This article first appeared in The Sportsman on 15/12/19
Ray Parr is an Everton icon.
He was there when the Toffees lifted the FA Cup in 1984 and was on the plane home from Rotterdam after they clinched the Cup Winners’ Cup 12 months later. He was even in the dressing room when the First Division title was won.
However, he didn’t score a goal for the club. He didn’t even feature in a game. He was just a top mate to so many of the players and the club’s greatest manager.
Howard Kendall was one of his best friends, Duncan Ferguson a good pal too. Legends Dave Hickson, Brian Labone and Alex Young, they’d all been to Ray Parr’s residence in Walton.
Though he lives in Formby, he owns a house on Goodison Road, and it is here where Ray hosts and entertains Everton royalty on matchday.
As The Sportsman approaches the house for an exclusive look inside, Goodison Park towers over us just metres away.
Ray welcomes us in and we are hit by a treasure trove of Toffees nostalgia. Signed pictures adorn the walls. Programmes are framed, shirts hang proudly. Gary Lineker, Wayne Rooney, there is even a Dixie Dean autograph. It has been dubbed ‘The best executive lounge in the Premier League’.
The Striker’s Suite was Ray’s brainchild when he decided a box at Everton was becoming a little too costly at the end of the 1990s. Rather than forking out for hospitality, he decided to invest £20,000 into a house and renovate it into a plush pad.
Members join and are wined and dined before every home game. A chef works in the kitchen, a waitress is on hand and there is even a man on the door.
“It’s just like a season ticket,” Ray tells us. “The lads come in here and pay for the place upfront all season.
“We brought the 10 members over from the box and it’s expanded; now we have me, my missus and 24 guests. They arrive two hours before the game starts.
“There’s the bar,” he points at a wide array of wines and beers. “It’s all quality stuff, there’s no three for a tenner wines there! It’s all properly chilled, you just help yourself and drink as much as you want.
“Then about an hour and a quarter before the game starts we all sit down and have a nice two-course meal.”
What is special and poignant about this amazing conversion is the love in the room for former Everton manager Howard Kendall, who sadly passed away in 2015. Everyone would gravitate towards him.
In one part of the house is a really lovely tribute, a homage to the Toffees great - pictures of his successes with the club pack the wall. Sitting underneath is a brown leather chair featuring a gold Everton badge.
“That’s the original Everton chairman’s chair taken from when the club was first formed back in 1878. It’s ‘Howard’s Corner’,” Ray looks on, reflecting. “He was our most famous guest who came every single week”.
Dear friends, he would accompany Kendall across Goodison Road on matchday and the duo would go out into the city with their wives every week.
“We’d pick him up from Formby, bring him in, sit him in the chair there.”
We’re here hours before the Premier League match against Norwich. There is a buzz as pre-match chatter fills the air with beer being poured for guests. Then the doorbell rings. In strides Dave Watson, the last captain to lift silverware for Everton.
Ray greets his famous friend as guests continue their conversations. While most fans would be star struck, its a regular occurrence at this household.
The doorbell rings again. John Bailey, considered one of the funniest players in Everton dressing room history is here, a regular every week.
‘Are you going to Waggy’s night next week, Bails?’...’Is the Pope Catholic?’ he jokes. Part of the Everton family, of course he’ll be there.
Ray has a giant TV which covers the bay window where members can watch the lunchtime kick-off. However, sometimes, when a few of the legends of the eighties side are visiting, they will watch old matches back together.
“They put the DVDs on. They’ll stick on probably the one goal Bailey scored!” he jokes.
“Andy Gray will pause it like when he’s in the studio: ‘Look at that for a pass, lads!’
“Those fellas remember every kick of every game. It’s 30 years ago. One game of hundreds they played. The memory is unbelievable.”
Ray was there for the eighties heyday, big mates with the trophy-winning squad.
“In our glory days, I was right in with everybody,” he tells us, matter of fact. “Kendall, Phil Neal and me, our three lads used to play in the same team of a Sunday. I’d known Howard before but we’d go out socially.”
Introduced to Toffees forward Andy Gray by former Everton and Manchester United player John Gidman, the pair became firm friends.
As an avid match-going fan who was in the stands for Everton’s 1966 FA Cup win, soon the team he adored became his gang of pals.
He was the man who arranged everything when the Blues headed down to London to see Peter Reid win the PFA Player of the Year award. Ray also attended the banquet after the ‘84 Cup win.
“I’m sat there and they came in with the cup. The hairs stand up on the back of your neck.”
He even travelled back with the squad after they beat Rapid Vienna 3-1 to lift the Cup Winners’ Cup in ‘85.
