come that there will be some fundraising to help either him or stroke-related causes. Thus far, I haven't found anything on the Blackpool FC website (and yes, I did check it; I am not proud). A donation to The Stroke Association, a charity that supports research into prevention and treatment of strokes as well as providing information, advice and support to stroke victims, may well be in order. If any event is set up in Parky's name, I will be supporting it wholeheartedly and I'll tell you about it here. If anyone knows of any event set up in his name, please let me know because I would love to be involved.
In the meantime, I prefer to remember Parky as the player and the lovely, genuine man that he was. That doesn't mean I am not hoping for the miracle recovery he deserves because I am crossing everything that it happens. But he will remain my fantasy husband. Get well soon, Parky. You are in my thoughts.