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The physio who became a manager

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Paul Fletcher | 13:12 UK time, Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Tranmere's match at Southampton on Saturday takes place exactly one year since chairman Peter Johnson sacked John Barnes and put long-serving physio Les Parry in temporary charge of Rovers.

Johnson told Parry he would run first-team affairs until he had appointed a "proper manager" but the Tranmere chief found that to be an unexpectedly difficult task.

One experienced figure was offered the position but subsequently told the chairman that he could not keep Rovers in League One unless he was given the resources to strengthen the team.

Rovers had no money and so the weeks rolled on with Parry in charge. Shortly before Christmas, he was given the job until the end of the season.

Parry's appointment generated plenty of headlines. A physio at Rovers since 1991, he had not played the game professionally and did not have any managerial experience.

Yet he kept Rovers up last season - a 3-0 victory at doomed Stockport on the final day of the season guaranteed the club's League One survival - and subsequently signed a one-year contract in the summer.

I wanted to know how a physio had managed to establish himself as a manager in a notoriously fickle and fragile industry. What I discovered is that Parry is a remarkable and incredibly hard-working individual, whose route into management is probably unique.

Tranmere Rovers manager Les Parry.

Parry was both manager and physio for a large chunk of last season.

Parry started his working life as a trainee shipwright at Cammel Laird in Birkenhead and was named 'British apprentice of the year' in 1974. He eventually left to become an airframe fitter at British Aerospace but hated his new job.

"I jacked it in and did an 'Auf Wiedersehen Pet', working in Germany for a while," Parry told me.

When he returned to England, he went to university in Salford, studying physiotherapy. He also acquired a qualification in sports science and eventually opened a clinic to run a business training health and fitness instructors.

By 1991, he was working part-time with the Rovers reserve side and got his big break two years later. A change in regulations in 1993 required that all first-team physios who run on the pitch to treat players had to be fully qualified. The incumbent at Rovers was not and left, with Parry stepping up.

Parry gained a reputation as a knowledgeable and dedicated physio, who pushed his subjects hard but often ensured players returned to fitness ahead of schedule. Former Rovers boss Ronnie Moore described him as the best in the business.

But all the time Parry was working as physio, he was watching and observing, even helping out with training sessions if his own workload was light.

"I listened to 900 or so pre-match and half-time team talks, I watched a manager prepare for a game 900 times and listened to him on the bench, observing why and when he made changes," said Parry.

"Throw in my involvement with reserve games and that is probably 1,500 games. In many ways, I am not equipped to be a manager but, then again, I cannot think of anyone else with that type and volume of exposure."

What he learnt must have had a positive impact because Rovers picked up five wins and three draws from 14 fixtures before Parry was given the job for the remainder of last season on 16 December.

Parry has been surprised by how much time a manager spends dealing with the media and has noticed that the nature of his workload has changed. He often worked seven days a week as the club's physio - he once did 274 days straight - but he now watches a game most nights and reckons he puts in longer hours if slightly fewer days.

The peak in working hours came before Christmas, when Parry was combining his job as physio with the managerial position. He was also trying to finish his PhD dissertation.

"I would study from four in the morning until seven because I would get a bit of peace in the house then," he told me.

The 52-year-old would then take training before assuming his physio duties. At the end of the afternoon, he would put his manager's cap back on as he took in a game to monitor potential loan signings or check out forthcoming opponents.

It sounds like an insane workload but it paid off because, in addition to keeping Rovers in League One, Parry graduated in July from John Moores University after successfully submitting his 120,000-word study on the effects of de-training following injury in professional football.

Parry had undertaken his qualification with a view to eventually becoming a lecturer but, as things have worked out, it helped him to decide whether to accept the manager's job permanently in the summer.

In one sense, Parry had a lot to lose if he accepted the role. He had been a popular figure with the club's supporters during his time as physio. He lives on the Wirral and is a life-long fan of the club. For example, Parry talks with great pride about a photograph of his son as mascot that appeared in the Liverpool Echo.

