TODAY is a momentous occasion in Gary Parkinson’s recovery from a severe stroke which left him with locked-in syndrome - a condition of almost paralysis apart from eye movements, which Gary has used to communicate his thoughts in this interview with his son, Luke...
A TURF Moor return makes this a special day for Gary Parkinson. Promotion would make it extra special.
A favourite of both Burnley and Middlesbrough, the former defender has been invited to this clash between his old clubs as the Clarets’ guest of honour – the first time he has been back since being taken ill in September 2010.
Parkinson attended the reverse fixture at the Riverside on Boxing Day and watched his boyhood team Boro take all three points courtesy of a single goal from Emmanuel Ledesma, in what proved to be Burnley’s last league away loss as they plotted a path to automatic promotion.
Which is why, of course, Parkinson’s visit is not the only significant factor about today’s game.
If Burnley win and Derby County, their nearest challengers, don’t then automatic promotion will be achieved for Sean Dyche’s side.
And what would make the occasion even more poignant is that Parkinson earned promotion for the Clarets with the winning goal in the play-off final against Stockport County almost 20 years ago to the day. Former team-mate and friend David Eyres, who will accompany him and his family today, scored the other.
And Parkinson rates that day as one of the best in his career.
“The play-offs are one of the greatest ways to win promotion but it can also be one of the worst days if things don't go your way,” he said.
“Thankfully it did go our way 20 years ago at Wembley and it is certainly a day I will never forget.
“I'm sure Sean and his team will be focused on gaining the automatic spots, and I fancy them to do that.
“With Middlesbrough being my home town club and one that has supported me greatly along with Burnley throughout my illness, I would prefer a draw this afternoon. But it would be nice to be back at Turf Moor to see the Clarets back in the Premier League exactly 20 years after our trip to Wembley in 1994.
“It’s perhaps fate that myself and David Eyres, the two goal scorers from that win at Wembley, will watch the game today.”
Parkinson will watch the game from one of the hospitality boxes in the James Hargeaves Stand at Turf Moor as a special guest of the Burnley Former Players Association. He will be presented to supporters of both clubs on the pitch at half-time, under the big screen, alongside his wife Deborah and children Luke, Chloe and Sophie.
“Coming back to football grounds and being in front of crowds, however big or small, is always very nerve wracking for me as I am never sure as to how people are going to react to me being in a wheelchair,” he explained.
“This afternoon will be exactly the same but my family have told me that Turf Moor has always given them a warm and welcoming reception whenever they have been back on my behalf.
“I look forward to feeling that for myself this afternoon and these kind of trips, like the one to the Riverside, always give me great motivation to continue fighting and realise that there is still a quality of life for me in the future.
“I would like to thank all of the Burnley fans and the club as well for being a great support to my family in the early days of my illness, it has been a real help.
“But I must particularly thank Veronica Simpson who runs the former players association at Burnley and has helped to organise my visit to the game this afternoon. Veronica has helped to organise events raising funds for the Gary Parkinson Trust and also chairs the Trust for us, and she has become a great family friend.”
Of today’s Championship contest, Parkinson added: “I would like to wish both sides the best of luck for the rest of the season and best wishes for whatever next season will bring them.
“Thank you as always for your continued support, it really does mean a lot to myself and my family.
“I look forward to being with you all again this afternoon.”