Sam Parkin’s time with Ipswich Town was ruined by a broken ankle
Sam Parkin’s time with Ipswich Town is a story of two big breaks.
The first came in the summer of 2005, when the then 24-year-old Swindon striker chose the Blues over a host of Championship rivals, including Norwich City, to make a much anticipated jump into the second tier on the back of 73 goals in three seasons with the Robins.
The second came just four months into his time at Portman Road, when a badly fractured ankle in a 3-0 loss to Reading ultimately cost him his big chance in Suffolk, cutting him down in the prime of his career.
He admits he was never the same again.
In total Joe Royle’s £450,000 signing made just 22 appearances for the Blues and scored five goals, without finding the net at Portman Road, before being sold to Luton by Jim Magilton the following summer.
It always looked to be an uphill struggle for Parkin at Ipswich, and indeed for strike partner Nicky Forster, as they were brought in to replace the 56 goals of the by-now departed Darren Bent, Shefki Kuqi and Tommy Miller the previous season. Both strikers arrived at a club which had made the play-offs in the previous two seasons and still harboured hopes of getting back to the Premier League, but it was 10 years before they made the post season again.
Good performances in pre-season, but no goals, did little to help Parkin’s confidence as he looked to take the step up he had known he was capable of for a couple of years, neither did his failure to score in front of his home crowd as his best displays came away from Portman Road.
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But the day he signed for the Blues still remains one of the proudest days of his life, even if what followed sticks as one of the biggest disappointments.
“I’d done well with Swindon so there was a bit of interest, but it seemed cut and dried that I would go to QPR,” he said.
“Then suddenly Watford seemed the front-runners, so Ipswich’s interest came pretty late. It coincided with a call from Norwich too, which was interesting, so I had the choice.
“I met Watford and Aidy Boothroyd, I was very impressed with him, then the following day I was planning to meet Joe Royle and then head up to Norwich to meet Nigel Worthington.
“I spent the day with Joe and looked around Ipswich and then didn’t even make it to Norwich. I thought Ipswich had the better chance to get promoted and the moment I walked in and saw the history at Ipswich my mind was made up.
“Sadly we know what happens next but the day I signed remains one of the most proud days of my life. All those years watching football and here I was signing for a massive club like Ipswich, it was always what I hoped would happen.
“I think I did well to start with and gained the respect of the squad both as a lad and as a player. That’s important.
“Maybe some of the supporters expected me to come in and immediately be a copy of Shefki Kuqi and for Nicky (Forster) to be a copy of Darren Bent. I felt that hindered me at times and maybe it was a problem for all the new players, because the team had been so successful previously.
“Shefki was probably a better header of the ball than me and was quicker than me, but did I have more natural ability than him? Every day of the week I think.
“I wouldn’t say I felt insulted by it, but it was a barrier I had to get past. I felt fed up of hearing their names because you always want to hit the ground running. I’m sure the strikers who came after me at Swindon hated hearing my name too.”
While on the surface, circumstances seemed to conspire against him at Ipswich, Parkin is well aware that he perhaps didn’t help himself either.
A mental block began to form when he crossed the white line at Portman Road as things spiralled out of control, with the Blues’ away support seeing his best displays as he scored the winner at Millwall, both goals in a 2-0 win at Leeds and an equaliser at Brighton.
The goals still weren’t coming on home turf but, despite three tough months, Parkin was still confident of turning things around and making a success of things.
“Not scoring in pre-season hindered how I started and, now I’m older and wiser I don’t think I handled it how I should,” he said.
“I lost a lot of belief and confidence and once that happens you start bad habits. I was having a problem dominating games aerially because I was apprehensive and got up too early because I’d lost belief, which is very hard to get back.
“It all started to snowball for me, the pressure, even though I scored some important goals early in the season. It just didn’t come at Portman Road and the pressure kept building.
“Joe (Royle) and Willie (Donachie, assistant manager) were first class with me but there was a mental block at home. It was all coming together away from home, I was playing well but never seemed to get any praise for that. That was me at my optimum, playing really well as a number nine.
“I had a bee in my bonnet about how things were going but I played really well in a home game against Plymouth, the fans were singing my name and Matt Richards asked me if I wanted to take a penalty late on. I turned it down and that probably shows you where I was at mentally.
“Everyone was behind me though and it felt as though the tide was turning. Joe spoke really well about me in the press conference afterwards and it felt as though it was going to work out.”
Sadly, though, it didn’t, as a harmless-looking incident in a game with Reading effectively ended Parkin’s Ipswich career before it ever hit top gear.
