THOUSANDS turned out to show their support for a Boro legend on a moving afternoon at the Riverside Stadium.
A bumper crowd of 7,391 saw a Boro Legends’ team take on a side of ex-players and celebrities in a benefit match in aid of Gary Parkinson.
The line-ups may have been full of big name former Boro stars and celebrities - but there was one player who received more attention than anyone else.
Luke Parkinson led the sides out as he played alongside a host of his dad’s former team-mates and friends - wearing his No 2 shirt.
Thornaby-born Gary suffered a massive stroke in September last year and has been left with locked-in syndrome - which means he can currently only communicate using his eyes to spell out words.
Speaking after the game, and after 20 minutes of signing autographs and posing for pictures, Luke revealed that his dad had given him some tips before the game.
“He wrote me a message saying ‘keep it simple and pass it to the nearest man’,” Luke said.
“That’s what I tried to do.”
Luke, who today celebrates his 18th birthday, said he was touched by the number of supporters who had gone along to the game.
“Dad would be really proud to see so many people turn up for him,” Luke, who lives with his family - including sisters Chloe and Sophie - in Bolton, said.
“It’s been absolutely brilliant. I can’t believe how many people showed up.”
In a hugely positive move for the Parkinson family, the ex-Boro defender was today due to return home for the first time to help celebrate Luke’s birthday.
His wife Deborah said: “It’s fantastic news for us.
“Hopefully it’s a good sign.”
Money raised from yesterday’s game will go the Gary Parkinson Trust which will help pay for the former Boro star’s care and recovery.
Proud wife Deborah also thanked the thousands of fans and well-wishers who went to the game in support of her
Gary’s name was regularly chanted by fans throughout the match and Deborah said she was overwhelmed by the warmth that had been shown.
“It’s been brilliant,” she said. “There were a lot more people than we imagined. Gary would be very proud.
“It was great when they were chanting his name.”
The game itself was won 4-1 by the team of Boro legends.
The teams themselves were led by two Boro legends - Bruce Rioch and current club boss Tony Mowbray.
After the game Tony paid tribute to the thousands of fans who came along for the game. “It’s great for the Parkinsons and the team of ’86,” he said.
“I hope the game itself was enjoyable to watch too.”
The benefit match was organised by Middlesbrough Former Players’ Association and Boro fan Carl O’Hara - alongside Middlesbrough FC and sponsors Ramsdens.
Delighted Carl said afterwards: “I was hoping for 5,000 so I’m over the moon and it’s been worth all the hard work. I’d like to thank everyone who helped us put it on and also the club.”
He added it was a pleasure to meet Gary’s family and said he would always stay in touch.