If he accepted the job permanently and the situation soured, it could damage forever his relationship with an institution that has been a major part of his life.

"Even so, it was not a hard decision to accept the job," said Parry. "After all, I had already done 19 seasons without a weekend with the missus. And if I did lose my job, it would not be the end of the world because I now had my PhD."

Parry told me that the worst part of the job so far came towards the end of last season when he had to inform some trainees that they would not be offered professional contracts. The Rovers boss found it more difficult than telling 11 professionals that they were being released. The pros at least had a career to reflect on and could seek employment elsewhere. For the bulk of the trainees, he was extinguishing a dream.

There was a great humanity about Parry as he explained this to me and I could not help but think that his perspective had been forged as much by what has happened to him outside the game as during his involvement in it.

This weekend he will meet up with an old friend in Nigel Adkins, who is now in charge at Southampton. Adkins, like Parry, is a son of the Wirral and a former physio who has since made the step up to management.

It will be a tough game for Parry's team, who are 21st in the table, and the manager is particularly concerned by the club's lengthy injury list.

However, returning them to fitness is no longer his job as Steve Walker is now the physio at Rovers.

Unexpected as it might be, Parry is a proper manager now.

You can follow me throughout the season at twitter.com/Paul__Fletcher

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Great article, Paul.
    We may be, in the relegation zone, but we all love Les, and his shorts. Lol.
    With players like Jennings and Mackreth, coming through, the futures bright, for the super, whites.

  • Comment number 2.

    Future is bright for Rovers? Really? Have you not seen our chairman?

  • Comment number 3.

    Fantastic summary Paul, another great article.

    I had the same reservations about Les taking the job full time – as he is regarded as a legend by the majority of our supporters and it would be a travesty for him to leave the club in an acrimonious manner – but all credit to him for taking it on. He could have walked away (or rather gone back to being a physio) a hero having pulled off the miracle of keeping us in the division after the disastrous start, but chose to put his reputation on the line and for that deserves respect.

    Being a ‘proper manager’ now makes him less immune to criticism, but I’m sure he’ll learn to live with it, but also means he’s worn long pants for the last few weeks!! A sight, after so many years watching Rovers, I never thought I’d see!

  • Comment number 4.

    The irony of former 'physio' turned manager Parry being 'particularly concerned by the club's lengthy injury list' surely isn't lost Paul? It certainly must make Steve Walker's job that more difficult especially with Les' demands of wanting 'his players returned to fitness ahead of schedule'?

    Are we seeing the emergence of a new Bob Paisley on Merseyside I wonder?

  • Comment number 5.

    Unfortunately Paul your blog reflects a shared, misconstrued opinion within the media regarding Les Parry.
    As supporters we find it all rather embarrassing that the physiotherapist chap has thrust himself into the hot seat, our hot seat.

    Fans haven’t really accepted our chairman’s decision to not appoint a 'proper manager' as you put it and look to be letting their own feet do the talking on match days and not attending.

    Les only has one idea, one idea of lump football and grinding out anything he can from football matches. Its an idea that just about got him over the finish line last season when things could have been tied up a lot earlier.

    Its all about of a joke really, hard to hold our heads up high.
    Thanks for putting this on the bbc main page though.

  • Comment number 6.

    Positive proof if any were needed that John Barnes' management expertise can be replaced by a 'Physio'. Must be a very strange situation for fans of Tranmere. At least Barnes didn't try to hint at racism when he parted with Tranmere as he suggested when Celtic turfed him out the door. Strange what some people will claim to hide their own inadequacies as a manager.

  • Comment number 7.

