Craig Salmon talks to Tarleton Corinthians stalwarts John and Betty Parkinson, who have served the club for a combined total of 100 years
“How’s it looking Macca?” Tarleton Corinthians stalwart John Parkinson, with pitchfork in hand, enquired.
“That bottom goalmouth is pretty wet through and there’s a few other parts,” replied Paul McMinn – a former Corinthian and now helper with one of the club’s junior teams.
“Argh,” Parkinson added with a slight grimace and a fleeting roll of the eyes as he turned towards his wife of 55 years Betty.
“That is what’s calling the games off every week. Three-fifths of the pitch are in good nick.
“What can you do? It all comes down to the weather.”
Heading down to Corinthians’ home ground in Carr Lane to inspect the pitches has been a regular, if not daily, ritual for the Parkinsons, who have dedicated a vast part of their lives to serving their local village football club.
This year sees the couple celebrate 100 years of combined service.
A player, manager, coach, treasurer – and now groundsman – John is celebrating 60 years of association.
Meanwhile, Betty – mum to the couple’s two sons Andrew and Brian – has served 40 years on the club’s backroom staff after initially playing hockey until her early 30s for Longton Ladies.
Currently the chairwoman, Betty has undertaken a wide variety of roles in the background from tea lady, kit washer, stand-in physio and even acted as her husband’s unofficial assistant manager.
The pair’s long service has both been recognised by the Lancashire Football Association in the past.
And their devotion has certainly not gone unnoticed by the local community.
Indeed one local resident Trevor Ryding – who just so happened to be walking his dog on the surrounding field as I interviewed the couple – couldn’t help but interject.
“What these two do is unbelievable,” he told me.
“My grandson Travis plays for one of the juniors teams at Corinthians, but without the work that people like John and Betty do, he wouldn’t be able to play.
“You have all these players turning up for a game of football on a Saturday or Sunday, they probably don’t realise what goes on to make it happen.”
Corinthians now boast 18 teams , including a Saturday and Sunday team, two Under-18s sides and a veterans’ XI.
There is also a thriving junior set-up, which means barely a daylight hour passes during the weekend when a match does not go ahead at Carr Lane – that is as long as the pitches are fit.
The club’s base also benefits from a superb changing facility, a project driven by John and Betty along with fellow committee member Ian Tomlinson.
The present-day set-up is all a far cry from the days when John first pulled on a pair of boots for the club as a teenager in the 1950s.
“The club was originally at Nook Field, which is where Tarleton Bowling Club is now.” John said.
“I used to live in Black Gate Lane in the village.
“Myself and all my friends, we used ride our bikes and play football behind the goals.
“It got to the stage that when the club was short of players, they would shout over to us, ‘Is one of you getting your boots on?’
“I remember my first game, I got stood out on the left wing.
“I’d only have been 13, but if anybody tried to intimidate you, there would be eruptions . But that’s what you did when you were a kid. You would always have your boots on.
“Down on Black Gate Lane, there were two brothers called David and Peter Sandwell.
“Their dad had an old Austin 7 with cabbage rails which he used to put a sheet over and we all used to pile in the back of that and go playing around Southport.
“We formed a team and basically became the Corinthians second team.”
“We wore blue shirts, the first team wore red.”
John admits his footballing skills were modest and he spent the vast majority of his playing career as the left-back in the second team, going on to skipper the side.
“Probably the highlight of my career was winning the Reserve Team Cup,” John said.
“We beat Southport Amateurs at Banks, but to be honest, during the game we were hammered, but Bob Ball scored two goals from breakaways
“I’ll always remember I did a deliberate handball on the line. It was a brilliant diving save – I turned the ball around the post.
“It was a damned good save, if I do say so myself.
“Obviously it was a penalty but unlike nowadays, you didn’t get sent off then.
“Fortunately for us our goalkeeper John Tyrer saved the penalty and we went on to win 2-0.”
As he began to wind down in terms of playing, John moved into management and went on to coach the first team as well as some of the club’s junior sides.
Officially he hung up his boots in his late 30s, but his final game came at the age of 57 when he turned out for Corinthians against Preston Grammar School Old Boys at London Road.
One of his happiest times in management came when coached Tarleton Under-18s, with wife Betty alongside him as his right-hand woman.
“I used to be there every Sunday morning helping John run the team,” Betty said. “I would collect the money, collect the fines – there were a few of them because a lot of them were Skem lads, so they were a bit feisty.
“I wouldn’t say I got involved in the tactics or picking the team, but I would tell them whether I thought they had played well or not after the final whistle.”
John – who worked as a lorry driver for the family business Lund and Parkinson, added: “There were two great years,” said John.
“We won the Youth Cup in the Preston and District League.
“We got to the final of the LFA Youth Cup – some of the lads even went on to scholarships in the United States.”
Over the last 20 years or so, the couple have become figureheads within the club, helping to move it into the modern age.
Boasting the Charter Standard mark, the club took the decision to set up its junior section in 1999 and it continues to go from strength to strength.
Now aged 76, the pair could be forgiven for slowing down a little, although they have no imminent plans to do so.
“There are days when you could stop in bed,”Betty said.
“Especially when it’s cold and raining, but we enjoy it. We have had some good times and there’s been some funny stories.
“I always remember going to away game and getting stuck at the traffic lights because one of the lads had run out of petrol.
“There were times when I had to go around to some of the lads’ houses and wake them up with a wet sponge.”
John added: “One of the funniest stories I have is we were short of a player going to an away game. I saw this lad jogging down the street and thought, ‘He looks a fit lad, I wonder if he fancies a game’.
“I pulled up alongside him, wound the window down, lo and behold it was Trevor Steven, who obviously played for Everton and England. Unfortunately, he couldn’t play for us.”