This week, Donald Park won a lifetime achievement award for coaching, and because Open Goal was dubbed “Best Looking Host” in Vogue last summer, it’s the most deserving award.
When I saw an image of him accepting his plaque, I had a grin bigger than Slaney’s. After all of these years, not just about being remembered, but also about always getting the balls to wear that sassy mustache.
He was the one in charge of the best group of players that Hibs made. Scott Brown, Gary O’Connor, Kevin Thomson, Derek Riordan, Kenny Miller, Steven Whittaker, Stephen Dobbie, Ian Murray and Steven Fletcher. He helped to get Tam McManus through, too, but he couldn’t do anything right.
I first met him on a youth trip to Scotland, where I thought at first glance that he was the guy who pulled the trash cans out of his back. He came over to us immediately and told each of us about the games we had played and what we had done well and where we were able to develop. I recall thinking that he worked for the CID and followed Snoddy from the Gallowgate, since he seemed to have seen every game in which we played without any of us ever noticing him.
He had a wonderful way of talking about soccer and life to young people and could sit and chat for hours, but when the conversation turned to hair products, he still went silent. As a coach, we thought we had the nicest guy in the world till we got on the training ground. He was a psychopath and, from the first minute to the last, you could hear his laugh.
Given how much nonsense I’m talking about, I know it’s hard to believe, but I have never heard a little guy make so much noise. He was demanding and got to the point right. When each exercise was seen as a World Cup final, you couldn’t help but hang on his every word, and there were a few times when I thought he was going to end up as bald as the trophy when his rollover threatened to burst when showing a jump header.
He was really worried about doing well with the fundamentals. He gave you some suggestions, but he said it was just a reference, and if you’re seeing it differently on the field, play what you’re seeing. He trusted that you, as the country’s best players, would be able to make good choices on the field. Since he gave you the confidence that you were better than the best players you were going up against, we consistently beat bigger countries.
With the community he put through at Hibs, you could see that. With a deep conviction that they were stronger than the guys they were up against, they came to Celtic and Rangers. All of them knew their positions and what was expected of them, but they were free to do what each of them was good at.
Thomson will fire the ball to the forwards from the midfield or try to build opportunities with a pass from the middle of the field. With the ball, Brown will drive with violence. Both of them were trying to injure you when they had a ball, right? But even though you’ve had it! When they slammed into tackles like a pair of junior center forwards, they made the game awful for the opposition. They did the fundamentals and the dirty side of the game well, even though their play on the ball wasn’t the best.
The first thought Riordan had was to strike. He decided to play his full-back and either cross the ball into the top corner or shoot it. When was the last time in Scotland that we saw a young winger with that mentality? They were allowed to express themselves, but also understood that they would find out quickly if the fundamentals weren’t done well.
They were not coached out of their talent and raw ability. Parky constantly reminded them of what they were good at and gave them the faith and independence to demonstrate it. It was not just the Hibs who at this time were creating players for the first team. Celtic had Maloney, Kennedy, McGeady, McManus, Marshall, Wallace and Beattie. Rangers had Ferguson, Mcgregor, Hutton, Adam, Burke and Ross. These were all names who went on to play at the highest level. Why aren’t we producing so many kids now? Especially when the level of the first teams is not as good as when these guys had their breakthrough.
I wonder if coaches today are more interested in systems, formations and philosophies than they are in training individuals and the fundamentals of the game. If they’d rather see what it looks like than the naked hard action