Raymond "Ray" Parlour (born 7 March 1973 in Romford, London), is a retired English footballer. He spent his career playing for Arsenal, Middlesbrough and Hull City. During his Arsenal career he was nicknamed "The Romford Pelé"; although the nickname was given with an ironic sense of humour, on account of his solid performance but unglamorous image. Nonetheless he has been described as an "unsung hero" and praised as a "fans' favourite" for his high-energy performances. He is now a pundit on television, as well as on radio stations BBC Radio 5 Live and Talksport.
Parlour is most famous for his time at Arsenal, where he played for 14 years. He joined Arsenal as a trainee in 1989, and made his debut for the Gunners against Liverpool on January 29, 1992, where he conceded a penalty in a 2-0 defeat. Parlour continued to be a bit-part player for the next few years, and was more noted for several disciplinary problems (such as a run-in with a Hong Kong taxi driver while on tour). He did however make 12 appearances for the England U21 team during this time.
He properly broke through in 1994–95, and played in Arsenal's European Cup Winners' Cup final loss to Real Zaragoza that season (having been an unused sub in the Gunners' 1–0 triumph over Parma the previous season). However, Parlour only fully developed as a player after the arrival of Arsène Wenger as manager in 1996; he became a regular fixture playing on the right wing or in central midfield for Arsenal; in 1997–98 Arsenal won the Double and Parlour proved instrumental. He was man-of-the-match in the Gunners' FA Cup Final win over Newcastle United that season; he set up Nicolas Anelka for Arsenal's second goal in a 2–0 win. However, he missed out on the 1998 World Cup that summer (England coach Glenn Hoddle preferring Spurs' Darren Anderton instead).
Parlour finally made his England debut as a substitute in a Euro 2000 qualifier against Poland on March 27, 1999. He won ten caps for his country but did not score any goals; the closest he came was in a 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Finland on October 11, 2000. Parlour 'scored' with a 30-yard strike which hit the crossbar and was incorrectly designated by the linesman not to have gone over the goal-line; the match finished 0-0. Parlour did not feature in any tournament finals; a knee injury forced him to withdraw from England's squad for Euro 2000. His final cap came in a friendly against Italy on November 15, 2000; Parlour was called up into the squad several times by new coach Sven-Göran Eriksson, but he never made it onto the pitch under the Swede.
Parlour continued to enjoy success with Arsenal for another four years (winning another Double in 2002), but generally received little acclaim in the media compared with many of his more illustrious Arsenal team-mates, especially as he was almost constantly living in the shadow of Patrick Vieira for much of his time at the club. He finally claimed his place in the spotlight with a 30-yard strike to open the scoring in the 2002 FA Cup Final against Chelsea, which was famously pre-empted by Soccer AM's Tim Lovejoy with "Don't worry, it's only Ray Parlour"; Arsenal won 2-0, with the second goal from Fredrik Ljungberg. In total, with Arsenal, Parlour won three FA Premier League titles, four FA Cups, one League Cup and one European Cup Winners' Cup having played 464 games and scoring 32 goals in all competitions.
In March 2000, he hit a hattrick in a 4–2 away win at Werder Bremen in a UEFA Cup quarter final tie. Arsenal went on to reach the final of the competition that year. Parlour was the only Arsenal player successful from the spot in their shootout defeat to Galatasaray. Seven months later, he followed it up with another hattrick in a 5–0 demolition of Newcastle United at Highbury. In April 2001, he struck a spectacular 30-yard winner as Arsenal beat Valencia 2–1 in the UEFA Champions' League Quarter Final 1st leg tie at Highbury. Another one of Parlour's finest moments in Arsenal colours came in November 2003, when as stand-in captain, he led Arsenal to a famous 5–1 win against Internazionale at San Siro. Finally, one of the crowning moments of Parlour's career was his goal from 30 yards in the 2002 FA Cup Final against Chelsea. These performances over the years have led many Arsenal fans to believe that he is one of the most underrated players of his generation.
He moved to Middlesbrough in mid-2004, although he still remains a fans' favourite at Arsenal. He was recently named the 19th greatest player in the club's history. He played 60 games for Boro in two and a half years, and was an unused substitute in Middlesbrough's appearance in the 2006 UEFA Cup Final against Sevilla, which they lost 4-0. Parlour was released from his contract on 25 January 2007 and for a brief period trained with old club Arsenal in order to regain fitness with a view to finding a new club.
On February 9, 2007 he signed for Hull City until the end of the 2006-07 season. After helping City avoid relegation, it was confirmed on 1 June that Ray Parlour was not offered a new contract and this meant he was released.
Parlour has emerged as one of the most influential players for The England Legends, a 16-man squad of former internationals who have played Italy, Germany, Scotland, Ireland and The Rest of The World.
Ray is now an extremely popular figure on the "after dinner circuit" and is one not to be missed.
After Dinner Speaker, TV & Radio Pundit