“I’ve gone over it time and time again in my head, we played at Coventry the week before and I came off with a bit of pain in my ankle. I don’t think I mentioned it to anyone because you want to be back on that training ground as soon as possible.
“We played Reading on the Tuesday night so it was a quick turnaround, everything was fine and I was up front on my own.
“When it happened it was so innocuous, I just brushed by (Ibrahima) Sonko the centre-half and it wasn’t even a tackle. Immediately I felt pain, I’d never been properly injured before so though I must have just twisted my ankle.
“I was living on the docks in Ipswich and that night I lay on the sofa after somehow getting my car back. I couldn’t sleep, I watched TV all night and I’ve since been told that’s a real sign that you’ve broken something.
“I couldn’t believe it, it was a severe break in an unusual position and that was the beginning of the end for me at Ipswich.”
“Again I wish I had done things differently because I was so keen to get back, I came back into the reserves and wasn’t ready.
“The physio, Dave Williams, was one of the best people I worked with and was first class. He was great, but something went wrong in terms of my recovery and when I played in the reserves I remember being in tears and back on crutches.”
Parkin did play for Ipswich again, though, as he returned for the final day loss at Plymouth in 2006 before featuring at Wolves and Leicester at the start of the following season under new manager Jim Magilton.
A fresh start at Portman Road filled the young forward with optimism, but the end of his time in Suffolk wasn’t far away.
“I was very rusty under Jim but it looked like I was going to start against Peterborough in the cup but then the offers came in. You realise that your days are numbered when the club accepts offers for you.
“Luton was a decent move, they were in the Championship, but I felt I had unfinished business. It was a shame I didn’t get the chance to play for the club again.
“There was probably a bit of relief at having a fresh start after a tough year. I remember talking to Jim where we said things sometimes don’t work out.
“I loved playing with him, I loved his company, and whenever I’ve seen him since it’s been great.”
From there the striker went on to play for Leyton Orient, Walsall and Exeter in England, as well as St Johnstone, Queen of the South and St Mirren in Scotland, but by his own admission was never the same again.
“I think I lost so much of my prime, my mid-20s, through injury which made it very hard for me to get back,” he said.
“I lost the best part of three years because of it in all and it made it really hard to get back to those levels. I always tried and worked my hardest every day and showed quality at times but it was sporadic.
“I’d have one great game and then be poor and average for another couple, so that is a shame because I’m not naïve enough to ignore the fact my best days were at Swindon.
“But I did manage to win the JPT with Luton and won the Scottish League Cup with St Mirren, so I still had some wonderful times in football. Plenty of players who were a lot better than me don’t get to do things like that.”
So how does Parkin look back at his spell with the Blues?
“My time at Ipswich is all about what might have been and now, as a more experienced guy, I think I would have done things differently,” he said.
“I’d try not to let the outside influences effect me, but then that’s hard to do.
“The experience of going and signing for Joe, playing for a huge club and playing with people like Jim and Kev (Horlock) was amazing. It was a special move and still I time I cherish.”
Sam now finds himself behind the mircrophone
Sam Parkin retired from football in 2014, following a spell with Exeter City, and is now in the early stages of a new career in the media.
But unlike many ex-professionals, the former Swindon and Ipswich striker knows he can’t simply trade off his name or footballing exploits in order to build his working life after the game.
He’s not content simply to be paid to have an opinion on the game, either, and has kicked off his media career by learning the ropes at BBC Wiltshire, where he has covered Swindon Town as well as non-league football. He’s even began learning how to edit his own work and to use the station’s mixing desk.
“Towards the end I think I maybe held on in football a little too long, hoping to get back to my old levels, but I knew it was time to move on to something new,” he said.
“I always enjoyed doing the media, I’m a bit of a big head, enjoyed the sound of my own voice and am a confident lad, so I think the skills I have are suited to maybe working in the media.
“I’m hopeful there might be a future for me in the media but I’m not counting my chickens as I know it’s a very competitive world out there.
“BBC Wiltshire in Swindon have been great with me since I retired and I’ve done some work with Chelsea TV too which has been great.
“It’s nice to be involved in sport still but I’m ambitious. I’d like to be a broadcaster, not just a pundit, I’d like to go into that full-time eventually and not just be focussed on talking about football.
“That might be a bit of a slow burner, it might take a few years, but you’re still a young man when you leave football.”
“It’s just happened and the more experience I build up the more I feel this is the right way. I’m not going to get work on the back of my name so I have to work for it, just like people who go to university do.
“I’ve done non-league games and have been taught how to edit my own stuff as well as production, which has all helped me.
“I would love to be on Sky or BT or doing something like, but not as a pundit. I’d love to be a presenter or something like that one day.”