    Unfortunatley No5's comments are to my mind, correct. It was great Les kept Rovers up but really the Chairman and I use the term losely has done nothing but drain the cash from what was an enterprising conveyer belt of talent.
    Most fans know that Rovers punched above their weight in the early 90's but they should be fincially safe based on the the income they've had from a mirad of prospects they've brought through.
    They need a manager of experience and I'd be surprised if the team stays up this year.
    I hope they do, but they go down then, I fear they will fall straight through to Non League as what little talent there is leaves...

  • Comment number 8.

    You mention he's facing Southampton on Saturday, but not that Southampton are managed by Nigel Adkins, a physio turned managed just a few years ago.

    It hardly matters on someone's route into management anyway, just that they can do the job. Adkins is proving to just be a good manager. Mourinho was a translator, what does it matter?

  • Comment number 9.

    Great article.

    The majority of fans are very happy with Les as manager. The decision to sack Ronnie Moore was peculiar, replace him with John "it's a job" Barnes insane, and Les had to pick up the pieces. 1 year ago if you told me we would still be in the league I would have taken it. No matter who is in charge.

    A great man-manager, his footy is effective but not pretty but I think we'll stay up this season with a squad of mostly teenagers (over 10 in recent games). This will be another great achievement for Dr Parry.

    It is also great to feel the man's passion for the club. It is great in the modern game to support a club that is locally owned, run, managed, supported, and with the youth team so vital. Our neighbours over the water are striving for this ideal, and as fans we should not take it for granted. A sense of identity is priceless. Now let's win some games!

    Keep it up Les!

  • Comment number 10.

    i think most of us non supporters of tranmere (i am a birmingham city fan) wish you well, and a lot of that good feeling is down to having Parry as your gaffer.

    I do how-ever think it is hard for you, yes he isn't a manager by trade but kept you up. The method of football may not be great either but people often say thety'd prefer to win ugly than lose beautifully...either way i do not know....we seem to lose ugly sometimes ;-)

    I think it's harder for you as you have little to no money at all so that makes the task harder. Stockport went down with an awful record last year and although you have more money than them i don't think it's a lot more is it? can you craft a side to play decent football with no budget at all and playing teenagers?

  • Comment number 11.

    Now then,

    Thanks for the comments so far - both from Tranmere fans and supporters of other clubs.

    I think Parry's story is great, there is a real can-do, dynamic get up and go about him, but he tells you about it in a genuinely modest manner and, I imagine, would be great company for a night out (I measure most people by that rather flimsy criteria).

    I also think it is interesting that several fans have posted to talk about the chairman. Obviously there is a story in itself there. I'm not sure Parry can be blamed for that however.

    adriansfc - Perhaps not surprisingly, you appear to have not read all the way to the bottom. Check out this paragraph four from the end:

    "This weekend he will meet up with an old friend in Nigel Adkins, who is now in charge at Southampton. Adkins, like Parry, is a son of the Wirral and a former physio who has since made the step up to management."

  • Comment number 12.

    What a remarkable story. Truly fascinating stuff.

    Brentford are playing Tranmere at Prenton Park on the 16th so I guess I can judge for myself the type of football he has his team playing.

    It's clearly stating the obvious, but only time will tell how much of a success he is. The story in itself wants me to see him succeed. As mentioned, Nigel Adkins is doing alright for himself, so why not.

    Great blog.

  • Comment number 13.

    Disagree again Paul.

    I'd rather scran on my nana feet then go for a bevy with him.
    He's a beut.

  • Comment number 14.

    Great article, Paul. Les has said that of all the managers he has worked with over the years (and there have been a few now), John Barnes was the most qualified in terms of badges, etc.

    Barnes had grand ideas about the style of football he wanted Tranmere to play. Unfortunately he didn't procure the kind of players to pull it off. Perhaps he overestimated the standard of the league, or the standard of our players.

    So now we have Les: a physio with no professional playing experience whatsoever and not a single coaching badge to his name. But, as you point out, he does have over 20 years of observation to call upon, and passion by the bucketload.

