A FORMER professional footballer suffering from a rare and devastating illness has been given a remarkable role by his hometown club.

Gary Parkinson has been rating potential transfer targets for Middlesbrough after the Championship club’s manager, Tony Mowbray, moved to help his Eighties team-mate in his recovery from locked-in syndrome.

Parkinson, who has been receiving specialist care at a rehabilitation unit in Bury since September last year, watches DVDs he is sent by the club. He then gives his opinion on whether the players in action should be pursued.

Only able to communicate with his eyes after being left paralysed, Parkinson communicates with those around him by blinking.

He has devised a ratings system with his wife, Deborah, that enables him to give a verdict on individual players.

Speaking to The Northern Echo last night, Deborah, 43, said: “Tony and his coaching staff, like Mark Proctor and Stephen Pears, have been fantastic for Gary.

“When Tony first came to see Gary, he could see Gary was still aware of everything that was going on around him, so he asked Gary if he wanted to do some scouting for him.”

If Thornaby-born Parkinson really likes a player, he raises his eyelids to look up when Deborah goes through a scale of one to four with him.

If he looks up when she says “one”, he is not impressed and Boro are advised not to push for a deal.

Deborah relays the message back to Mowbray, who uses the information to come to a final decision on players from around the world with the rest of his backroom team.

“A DVD comes down to us, with a sheet of paper. There is a description of the player, his name, his age, his position and the clubs he has played for,” said Deborah, who still lives in the family home in Bolton.

“Gary still loves his football, knows all about youth football from his time as the youth team coach at Blackpool, and you can see he picks up when he is doing it. I have done it with him and so has my son, Luke.”

Parkinson has been visited by Mowbray and his former Middlesbrough team-mates at the Priory Highbank Centre, Bury, regularly since he was left paralysed by locked-in syndrome in September last year.

The 43-year-old was initially confined to his bed, which was the result of a stroke in the stem of the brain which connects it to the body.

But there have been improvements.

He has been for day visits to his home, while there are hopes he will get his speech back after an operation on his vocal chords.

Mowbray, speaking in Middlesbrough’s match-day programme on Saturday, said: “We were determined to give Gary a role, where he could feel involved. Not only that, I genuinely value his opinions about the game.

“We let him have a look at some of the players who come to our attention and it gives Gary something to concentrate on. Long after he ceases to be headline news, we will still be there for him.”

Middlesbrough staged a charity football match in May for Parkinson that raised about £35,000 and there have been numerous other events during the past year to raise awareness and funds.

Two of the club’s former players, Bernie Slaven and Craig Hignett, joined fundraiser Carl O’Hara in Middlesbrough town centre yesterday selling “4 Parky” wristbands to support the Gary Parkinson Trust Fund.

The bands are available for £1.50 at the club’s official store.