Robert "Bob" Parlane was a giant of the early Scottish game, both physically and figuratively. He stood at 6ft 3ins, enormous for his era and filling what was his domain on the field, the goal. And, whilst he made just three appearances for the national team, he was the settled 'keeper for several seasons for what was Scotland's and therefore the World's first working-class team, Vale of Leven, "The Vale".
Born in 1847 in Polmont in Stirlingshire he was brought up, the son of a millwright, in Bonhill across the River Leven from the The Vale ground in Alexandria. So he was already twenty-five when the game had come to the valley from Loch Lomond to Dumbarton, thirty when he got definitively into his local team first eleven, thirty-one and thirty-two when winning his caps and in his mid-thirties when he stepped back.
However, there might have been a far earlier start to his footballing career had he firstly in late 1867 and not quite twenty-one, taken himself off to New York, even marrying there, only returning a couple of years later on his wife's early death and then working away in 1874 and perhaps a year each side in Motherwell. And it was there he seems to have remarried that year to Elizabeth Eglinton with a daughter born in 1876 only to die still in Motherwell within the year.
And in 1881 Parlane was once again on the move, this time taking an engineering job in Belfast and there joining the Cliftonville club. It had been formed just two years earlier by John McAlery, the "father" of Irish football, would be runner-up in the first playing of the Irish Cup also in 1881 and be so again in 1882 now with Parlane between the sticks. However, it would be for more or less the last time he would feature at least on-field. Indeed, aged almost forty, he soon returned home, albeit temporarily. By 1885 he was living and working back in Motherwell and there, off-field, he coached Alpha F.C., which following year merged with Glencairn F.C. to create the The Well.
Parlane, probably on the death of his wife in 1888, then returned to Belfast, where he was to referee that same year the Ireland-Scotland international played at Cliftonville and umpire the Irish Cup, won by the same. And it was in Belfast that he stayed for the remainder of his life but not without a curiosity. A son, also Robert, would be registered in 1892 in Larne, having been born in Co. Antrim, at Greenisland on the north side of Belfast Loch. And In 1901 Robert Snr. and Jnr. were both boarding a mile or so from the Cliftonville ground at Solitude, he recorded as a widower and his son aged nine, so apparently born four year's after his assumed "mother"'s death.
But by the 1911 census Bob Parlane Snr. had remarried for a second time and, whilst still working as an engineer/fitter, was living on 282, Springfield Rd. Indeed the marriage had been in 1902 to Mary McCollam and in Coleraine with Robert and Mary having almost sixteen years together. That was before his death at the age of seventy-one in January 1918 and his burial in Belfast's City Cemetery n a grave that just now needs urgent care.
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