Published: 00:00, 10 February 2017
Josh Parker is hoping to put a troubled year behind him.
The politics of football led to him questioning whether he wanted to be involved in the game anymore but Gills boss Ady Pennock has thrown him an unexpected second chance.
He’s still fighting a legal battle with former club Red Star Belgrade, after leaving the Serbian Super Liga champions early, as a move which started so promisingly turned into a nightmare.
“It’s been a hell of a journey,” said the 26-year-old forward, who started his career at QPR.
“It’s been unreal. I have finally found a bit of passion for football again after a year that was the worst yet. I wouldn’t want to wish on anyone what I went through.”
Parker’s time in Serbia ended with death threats but it wasn’t the first time he was left tasting the darker side of football.
Rewind to 2010 and Parker had broken into the first team at QPR in the Championship.
Parker remembers what it was like starting out for his local team under recently-arrived manager Neil Warnock, as a right-back.
He said: “I always played as a striker. I signed my pro contract as a striker and played all the reserve games as a striker. Then someone got injured and the manager put me in at right-back because I was quick.
“Warnock said he saw me as a right-back. I didn’t care because at least I was playing.”
Life was going well but Parker felt disillusioned when he was overlooked for a regular right-back role when injuries left Warnock short of options.
He brought in Kyle Walker on loan from Tottenham instead of turning to his young hopeful.
Parker turned down a new deal at QPR in a bid to make a name for himself away from Loftus Road and ended up at Oldham.
He was out of his comfort zone, away from friends and family and struggling to settle.
He said: “I felt like I deserved something because of how much work I had put in but that doesn’t always warrant reward.
“I was up in Manchester on my own. I was 20, I didn’t know anyone and I was not in a good place mentally. My heart and head wasn’t in it.
He was released at the end of the season, told by Oldham that they liked him but wanted an older squad and an MRI scan later revealed he had a broken bone in his foot. He was left sidelined without a club and with a child on the way.
After six months out, he briefly joined Oxford in a bid to get fit but decided on drastic action to get his career back on track. He instructed his agent to find him a club abroad.
“I just wanted to get out of England,” he said. “I needed to go away and be somewhere. I wanted to fully focus on football, where I didn’t know anyone and where I could work hard."
Parker joined Slovenian side Domzale and after a successful season, he had bigger European teams lining up to sign him, along with an offer from China.
Red Star won the race, beating off Sturm Graz and Grasshoppers.
The Serbian side had history behind them but were struggling financially and Parker claims he never once received his salary on time. He went six months without pay at one stage.
His first season was another success but the death of his nan was the beginning of the end, as Red Star were reluctant to let him travel home to attend the funeral.
Parker’s image in Serbia was to be tarnished by press reports that he had returned to England against the club’s wishes.
“The relationship broke down and that is where all the negativity started. I was getting death threats on all of my social media and even on my personal facebook page."
He was eventually loaned to Aberdeen. Parker returned to England in the summer but for seven months his former club were holding onto his registration.
On his return to England, he ended up on trial at Gillingham, under former boss Justin Edinburgh, playing in a behind-closed-doors game against Leyton Orient.
“I scored a couple and got three assists and we won 6-3,” he said. “But the manager said ‘I’m not sure’ and after that I was like ‘I’m not doing it anymore’.”
Parker played a cup game for Wealdstone and was then informed of interest from Gills new head coach Pennock.
“The manager here is one of the nicest guys I’ve spoken to,” said Parker. “He likes to give people a second chance and believes people always have more to offer.”
After just two days of training, Pennock was willing to give him a shot in the first team, handing him a deal until the end of the season.
“It was so refreshing to hear a ‘yes’,” said Parker. “The manager here isn’t interested in the past. It has been so long since I have stepped on the field and played a proper competitive game. It feels like forever. I am desperate to get out there.”
Read the full interview in Friday's Medway Messenger
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