THE Parkinson family have celebrated a special milestone they thought they would never see — former Bolton Wanderers player Gary Parkinson attending his first football match since suffering a devastating stroke in 2010. His proud wife, Deborah, talks to reporter VICKIE SCULLARD about the past few years.

CHRISTMAS was very special for former Bolton Wanderers footballer Gary “Parky” Parkinson — he went to his first football match since suffering a stroke and developing locked-in syndrome in 2010.

After more than two years of neuro-rehabilitation at Priory Highbank Centre, near Bury, the former Wanderer was finally allowed back to his Westhoughton home after wife Deborah fought tooth and nail to bring him back to his family.

Gary has seldom been seen out, apart from occasional shopping trips with Deborah, so his attendance at the Riverside Stadium to watch two of his former clubs Middlesbrough and Burnley, received a standing ovation from the crowd.

It has been a sometimes difficult, often emotional journey for the family, but Mrs Parkinson is positive about his progress.

Now the family, including the couple’s children Luke, aged 21, Chloe, aged 17, and Sophie, aged 10, hope this will be a sign of positive things to come.

The mum-of-three said: “It was an amazing and very emotional day for Gary, especially standing out on the pitch.

He had a teary moment when everyone cheered for him, which made us feel so proud of him. We’d been talking about going to a match for a while, so when we looked at the fixtures and saw Middlesbrough and Burnley were playing we thought we should go to that.

Plus, we were already going to the North East to see family over Christmas.

“Middlesbrough invited him into the box and out on to the pitch for his fans to see him. He was very nervous at first because we weren’t sure about access in the stadium, but it all went perfectly.

“We met up with old friends and the directors from both clubs came to speak to him.

“I think that day has made Gary realise he can go out and people accept him the way he is.

“I hope this will be the first of many trips this year.”

The Boxing Day game was not the only special moment of the family’s Christmas.

Mrs Parkinson said: “We really looked forward to Christmas this year. We weren’t sure what to expect the year before because Gary only came home on December 23, but he’s been settled here for over 12 months now and already we’ve noticed how much more he’s involved in decisions and conversations.

“We even went to the Christmas markets in Manchester like we used to, which brought back a lot of fond memories for both of us.

“We usually have a lot of people involved helping Gary, such as the physio and carers, but on Christmas Day it was just the five of us, which was amazing.

“He had even asked to be brought into the dining room so that he could speak and interact with us while we ate, which I know was really hard for him at first. He even tried a little taste of the food on his lips.”

Mrs Parkinson hopes Gary’s trip to the football will be the first of many, thanks to a new car funded through the Gary Parkinson Trust, which allows friends, family and supporters to help raise money for equipment for him.

She said: “We got a new VW Caravelle on Christmas Eve thanks to fundraising, which is going to make a massive difference because all the family can fit in it, including Gary, his chair and his carers. The fact we are able to get out and about more is an amazing feeling.

“Things have changed and we have all tried to adapt to the situation and keep moving forward. I sometimes have to be realistic with him if he’s feeling down, but he understands, and then out of the blue he spells out ‘you’re amazing’ to me.

“Each year we have looked back and said what we were doing the year before and by the next year we’re noticing the progression, which has been fantastic.”