It is with regret we announce the death of former Chairman and Vice-President, Michael (Mike) Parke, who for a while had been undergoing serious health issues against which, in typical fashion, he fought until the bitter end. Mike played a significant part in the history of the club, at times a controversial figure, he was a hero to some and a thorn in the flesh to others.
His ability to spot a talented player was unique as was his tendency to hold on to them in his capacity as the captain of the 3rd and Viking XVs, respectively. An example of this was the fact that he was able to retain a talented New Zealand player called Kerry Somerville in the latter XV, nominally the 5th side, for a whole season only releasing him, under pressure, to the club in general. Two years' later Kerry was captain of the 1st XV!
It was Mike who was instrumental in starting what is still referred to in some quarters as the Cross Keys Sevens after a chat one Sunday with the then landlord Reg Johnson. Mike wanted to bypass the Rugby Football Union's diktat banning the playing of Sunday rugby. He realised the game of Sevens was the answer. Thus began, over 60 years ago, the inaugural competition, initially played in September but, due to other attractions in the rugby calendar, then changed to August. The event comprised a few local teams in its early years but has since expanded into an important fixture in the club's calendar and over the years attracted many top-class performers including Eddie Butler; Mike Gibson; and the talented Fijians who paraded under the banner of the British Army. England player Andy Gomersall's international career was given a boost after he appeared as a guest player in the winning team. The following year he was picked for England.
Although able to boast about his many successful sides Mike never played for the 1st XV except on one occasion in the 1970s. Finding himself short of a hooker when captain of the XV, Dai Jenkins picked Mike on merit, being the first available hooker eligible for selection who was fit, the rest being injured. This caused some consternation amongst the front row union as 'Parky' ( as he was known to some) was notorious for being unwilling to wash his kit on a regular basis. As it turned out, no-one suffered except Mike who incurred an injury to his shoulder, as a result of the props lowering the scrum a bit too far in a position when he had no option but to use his head rather than his foot.
Following his decision to finally stop playing, Mike then embarked on a successful spell as Manager of the 1st XV using that 'nose' again. Unfortunately, in an era when paying players had only just begun, the consequences on the club's budget were not fully understood and in the end it was decided not to go down this route. But, it had been fun while it lasted.
In 1997 Mike's success peaked when, as manager, he took the first team to Twickenham for the final of the RFU's Junior Knockout Cup. In an exciting match Harpenden won by just 3 points against a side from Crewe & Nantwitch. This, and creating the Sevens tournament were in Mike's eyes his greatest achievements.
Mike's funeral will be held on Friday 16th February at Noon at Garston Cemetery, Watford. Afterwards at Redbourn Lane.
Our sympathies go out to Mike's wife Celia.