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Parsons, Eric (1950-1956)


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Eric 'Rabbit' Parsons (1950-1956)

Written by bar24rat in September 2008

parsons1.jpg Eric “Rabbit” Parsons was one of those early blues legends who was able to turn the crowd’s moans and sometimes even periods of temporary silence into a vivacious roar. The crowd, often well over 50,000, would thrive on moments as ‘Rabbit’ flew past defenders with his head-down dashes and crosses setting up numerous chances to win games comfortably by tempting a lucky centre forward – Roy Bentley. Bentley was the supporters’ hero, but Parsons, both on and off the pitch, was the supporters’ man. His name was always upheld in the post match chat over a pint or two in the Walham Green (now Fulham Broadway) and Kings Road pubs. Supporters, impressed by raw effort and Parson’s undying will to win, made him a firm favourite.

Where did it all start?

Parsons was a gifted athlete, he loved running but always wanted to play football. He moved from Worthing schoolboys to West Ham as a 15 year old in 1937, Parsons and developed into an attacking winger making his full debut in 1943 when his bursts of speed delighted the hardened London Dockers. It was here that he gained the nickname that remained with him throughout his career.

By the time he was 26 (1948/49 season) clubs in loftier positions than West Ham (then a second division side) were interested in this ‘raw talent’. Parsons had been selected in the England squad but never gained a full cap. This was the era of Matthews, Finney and Mullen and this competition for places was a little strong for Parsons.

On top of that he supposedly had ‘dodgy knees’! However this didn’t put off the Chelsea management and in November 1950 we forked out £20,000 (note some sources have this as £23,000) enabling Parsons to take the George Hilsdon route across London, the same route taken by Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Glen Johnson in more recent years (also note that JT is a Dagenham boy).

However Eric’s early period at Chelsea was not a success. 1950 was another winter of discontent at the Bridge. Relegation was narrowly avoided in 1950/51 and Parsons spent months in the reserves. The toxic fumes in the West London smog was so bad that Rabbit used to wear a bandanna over his face to protest his lungs when running through the streets. Was Parsons destined to be another in a long line of anonymous and expensive flops?

ted-drake.jpg It would take the arrival of Ted Drake as manager in 1952 to transform Rabbit into the exciting winger the crowd loved. Drake laid out exactly how he wanted Parsons to play – as a winger! “Get down that wing – if you don’t I’ll get someone that will.” All ambiguity had gone, Parsons knew what was expected of him and the fans could at last delight in his skills. The new, much improved, Parsons became a deadly winger and the fair minded Chelsea fans, used to appreciating Matthews, Finney and Liddell (the Liverpool Scot) now had their own star.

Managed by the patriarchal, foul-tempered Stan Cullis on military lines, Wolves were the team of the ‘50s. Everybody was wary of Cullis and he hated Chelsea (a modern day version was Brian Clough who had similar feelings toward West London). Early in the 1953/54 season Chelsea were thrashed 8-1 by Wolves – our heaviest ever defeat. Hardly the sort of form that Drake envisaged for his ‘new Chelsea’. However by October 1953 things were looking up; 13 victories in the second half of the season meant we finished in 8th position, our highest position since 1920.

bentley4.jpg Parsons was desperate to repay the faith Drake had shown in him. The 1954/55 season was in the middle of the golden era of the ‘true winger’; Matthews to Mortensen at Blackpool, Robledo to Milburn at Newcastle, Finney to Wayman at Preston, Hancock, Mullen to Swinbourne at Wolves and, at Chelsea, we had Parsons to Bentley. Parsons was slightly different in that having ‘cruised’ past his man he would deliver low drives into the box. The fans loved him and Parsons, in turn, loved their support and the atmosphere they created.

He is quoted as saying ‘There were so many people inside Stamford Bridge every match that they had to lock people out frequently. To play in front of 70,000 fans became almost normal.’

He played in all 42 games in the championship winning season (as did Ken Armstrong) with the highlight coming against Wolves (over whom we did the double) at Molineux on December 4th, 1954. Chelsea were trailing 3-2 to a very dubious late penalty decision (the referee was a certain J.W. Malcolm who also disallowed three Chelsea goals) when Parsons picked up the ball in his own half, forged through the Molineux mud, past various challenges, and crossed perfectly for Les Stubbs to equalise. Magical wing play by Parsons was made even sweeter by Bentley scoring a last minute winner. It ended 4-3 to the good guys! Wolves were stunned, Cullis was apoplectic, and an embryonic dream was taking further shape.

1954%2055%20team.gif Parsons scored 11 vital goals in the Championship season and many of these were the opening goals in games thus breaking the deadlock. However the loudest cheers and screams came in the final home game of the season. On April 23rd, 1955 Sheffield Wednesday, already relegated, visited the Bridge with 51,421 fans turning out. That day they witnessed something of a rarity, not that Parsons opened the scoring but more that he did so with a flying header! Sillett scored our second from the spot with Parsons finishing off the scoring with a late third. That day, more than any, sealed Parsons’ name in the hearts of Chelsea fans everywhere. The team that memorable day was:

.......................................................1. Charlie Thomson.......................................................

.........2. Peter Sillett (1 pen)......................................................................3. Stan Willemse

4. Ken Armstrong...............................5. Stan Wicks.................................6. Derek Saunders

7. Eric Parsons...8. Johnny McNichol...9 Roy Bentley©...10 Seamus O’Connell (am)...11 Frank Blunstone


The crowd assembled on the pitch, Drake and the players came to the directors box and the crowd chanted for the Rabbit as he epitomised the progression from nearly men to champions. He waved to the crowd but made no speech. Not a man of many words was Eric! I remember it as yesterday – I was there!!

What happened next?

Like his beloved Chelsea, this was as good as it got for 50 years. In 1956 Parsons was sold to Brentford and he retired in 1960 having played nearly 500 senior games. In later years Charlie Cooke, Pat Nevin, then Arjen Robben would excite and please in similar ways. Something was always about to happen and the fans were expectant.

Rabbit will be rightfully remembered for his role in the Chelsea team that won the club its first piece of major silverware. Powerful dribbles, inviting crosses, and scorching shots had the crowd in raptures wanting more – the fans wanted “Rabbit!”

He returned in 2005 to the Bridge on Premiership winning day alongside other surviving members of the team of ’55, Many of us remember Bentley, Rabbit was up there with him! In total he played 177 games for Chelsea and scored 44 goals. He never won a full cap for England, his international career limited to two 'B' caps (and one goal) versus Holland and Finland

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