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In Review: Whatever Happened To Billy Parks?

Filed: Wednesday, 19th March 2014
By: Staff Writer

Gareth R Roberts
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"I lapped it up. I stayed out later. I chased girls wherever I went - lovely young, forgettable girls. Oh how I wish I could remember them now. Christ, I can't even remember half of their names..."

Billy Parks is a simple man who just wants to love and be loved. He also happens to be a hugely-talented footballer who happens to play for West Ham United and England in this fictional tale of a typical old-school football icon/rogue.

Whatever Happened To Billy Parks? - the second offering from author Gareth Roberts, a Welsh-based Liverpool fan who previously spent a decade or so in the East End where he developed a genuine affection for the Hammers - centres around England's (very real) crunch 1973 World Cup qualifier against Poland that Sir Alf Ramsey's side simply needed to win in order to qualify for the 1974 Finals in Germany.

That they failed to do so, and that England spent the next decade in the international wilderness is neither here nor there, but for the purpose of WHTBP? Parks is an unused substitute on that fateful night who, many years later, is offered the opportunity to replace substitute Kevin Hector and put things right.

The chance comes to a dying Parks (though he appears to not know it, or wilfully ignores all the warning signs, at least) via the mysterious Gerry Higgs, a former coach of Billy's whose role brings to mind that of Henry Travers' 'Clarence' from It's A Wonderful Life - albeit a much darker and more sinister version of!

Parks, once one of the most highly-rated youngsters in England is a tragic figure by the time he meets his mysterious former mentor again some 40 years or so later. Pickled by alcohol with a fast-failing liver, the senior Billy is offered "a second chance" by Higgs and the mysterious Council of Football Immortals to repair the wrongs of that fateful night and alter the course of history.

That second chance runs parallel to Parks' dream of renewing his relationship with his daughter and grandson, and the two themes intertwine throughout before leading to a dramatic finale that holds few surprises but still manages to deliver at an emotional level.

Whilst the book follows fairly predictable lines, WHTBP? is a well-written retrospective of the 1960s and '70s with plenty of nostalgia thrown in for good measure. Parks, who initially appears to possess few redeemable qualities is a creature with whom it's difficult not to empathise come the book's climax given his semi-tragic upbringing that leaves him yearning for love for the rest of his life.

Fantasy is interwoven with reality almost seamlessly - Bobby Moore appears in the book just as you'd expect although Billy Bonds, who comes across as brash and outspoken was/is anything but - and I'm sure I won't be the only one trying to work out who Parks replaced in the (mostly accurate) line-ups of the same time which are regularly referred to!

There's also one or two minor factual errors that most West Ham fans will spot a mile off - a reference to 'the Green Street End' of the Boleyn Ground, for example - but they're minor quibbles in what is overall a thoroughly enjoyable story that at 262 pages (in my proof copy, at least) should keep you occupied for 10-15 hours or so.

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