    I think much of last season's "success" should be attributed to 'The Chief' (Wayne Allison, who was inexplicably let go at the start of the season) and Shaun Garnett. I think they provided the tactical and coaching nous, leaving Les to fire up the players. And that's what he's good at; the players like Les, always have.

    I hope it works out for him because he has already gone well beyond the call of duty for Tranmere. The fans may bemoan his tactics, but at least he's a realist with the club's best interest at heart.

  • Comment number 15.

    Decent article and I agree that Les Parry has put his heart and soul into the club,we are struggling again so far this year under Les however this has to come down to the chairman who is not interested in the slightest hence why we have not appointed a proper manager.

    Les is doing his best with what resource he has available and lets have it right what manager in their right mind would want to come and manage us with that nugget as our chairman. Dont forget he sacked Ronnie Moore after just missing out on the playoffs and replaced him with John Barnes! John Barnes who is quite possibley the worse football manager in the history of football.

    credit to Les for stepping up and having a go.

  • Comment number 16.

    Once read an interview where Les gave all the credit to his long-suffering wife (e.g. Paul's blog: 274 days work on the trot; 19 years without a free weekend together). In these days of inflated egos, a comment like that is class!
    PS Considering the current problems across the Mersey at LFC, are you Rovers fans not quite happy to be small, friendly,and at least not being torn apart?

  • Comment number 17.

    This fella is tearing us apart, taking away our pride.

  • Comment number 18.

    Paul nice article

    I must say when les was givin a years contract i must admit i was a bit skeptical. But he's come in and made some good signings and got the players working together as a unit. Nigel Adkins is a good manager and a nice fella i wish him and Southampton all best after Saturday, I think where the team to watch this season Brighton where very lucky in my eyes to come away with all 3 points, if we can play like that every week then i don't see why we can't be in the mix come the end of the season.

    And who knows Tranmere v Everton/Liverpool next season in the Championship!

  • Comment number 19.

    Paul. Nice article and nice to see the BBC putting us in the limelight again.

    It's been a strange couple of seasons for sure with the sacking off a great manager, appointment and sacking of an atrocious manager and appointment of Les, as a fan of 20+ years it's been hard to keep positive.

    The football were playing at the moment isn't great but as i saw myself on Saturday, we've certainly got the passion and desire to get the results we need to stay up and at times it's not bad to watch although the fair weather fans that we rely on have been turned away by the football were playing which isn't helping the finances. Les did us proud last season and I can see him doing the same season but in the longer term, I'm not sure he's the answer. Les is lucky because in Dale Jennings and Aaron Cresswell we have two absolute quality young players playing out of their skin at the moment and with Ash Taylor and Jack Mackreth two other good prospects coming back from injury, we may have some decent young players to sell on which is what keeps this club going, as long as we tie them up to long term deals.

    I think that the biggest issues we have are with our current owner, who seems to be draining the life out of the club and not allowing anyone to come in because of the money we (allegedly!!) owe him. The fact that the he's keeping us afloat is one thing, but no investment and a player budget smaller than some Conference clubs really does not help your cause. Considering the club was stable in the Championship for around 10 years, sold countless numbers of young players for a fair amount, had a trip to Wembley in 2000 and countless good FA cup runs, it's hard to see where the money has gone. I personally don't think anything will change unless Johnson goes but with the prospect of having to pay him around £6million for a lower end league one club, the chances of a buyer are minimal unless they are a passionate Rovers fan with a lot of money!!!


  • Comment number 20.

    I agree with no.19s sentiments re our future prospects, but at least our board have the financial foresight to structure our wage bill to fit within our means until they can sell the club. It's not condusive to title winning football but we aren't being threatened with closure everytime the tax man calls unlike others.

    Keeping us in league one has to viewed as an annual target and Les' tenure will judged accordingly. I have to say these people who say 'Les in not a proper manager' are a little tedius and somewhat missing the point. As long he uses the resources ( however meagre) at his disposal to keep us in this division he is all the manager we need.

