If Scottish football were to concoct a coaching Mount Rushmore, Donald Park’s face would be on it.
Park, who served as Caley Thistle assistant manager when they were promoted to the top flight for the first time in 2004, was given a lifetime achievement award on Thursday by UK coaching for his services to the game.
Hailing from Caol in the west Highlands, Park has spent more than 50 years involved in football, representing Hearts, Partick Thistle, Brechin City and Meadowbank Thistle as a player before embarking on an extensive coaching career.
He was credited with the development of Hibernian’s talented crop of youngsters in the early 2000s, such as Kenny Miller and Derek Riordan, before joining up with John Robertson and forging success at Inverness.
Lifetime Achievement Award goes to…
‘One of the best’ – @ScottishFA coaching legend Donald Park
— UK Coaching (@_UKCoaching) December 3, 2020
“I loved working with him and for him. When he spoke, you listened,” said Barry Wilson, Caley Thistle’s first-team coach and a member of the First Division title-winners in 2004.
“You would hang on his every word. If he shouted at you, it wasn’t because he didn’t respect you. That was just his way.”
His coaching methods were highly-regarded and his partnership with Robertson, then a young manager, produced something magical in the Highland capital that year.
Inverness surged from behind to pip Clyde to the title, defeating St Johnstone 3-1 on the final day of the season to win the title.
“One of my abiding memories is the day we won the league – Parky starts jumping up and down like a maniac but he’s about two seconds behind everyone else in realising it,” adds Wilson, who scored from the spot that day.
“We were so far behind at one point – we were victims of our own success, winning the Challenge Cup and getting to the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup,” says Stevie Hislop. “Sometimes it’s just easier having points in the bag than games in hand but Parky always gave you belief to go and win games.
“I sometimes watch the St Johnstone game back. He’s hugging Robbo and you can see the joy in his face. They knew what it meant to the club, what it meant to the city.”
Park had an intimidating side he would rarely use. Players knew not to stray too far.
“I answered him back at half-time once and he pinned me up against a wall,” said Hislop. “I knew never to do it again. But you go back into training the next day and there’s no problem at all.
“He did it to Ross Tokely and he’s far bigger than me. I have never seen a guy disintegrate so quickly as Tokes did when he answered him back.”
Park followed Robertson to Hearts in 2005, before a brief spell together at Ross County. He returned to Caley Thistle in January 2006 to serve as assistant to a former student in Charlie Christie, who had succeeded Craig Brewster as manager.
“I had a chat to Graeme Bennett (director of football) and he asked me before I took the job who I wanted,” said Christie. “I knew Parky had great experience, was good with the players and seldom lost his temper.
— Steven Hislop (@stevenhislop9) December 3, 2020
“I phoned him out of the blue and had a chat. He loves this area and really fitted in well; he was hugely popular with every single staff member.
“We’d be fighting to get into the top six, playing Rangers and Aberdeen hoping to win and I used to get frustrated when we didn’t. He always used to say ‘we’re doing a lot better than you realise’ – he’d give you a solid foundation.”
The 67-year-old, who returned to Hibernian after leaving Caley Thistle in 2007, has served as the Scottish FA’s head of coach education for the last 11 years. Jose Mourinho and Andre Villas-Boas have both been put through their badges by Park at Largs, before the coaching courses moved to the Oriam in Edinburgh.
“Some tutors could be quite difficult, but not Donald,” said Christie, now Inverness’ head of youth. “He was always there to help you, which I realised when I did my youth and A licenses.
“Near enough everyone wanted to be in his group. You would have four tutors but everyone wanted to work with him, as he would go the extra yard to get guys through the courses.
“If I had to sum him up in one word, helpful would be the one I would use.”
Park still gets his glasses from The Opticians at Marchmont, which Hislop runs. The former Inverness, Raith Rovers and Livingston striker jokes that if he sent Park a congratulatory message on his award, he would get a stream of expletives back.
“He’s probably the guy I’ve got most respect for outwith my dad,” said Hislop. A mark indeed of the respect he carries.