“I came back on the plane with the lads and then me, Gray and Graeme Sharp went back to Formby to Andy’s house where we had a few bottles of champagne and watched the game all over again through until eight in the morning. No wonder they were f***ed on Saturday for the Cup final [Everton lost 1-0 to Manchester United in extra-time]. We weren’t p***ed or nothing, but they’d been up for 24 hours!”
Who could blame them?
At times, his son, a mad Evertonian too, would come home to find Lineker, Sharp and Gray at the house.
“All his mates would come round,” Ray laughs.
The regional chairman of the Variety Club of Great Britain charity for 25 years, raising hundreds of thousands of pounds for charity, he has plenty of showbiz contacts and connections.
As part of Ray’s charity role he would travel round with Everton’s three trophies to show local school kids.
Ray is as Everton as they come. He’s played cards with a young Wayne Rooney at Big Dunc’s house alongside the Scot’s snooker star brother-in-law John Parrott. His next-door neighbour is Tony Hibbert. He’s played golf with Alan Stubbs and Leon Osman. He competed against Joe Royle on the football pitch during his school years.
He could fill a library with Everton stories.
Another amazing tale is the time he got stuck inside Goodison Park with the manager and his trusted assistant Colin Harvey, a member of the famous ‘Holy Trinity’.
“It was the 4-4 game against Liverpool in the FA Cup, 1991,” he says. “We were behind but kept equalising. Kenny Dalglish resigned the next day.
“We were down the dressing room after the match, in Howard's little cooey. It was me, Howard, Colin Harvey, Griff [another big Evertonian mate], and Father Brian Crane [the Everton club chaplain].
“The champagne was out and we’re celebrating. Later, Howard’s said: ‘Colin, can you get a cab for Ray and I?’
“He comes back: ‘Gaffer, we’re Iocked in! The shutters are down, the alarms are on, everything, we can’t get out!’”
The manager and club priest are locked inside the stadium after an epic Merseyside Derby. Luckily, they managed to make a call to be rescued.
“We phoned Harry the groundsman. Twenty-five minutes later he comes round, slippers on, no teeth in, effing and blinding.
“Because he only knocked off half of the system, we had to crawl!”
Last weekend, Duncan Ferguson enjoyed a euphoric start to life as Everton caretaker-manager as his team defeated Chelsea 3-1. The celebrations on the touchline made for emotional scenes. He too was extremely close to Kendall.
Since he first arrived in L4, he has been a friend to Ray and attended the 70th birthday party of Ray’s wife Rita with his family recently.
He even slept at Ray’s house on the eve of Everton’s FA Cup semi-final win over Tottenham at Elland Road. Injured, Ray drove him to the ground and can still remember fans bowing down to the car, mobbing it, shouting ‘Duncan’.
Forced out to join Newcastle in 1998 as Everton we’re strapped for cash, it was Ray who travelled to the north-east to hand Duncan his cheque from the club after the deal was completed.
“He was really cut up. There’s no way he wanted to go in a million years,” Ray insists.
“He took a cut to come back. He is a proper Everton fan. He loves the scousers and loves the people. He’s first in at Finch Farm and last out, never see him out of a trackie! His whole life is Everton.”
But there was one time when Ferguson had to play second fiddle to Ray.
“Daniel Amokachi invited everyone to his wedding in Tunisia. It was close season and he was marrying Miss Tunisia,” Ray explains.
While a lot of the players couldn’t make it after Everton’s FA Cup triumph of 1995, Ray and Big Dunc, out for a meal one night, decided they would make the trip and surprise ‘Amo’.
“So me and Duncan went to Gammarth. We’re sat around the swimming pool; I’ve got a Bacardi, Duncan’s got a scotch, we were having a really good time.
“The following day we go to Amo’s wedding. They come in on two thrones and the guests are presented to him,” he explains, reminding us they are the only two friends from Everton who were able to attend.
Suddenly, Amokachi spots them: ‘Duncan! Ray! What are you doing here?!’
“The next day he took us to a disco in the desert somewhere. He picked us up and we were travelling for about an hour-and-a-half through the desert. We only wanted a drink!
“We arrive and go into this massive, big disco. So the music’s playing away and then a voice booms: ‘Ray Parr?! What are you doing here?!’
All the way out in the African desert with Everton’s strikeforce, miles from home, and iconic Liverpool DJ Pete Price was in the same club. It was Ray he had recognised rather than the more celebrated Ferguson.
Duncan laughed: ‘F****** hell, Ray, I’m supposed to be famous, not you!”
After his heroics for Everton, every fan would want to go out with Big Dunc.
Ray has lived that dream and more.