    Paul thanks again for the article, for an encore, using your investigative journo skills, any chance of finding out why it is taking the FL so long to work out if they are going to kick Accrington Stanley out of the JPT for fielding a banned player against us in round one. Everyone else has finished the second round and the FL have made no mention of this matter in weeks!

  • Comment number 21.

    Appointing Les Parry was just indicative of the lack of funds and/or interest on behalf of the chairman in seeing Tranmere progress. Our problems go back to sacking Ronnie Moore and appointing the dynamic duo of Barnes/Macateer, which was less about their potential as a management team and more about publcity to fuel the chairman's quest to sell the club on - no one's mentioned the infamous ebay entry advertising TRFC to the highest bidder!

    Can't see the glory days coming back without a committed and rich backer being found, though I'm sure this is the same for many Div 1/2 clubs who struggle to thrive away from the bright lights of the Premiership.

    Hope we stay up, just depressing that this is the sum total of our ambitions - who aspires to be Div 1 journeymen?

  • Comment number 22.

    I used to play footie when I was a lad with Les Parrys son, and Les used to always come and train us and watch us play on sundays, and give us team talks etc. He is a top bloke and deserves a shot at the managerial position, he's a nice fella whos been in game with TRFC for ages,

    Go on Les!!

  • Comment number 23.

    I am not a Tranmere fan although I live about a mile from the ground. That said kudos to Les. I heard that he only got a pay rise of about £4,000 a year to take on the new and clearly more stressful role as manager. Says a lot about the man, jumping outside his comfort zone for what is essentially a few quid. Good luck to Tranmere and specifically to Les. 85% of TRFC fans are top lads but unfortunately there are a minority of idiots (one notable above) who make it hard for me to love them as a club. A new chairman and a more obvious presence in the local communities would help locals switch their (sometimes shallow) allegiance to LFC and EFC and venture to Prenton Park. I am always hearing very positive things about reserve and youth gaffer Shaun Garnett, an ex-player who has clearly kept his love for the club. If there were more Les & Shauns then the gates would probably pick up by a good margin and the club could kick on. The populaltion of the Wirral makes it a good investment (football wise but maybe not financially) and a bit of success may tempt those reds and blues towards the more accessible Prenton Park.

  • Comment number 24.

    If there were more Les & Shauns then the gates would probably pick up by a good margin and the club could kick on?

    Blimey what a strange thing to say he's turned away a number of fans on his own 1 Les is enough thanks mate.

    I'm not a Tranmere fan but i live a mile away from the ground.

    Says it all really.

  • Comment number 25.

    Another great article, a fascinating story.

    Good luck to Les and Tranmere.

    http://scottssportsandsocial.blogspot.com/

  • Comment number 26.

    I'm not a Tranmere fan, but my son is at their superb Centre of Excellence programme. I've not had any direct contact with Les, even when he was just the physio, but it's clear that he has the club right at the very core of his being and is also a humorous and very humane person. He's also very much a realist, telling us parents at the start of season meet that he did not expect still to be manager by the time any of our kids get to the stage where they'd be of interest to the first team.

    So, I'd second all the positive comments about Les. It also seems to me that Tranmere's struggle to stay in League One is at least as much to do with the budget (plus a pretty dismal injury list) as any inadequacies that Les may allegedly have as a manager.

  • Comment number 27.

    A really enjoyable read. Tranmeres problems run far deeper than blaming everything on Les although he does on occasions bring it on himself with the way he sets his team out. Our problems lie specifically higher up the food chain. The club are losing money season on season and its a vicious circle. Each year we lose money there has to be budget cuts to keep us a float, this effects performances on the pitch, which effects the number of people coming through the turnstiles which then effects the following years budget......and so it goes on.
    With out a sugar daddy willing to make a loss and throw money at us we are always going to struggle. The Wirral public are completely apathetic to the plight of THEIR LOCAL CLUB and would sooner go the pub to cheer on the reds or blues from across the water. At the end of the day when PJ was putting money into the club chasing the dream the ground was still never full and we only occasionally got above 10000. So if the club does get killed off then there will be blood on the hands of many people on Wirral for not supporting their club, because lets face it 30000 of them crawled out of the woodwork for the league cup final.

