Extra-Time: The Off-Pitch Legacy Of ‘The ‘Romford Pele’ 

Published on 04 July, 2024 | Matt Hodgson

As lauded and lucrative as the career of a top flight footballer is these days, it is very much shorter than many other professions.

Some players are lucky enough to impact the game that they love after hanging up their boots either as a coach, administrator or pundit.

Very few, however, create an unintended legal legacy, whose impact arguably continues to be felt to this day.

Ray Parlour is one.

A popular goal-scoring midfielder, he won a string of honours during his 15-year Premier League career, most notably at Arsenal.

In addition to representing England 10 times, Parlour also earned the nickname ‘The Romford Pele’ – a somewhat tongue-in-cheek reference to his playing style and Essex roots.

Yet 20 years ago, he made headlines for a different reason: a significant divorce ruling by the Court of Appeal (https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2004/872.html).

On top of mortgage-free properties worth more than £1 million and a £250,000 lump sum, it awarded his ex-wife, Karen, spousal maintenance of £444,000 a year – beyond her immediate needs and more than a third of his annual income.

She had successfully argued that a spouse’s earning capacity which was developed during a  relationship should be shared.

One important element of the reasoning which led to that outcome was that Parlour was by then in the twilight of his career and expected to have only four more years left as a professional footballer. In fact, he actually left Arsenal for Middlesbrough only weeks after the Court of Appeal’s ruling and ended up retiring in 2007.

Another was that the case featured “exceptional” circumstances; namely, the wealth involved.

The Court of Appeal’s award obliged Mrs Parlour to set aside or “lay-up” a considerable portion of the maintenance afforded her by that wealth over and above her needs – the surplus – to meet her future requirements.

It is regarded as something of a landmark because it took the central concept of fairness in divorce even further than a House of Lords decision in 2000 (https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld199900/ldjudgmt/jd001026/white-1.htm).

That judgement, in the case of a Somerset farming couple, Martin and Pamela White, established what is often referred to as the “yardstick of equality” when it comes to splitting a couple’s joint marital assets.

The Parlour ruling did nothing to damage London’s reputation as “the world’s divorce capital” as it coincided with a succession of other settlements construed as favourable to wives.

Furthermore, it also accelerated the rate at which individuals, especially those with great wealth, used pre-nuptial agreements to protect post-separation income from being included in any divorce calculations.

The popularity of nuptial agreements gained even further ground when the Supreme Court ruled that the pre-nup drawn up by German heiress Katrin Radmacher and her ex-husband Nicolas Granatino should have “decisive weight” in limiting his claim on her fortune (https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2009-0031-judgment.pdf).

The ability by former spouses to claim a share of their exes’ income after divorce, seen as reaching something of an apex in the Parlour decision, was later undermined by cases such as that involving the equine surgeon Ian Wright in 2015.

His former wife, Tracey, was advised to find work rather than relying on maintenance (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2965387/Get-job-Judge-backs-ruling-ex-wife-millionaire-racehorse-surgeon-no-right-supported-life.html).

Three years later, the Court of Appeal confirmed that spousal support should not be regarded as a “meal ticket for life”, as it had come to be popularly known (https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/727.html).

Rather than indefinite Joint Lives Orders, maintenance would generally only be available for a limited number of years, with the emphasis instead being on spouses achieving a financial clean break as soon as possible.

That has been borne out in practice. The most recent detailed breakdown by the Ministry of Justice of divorce settlements showed that periodical payments were far less frequent than in previous years (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/family-court-statistics-quarterly-july-to-september-2019).

In July 2004, though, the momentous nature of the Parlour ruling was fully appreciated by family lawyers and, it should be said, by wealthy individuals like football’s elite.

The direct significance has undoubtedly since been blunted by a succession of subsequent case law.

Yet just as Ray Parlour cemented his place in English football history just weeks before the Court of Appeal decision as a member of the only side to complete a Premier League season without losing a match, his role in shaping the process by which married life is regulated and separated should not be forgotten.

Share this post: