Born in Woolston, Southampton, right back Tom Parker began playing prior to the First World War with local sides Sholing Rangers and Sholing Athletic, and Woolston St Mark’s, before joining Southern League Southampton as an amateur in 1918, just before the end of the War. In his first season for The Saints, he was playing in the War League and in friendlies, and made a total of 39 appearances, scoring 12 goals, of which 10 were penalties, thus making him the club’s second highest scorer behind Bill Rawlings. In 1919, after the end of hostilities, professional football restarted and for the next seven seasons he was a virtual ever present at right back, forming a successful full back partnership with Fred Titmuss, his Southern League debut coming against Exeter City in August 1919.
When Southampton graduated to The Football League Parker played in their inaugural Football League fixture at Gillingham in August 1920. Southampton were promoted as Champions of the Third Division (South) to the Second Division in 1922 and reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup in 1925 but in the match at Stamford Bridge on 28th March they were knocked out by eventual winners Sheffield United with Parker having a dreadful afternoon, first scoring an own goal, then suffering a rare miss from the penalty spot (shooting straight at the ‘keeper) before a mix-up between him and goalkeeper Tommy Allen gave Sheffield their second goal. During his time at Southampton, Parker also won a solitary cap for England, in a 3-2 victory against France in Paris on 21st May 1925. Parker was described in Holley & Chalk’s The Alphabet of The Saints as “never the fastest of players, he had wonderful positional sense and his tackling was always well-timed”.
Tom Parker was one of the first significant signings made by Herbert Chapman when he joined Arsenal in March 1926 for £3,250 after 12 goals in 275 Saints appearances. Parker made his Arsenal debut against Blackburn Rovers on 3rd April 1926. This was the first match of 172 consecutive first team matches for Arsenal, a club record that still stands today. Reliable and assured at the back, Parker soon became Arsenal captain, and skippered the club to their first FA Cup Final which they lost 1-0 to Cardiff City in 1927. Parker’s luck was better with his next trip to Wembley in 1930 as Arsenal beat Huddersfield Town 2-0 and Parker became the first Arsenal captain to lift the FA Cup. He also played in Arsenal’s 2-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Charity Shield at Stamford Bridge in October 1930.
Parker went on to captain Arsenal to their 1930-31 League Championship triumph, and the 1932 FA Cup Final which they lost 2-1, controversially, to Newcastle United. Throughout all this time Parker was a near ever-present in the side, missing just six league games in seven seasons with the club. However, by 1932 Parker was nearly 35, and at the start of the 1932-33 season he was replaced at right back by George Male. He made his last appearance in an Arsenal shirt on 8th October 1932 against Derby County, and left the club in 1933 to become manager of Norwich City. In total, he played 295 matches for Arsenal, scoring 17 goals (a dozen of them being penalties, as he was the club’s first-choice taker for much of his career). Despite being an FA Cup and League-winning captain, he never won any further England caps to add to the one he picked up at Southampton, with Roy Goodall and Tom Cooper keeping him out of the national side.
He was appointed manager at Norwich City on 8th March 1933, with immediate success as Norwich won the Third Division (South) Championship in 1933-34. He left Carrow Road to return to Southampton as their secretary-manager on 17th February 1937, effective from 5th March, and remained their until 3rd June 1943, when he severed his connection with the club, initially for the remainder of the War. He was re-appointed as Norwich City’s manager on 22nd April 1955 until 21st March 1957, after which he was employed as Southampton’s chief scout.