Fred Parnell was one of Exeter City’s earliest professionals and appeared in the club’s first Southern League fixture against Millwall in September 1908. Having signed from Leeds City he had a single season at St James’ Park before moving to Preston North End. After a year away, he returned to play two more seasons for the Grecians before returning to live in Nottinghamshire where he spent the rest of his life.
Growing up in Sutton-in-Ashfield, the son of a frame-work knitter and a winder, the 1901 census showed Fred (aged 17) working underground as a “coal ganger”. Having already played for nearby Skegby as a fifteen-year-old, he was by now appearing for Pinxton on a semi-professional basis where he was spotted by Derby County in 1903. Making eight league appearances for Derby, he then joined Leeds City around the same time as Robert Watson who was also to play in Exeter City’s first professional team.
Featuring in 104 league games (scoring fifteen times) for his new club Fred subsequently became one of a whole squad of professionals, mainly from the north of England, recruited by Arthur Chadwick to play in Exeter City’s first professional campaign in 1908/09. Making his debut in the opening Southern League match at Millwall on 2 September 1908, Fred appeared in 29 of the club’s 40 matches scoring twice against Bristol Rovers and once against Queens Park Rangers.
Tempted by an offer to return to the Football League with Preston North End, he signed for the Lancashire club ahead of the 1909/10 season and played fifteen league games before re-signing for Exeter City after a single season away.
Back at St James’ Park, Fred stayed for two terms making 33 appearances (three goals) in 1910/11 but just 17 (2 goals) during the subsequent campaign. The 1911 census shows him living in lodgings with fellow City player Frank James, a man from Staffordshire.
Finally leaving the club in 1912, Fred returned to Nottinghamshire and saw out his playing career with Sutton Junction and then Mansfield Town prior to the outbreak of the Great War. Residing in Sutton-in-Ashfield in 1939, Gershom Frederick Parnell died in the Mansfield area in 1960