THE national broadcaster who questioned the city’s right to have a Football League club will make a return to his Cestrian roots on Saturday with a rallying call to Blues fans.
Mike Parry is bringing his talkSPORT team to the Deva Stadium to cover Chester City’s Coca-Cola League Two swansong against Darlington.
The 53-year-old has enjoyed a hugely successful journalism career – and was the man who broke the news of the tragic death of Princess Diana to a stunned British public.
But it was when he used the weekday show he presents with ex-Chelsea, Aston Villa and Ireland midfielder Andy Townsend to question whether the city of Chester deserved a Football League club that he hit the headlines himself, incurring the wrath of the Blues’ loyal following.
The one-time Chester Chronicle reporter soon regretted his comments, promised he would be back for what he hoped would be a final-day doe-or-die relegation decider and, as a way of an apology, is offering the supporters he offended a chance to get involved in talkSPORT’s coverage of City’s final game in the Football League.
“We’ve got a coach coming to the Dene Hotel about 11.30am and the first 46 supporters who come in will get a drink from me and then a lift on the coach to the game,” said Parry, who was brought up just around the corner from the Dene Hotel in Hoole. “I’m bringing a producer with me and we’ll have a satellite link so we can do pieces live into talkSPORT from the Dene Hotel.
“I was always going to come to this game, no matter what happened before it. This is not a wake. This isn’t a doom and gloom mission because Chester are going down. The club fought against almost insurmountable odds and nearly succeeded in saving themselves.
“So Saturday is the day when the battle begins to regain our League status.”
Parry is aware he might be in for a rough ride from the fans he meets given he is a self-confessed Evertonian, like his Wirral-born father before him.
“I’m not trying to make out I am Chester City’s biggest fan, but they are the second result I look for,” said Parry, who now lives in Epsom in Surrey and whose neighbour is fellow Cestrian, Fulham’s former England midfielder Danny Murphy.
“I do care about Chester City and the last thing I want is for them to go out of the Football League. It has got a rich history and I can remember my dad taking me to their old Sealand Road ground seeing players like John Molyneux and Gary Talbot.”
Parry’s favourite modern-day player is Wayne Rooney, the Manchester United star who hit the international headlines with England at Euro 2004 when he was still a precocious teenager with Everton. And Parry’s life and career took a dramatic turn in a bizarre scenario which saw Rooney indirectly saving his life.
Parry was covering Rooney’s exploits for talkSPORT and so enraptured was he by the then 18-year-old he ignored warning signs of a deterioration in his own health to stay on in Portugal. As fate would have it, Rooney famously broke his metatarsal in the quarter-final tie with the hosts and with that went England’s hopes of glory.
But the country’s misfortune proved to be Parry’s salvation.
“Rooney was a phenomenon and I felt it was destiny to see an England team win something that was being led by this young kid from Everton,” said the former King’s School student.
“But at the same time I’d got very ill. I thought it was the heat and too much to drink, but in fact I was suffering from acute heart failure. I could barely walk and I was becoming increasingly weak.
“The office in London were pleading with me to come home, but there was no way I was going to do that – then Rooney broke his metatarsal. I went home the next day. I had to be carried off the plane and I went straight to hospital, where I was told I wouldn’t have lasted another 36 hours because my heart was completely done.”
Parry was put on a cocktail of drugs and was told his only chance of long-term survival was a heart transplant. Yet he became frustrated at waiting for a suitable organ to become available.
“I was in hospital for about five months, but one morning I decided I did not want to be there anymore, so they let me home,” said Parry. “I couldn’t move out of my house but, taking about 26 tablets a day, I gradually got stronger. I started by doing 10-yard walks and then 20 and so on. I eventually came off the transplant list and to this day, my consultant has no idea how I recovered.”
Parry, having shed five stone and having started to eat healthier and drink less, walked the Great North Run in 2007 in aid of Harefield Hospital, the hospital where he was treated.
Parry is now back working full-time at talkSPORT, the station he arrived at after he called time on a newspaper career that started at The Chester Chronicle and took in stints at the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, the Birmingham Evening Mail, the Daily Express and the Sun.
But the story of his life came when he was executive editor of the Press Association.
“I’ll never forget the night,” said Parry, who has also worked for the FA. “I was at home and the credits for Match of the Day were rolling. I got a phone call from the night editor saying Diana had been in a car crash and that she had serious injuries and Dodi Fayed was dead.
“I shot into the office in London and called a guy I had in Manila called Charlie Miller. He was the PA’s defence correspondent and he was with Robin Cook, the foreign secretary. I managed to get hold of Charlie and said, ‘if this is true, then Robin Cook’s people will know’. Not long after, he came back to me and said, ‘Mike, she’s dead’.
“I typed out, ‘Diana, Princess of Wales, has died in a car crash in Paris this morning according to British government sources, the Press Association has learned’. I had it on the screen for about three minutes and I realised I could completely destroy the lives of millions of people if it wasn’t true and end my own career. But Charlie is one of the best journalists I’ve ever worked with and I knew he wouldn’t have told me if he wasn’t convinced himself.
“So I pressed send and off it went and there was an immediate reaction on Sky News, which was on in the office. It was a very nervous 17 minutes until the French foreign minister announced that Diana had died.”