Bernard Parker had to think twice about it. “Is it 10 years already?” he asked. “I can’t remember. No wait, I think so, yes it’s been 10 years because I started in 2004 with Benoni Premier United (now Thanda Royal Zulu),” he recalled.
This is a classic case of the phrase “time flies when you are having fun”. Ten years have flown by so quickly for Parker that, as a professional footballer, he has played abroad, featured at the Fifa Confederations Cup and World Cup, boasts a Premiership winners medal and he’s closing in on Benni McCarthy’s Bafana Bafana goal-scoring record of 32 goals. Not bad for the School of Excellence product who is currently leading the scoring charts in the PSL.
Talking about his 10 years in the game suddenly revived memories of times when life was not as good as it is now for the player who arrived for a FututreLife photoshoot with his wife and two kids in a BMW 5 series GT on Monday afternoon.
“From the School of Excellence I went straight to Benoni Premier United. It was a semi-professional league and it was tough, but I had a lot of hunger and passion. I used to take four taxis to get to training. And if we had to train twice that day, I had to find a tree to sleep under it for the afternoon. It’s been quite challenging. But what keeps me going is that I keep learning. You get to go to different teams, in different places where there are different cultures, so it’s all about learning and how you adapt to a situation. What’s important is to work hard and stay humble and enjoy your job,” the Kaizer Chiefs striker said.
“I saw my mother struggle and I thought, if I can become a professional player I can ease her hardship. People look up to me now and I feel what I have done throughout my career is not enough for me. I want to be remembered. I have some good memories.”
Parker has gone through some struggles of his own recently on the pitch. He’s not quite been at his best after making a blistering start to the season, having to go back as far as February for the last time he scored for his club. The striker feels not getting rest in January, when he was part of the Bafana squad that competed in Chan, and playing wide on the left has contributed to his dip in form.
“I had a good start. We got a break, but I did not get my mid-season break because we went to play for Bafana Bafana. After that I went straight back to league football. It’s been good, but challenging. The games just keep coming,” said Parker, who won Player of the Quarter for Q1 and 2.
“I have been playing on the left, and Kingston (Nkhatha) and Knowledge (Musona) are doing a good job upfront. If I don’t get a goal, I know they will score. Sometimes Shabba (Siphiwe Tshabalala) comes through and scores and sometimes we score from set pieces. I just do my best to get in the box as much as possible. I’ll see what happens.”
Amakhosi strikers have shared the responsibility of scoring goals. Yet to come to the party, though, is January signing Katlego Mphela, who has not found the back of the net since joining from Mamelodi Sundowns.
“He adds muscle to our team and we know what he can do. He has been improving and I think he is getting sharp. He owes South Africa and I think everyone is waiting on the edge of their seats to see the best of Katlego Mphela.”
Chiefs are confident of reclaiming the title, but Sundowns have been relentless in their pursuit of their first title since 2006/2007. For some years now, mediocrity has been the theme at Sundowns, but this season they have proven to be genuine contenders for the coveted crown.
“We are looking forward to retaining our league title. We have lost points in our last few games, shooting ourselves in the foot by conceding late. It’s just arrogant, but we have learnt from that and I don’t think we will make those mistakes again,” said Parker.
“It’s going to be tough because Sundowns are determined. I am not surprised that they have done so well this season. Their coach (Pitso Mosimane) said he is building a strong team to go out and win trophies, which is what they have been longing for. They are showing hunger and passion.”
The 28-year-old marksman said this season has been harder than last term.
“Last season we were the underdogs. We won most of our games and we also managed to win the Nedbank Cup. But this season has been more challenging, knowing that we are the league champions. The pressure and expectation on us is greater now. Every team want to prove a point against us. So every game has been a cup final for the other teams.”
Chiefs would love to have another crack at the CAF Champions League, after getting knocked out recently when they were on the brink of the group stages. With the top two sides in the Premiership set to compete in the competition next year, Amakhosi have a very good chance of playing in the competition again.
“We learnt about being mentally strong in the competition and we believe we can play again next season.”
This weekend Amakhosi take on Ivorian club Asec Mimosa in the Confederation Cup, hoping that it will not derail their quest for league and cup double honours on home soil.
FULL Name: Bernard Melvin Parker
PLACE OF BIRTH: Boksburg
Youth Career: Mamelodi Sundowns, School of Excellence
PREVIOUS CLUBS: Thanda Royal Zulu, Red Star Belgrade (Serbia), FC Twente (the Netherlands), Panserraikos (Greece, loan)
Bafana Bafana caps: 68 - The Star