BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Josh Parker reckons that Charlton’s play-off final win at Wembley has ticked off everything on his footballing bucket-list.
The 28-year-old was left frozen out of football when a move to Red Star Belgrade went horribly wrong.
The Serbian club retained his international transfer registration and he ended up working in a friend’s coffee shop – unable to play at any level for nine months.
But Parker, capped 26 times by Antigua & Barbuda, played the full 90 minutes for Charlton on Sunday as they won their League One crunch tie with Sunderland.
It is his first club honour.
“I’ve got many years left in me but this kind of wraps up everything as a kid that I wanted to achieve,” said Parker. “I’ve captained my country and played for one of the biggest teams in European history at Red Star.
“I’ve played in front of 75,000 people. Everything that you could ask for as a kid, I’ve done it now. I’m very happy.
“I can go away and enjoy my holiday with my family and move forward.
“A lot of people know I’ve had a lot of stuff going on inside of football and outside of football. To think two years ago I was working in a coffee shop and now I’ve just got promotion at Wembley. It’s surreal.
“Football was done for me two years ago and now I’m here with this bunch of lads. It shows you that if you keep a positive mindset, then anything is possible.”
Dillon Phillips’ early error saw Naby Sarr score an own goal. But Ben Purrington struck before the break and then Patrick Bauer netted with seconds left before the match would have gone into extra time. Parker had seen a flick just before that blocked by Sunderland defender Tom Flanagan.
“I thought it was going in but the guy just spread his body,” he said. “I thought we’d be going to extra time and my legs were killing me. They were in bits.
“Pat came through in the end. It was crazy. For about a minute the stadium stood still. I wasn’t sure if it was actually a goal or not.
“Dillon has been unbelievable all season and I think that good karma has come back around for him. Lyle [Taylor] came straight up to me and said: ‘If they win the game on that sh*t goal then I’m going to go crazy.’ But luckily we pulled through in the end.
“I wouldn’t say it geed us up, because the boys know what we’re capable of. If anything, that goal summed up the first 20 minutes of our game. We were missing but then we had a little spell where we were good. Then they came back into it.”
Parker is out of contract this summer. And he is not alone in that respect – seven of Charlton’s squad is in that boat.
Plus the loanees – Purrington, Josh Cullen and Krystian Bielik – head back to their parent clubs.
“The whole squad is literally not here at the minute,” said Parker. “But the manager will do what he needs to do. At the end of the day, it’s football. I’m just happy to have been a part of what happened.
“It’s a diverse group, a lot of cultures and a lot of different styles of football. A mixture of young and old, I think that’s what makes the team so special. It has room to grow into something even better in the championship.
“The promotion is nothing short of a miracle. He [Lee Bowyer] has taken our attention away from everything off the field and just said: ‘Enjoy your football. You’re here to play football. You can’t affect that stuff up there. Realise the group we have here and the things that we are capable of’.”