    On another point someone made the reason why not more is done in the local community is simply down to funds. The club employ a small number of staff to work with the youth players and there is also a lot of good work done by the football in the community people. Budgets are that tight at the club currently that the school girl teams have to pay for their own kit and training kit plus the use of training facilities, even though they represent the club. The Tranmere ladies team if it plays an away match have to throw their own money in to pay for coach travel.

    So that being said anyone know of a wealthy business person who fancies throwing money into a small local football club?

  • Comment number 28.

    Good luck with relegation and giving us 3 more points

  • Comment number 29.

    Ah its care in the community day again, did you get a placement in an internet cafe this time cmr-oafc?

    Be sure not to get any dribble on the keyboard.......

  • Comment number 30.

    Loving your banter, RoverBite! :o)

    Tranmere Rovers have been clearly in a steady decline for the last 10 years, which cannot be put down to the manager as there have been several different incumbents. Therefore, with the one constant being the Chairman, you would have to lay the blame at his door.

    For now, the Tranmere manager's job (whoever is in the position) will be to stave off relegation until a new owner & possibly funds are in place. Being able to rally the rest of the club behind the cause, from non-playing staff to parents of Academy players, is a massive bonus.

    Les Parry seems ideal for this, and even the style of football he has the side playing is ideal for this. Not sexy, but it will probably keep them up. For those TRFC fans who want sexy football back, call John Barnes. He'll have you playing really sexy football in the Conference in a couple of years!!

  • Comment number 31.

    Former Argentina coach was a qualified physician before taking up coaching. he went on to lead Argetnina to the 1986 World Cup. Hopefully Les Parry can emulate that!

    http://southamerican-futbol.blogspot.com/

  • Comment number 32.

    "Former Argentina coach Carlos Bilardo" is what I meant to say. Next time I'll use the preview button!

  • Comment number 33.

    If Les Parry can win the World Cup with Tranmere, I'll be very impressed!!

  • Comment number 34.

    this Liverpool business perfectly illustrates the attitudes of American businessmen - total selfishness, no consideration for the customers, no idea about football, not much idea about business - we should be proud (no - ashamed !!) to have them as our greatest ally!!

  • Comment number 35.

    At the end of the day, whether Les Parry is the manager or not, he and the club need your support. Not attending the game because he is in charge is not helping the club at all, especially if you're one of the one's who is moaning at our current financial state. As a club, we need to unite together, not moan and groan because we have a physio turned manager as manager. Until PJ sells up, it does not look like we will be not be moving up anytime soon. There are many clubs currently spending above their means which is risky in this current financial climate, maybe after they suddenly find themselves in the same situation as us, things may become alot clearer...

  • Comment number 36.

    Great what Tranmere are doing. Look at the mess across the water. Football should be about doing whatever is at your disposal to win games. Lets face it no Sheik is coming to Birkenhead! Les Parry has used what he has to great credit. The players look motivated and are playing for each other. Les- would love you to sell your motivatioal skills to Roy Hodgson!!. Keep up the good work and good luck.

  • Comment number 37.

    In 1966 a football club sacked a former England captain and raised eyebrows by appointing the Physio as manager. The club was Arsenal and the Physio was Bertie Mee who bought the club its first trophy for 17 years with the Fairs Cup (now rebranded as the Europa League) and the League and F A Cup double the following year. Bertie Mee hired Dave Sexton and Don Howe to fill the gaps in his technical knowledge to the cerdit should probably go to the trio.

    Good luck to Tranmere and Les Parry there could yet be a Merseyside derby in the Championship!!

 

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