The phrase ‘right move at the right time’ could have been invented for Dave Clarke.
The hugely popular ‘keeper signed for Spartans from Gateshead United in the summer of 1977 and his heroics during the cup run and league that season earned him the Non League Player of the Year award.
‘Clarkie’ must have felt at home at Croft Park as he spent 11 years at the club which included a brief spell as manager.
He endeared himself to the Spartans faithful for his whole-hearted and often sensational performances in the number one jersey and received a much deserved testimonial against former club Newcastle United.
Lambasted in defeat and often ignored in victory, the question is; who would be a goalkeeper?
Dave Clarke gave an honest assessment on how he ended up between the sticks:
“I went for school trials as an outfield player but in the first practice match I didn’t
make the team.
In the second match our team didn’t have a goalkeeper so I went in nets and I suppose I never looked back after that.”
Dave’s goalkeeping idol was the legendary World Cup winner Gordon Banks and his style was similar to that of the Leicester and England stopper. Although Clarkie wasn’t the tallest he showed tremendous athleticism and bravery which more than compensated for his lack of height. He won the high jump championship when at school and admitted his agility was one of his key strengths:
“It was like I had springs in my feet, I could get to shots that maybe others couldn’t and unlike a lot of goalkeepers today I could command my area which was
something we were taught as youngsters.”
Born on 24th July 1949 in Newcastle General Hospital, David Leslie Clarke represented Montague and Fenham Boys Clubs when he got a trial at Newcastle United thanks to his father Les, who contacted manager Joe Harvey about his son being promising young ‘keeper.
The Newcastle boss was obviously impressed with what he had seen as he offered Dave a contract at the Magpies and he coincidentally signed for the club on the same day as his future Blyth team-mate Terry Johnson.
A few years later Clarke was Willie McFaul’s understudy in Newcastle’s last major trophy success; the UEFA Fairs Cup triumph of 1969. Although he never made a first team appearance for the black and whites the experience he gained from playing against such quality in training was invaluable:
“Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson was a different class, he’s probably the best player I’ve seen in training. There was also Wyn Davies and Bobby Moncur who were both full international players.”
He was released by Newcastle United at the end of the 1969 season and was signed by then Doncaster Rovers manager Lawrie McMenemy as cover for 1st choice keeper John Ogston.
Clarke made his debut on 13th September 1969 in a 2-1 victory over Tranmere Rovers however having made just three appearances for Donny and went on loan to Darlington making 11 appearances before returning to Belle Vue to be told he didn’t have a future at the club.
It was a tough time for the young ‘keeper trying to make his way in the professional game and he summed up his feelings by stating:
“I thought the world had come to an end.”
After spells at Gainsborough Trinity and South Shields he moved on to Gateshead United and was in the team that beat Spartans 3-0 in the F.A. Cup 4th Qualifying Round on the 6th November 1976, ironically Gateshead went on to face Wrexham in the next round that year only to get hammered 6-0 by the Welsh outfit.
When Gateshead United folded in the summer of 1977,
Blyth’s Player/Manager Brian Slane and Coach Jackie Marks made the surprise move to replace Mick Morgan with Dave Clarke.
Morgan had been a virtual ever-present since joining from North Shields in 1974 making well over 100 appearances and he was far from happy to lose his No.1 spot and fell out with Slane, however they knew Dave Clarke was another vital piece of their rebuilding.
Dave’s Gateshead teammate, midfielder Keith Houghton was also snapped up at the same time.
Dave made his club debut on 20th August in a 3-0 victory at Willington on the opening day of the season and never imagined what was to come in the next 6 months.
Clarkie would then prove a vital part in a sustained period of success for Blyth over the next decade and would later describe his time at Croft Park as his
‘happiest days in football.’
One of Clarkie’s most memorable performances came in his first season at Blyth against Enfield in the 3rd Round of the F.A. Cup at Croft Park. One particular save with his fingertips defied belief and was crucial in ensuring his team marched on to the next round of the competition. Dave was typically modest in describing his heroics:
“I had a clear sight of the ball and the striker was unchallenged. I watched him lean back so I could tell from his body shape where he was going to hit the ball and I just reacted.”
Dave Clarke was a popular figure within the squad and manager Brian Slane viewed his character and playing credentials as a huge bonus:
“He enjoyed his game and was always good for a laugh. He was a great lad to have
in the dressing room to keep the spirits up.
It was said he wasn’t the tallest but he didn’t miss many crosses and he would make amazing saves.”
In the 4th Round of the F.A Cup Blyth faced a strong Second Division side in the form of Stoke City at the Victoria Ground. Clarkie gave a charming and funny account of one particular incident during the game:
“Against Stoke we were 3-2 up and after clearing away a corner I was shouting at my players to get out the area but Ronnie Scott was still standing on the six yard box.
I was screaming at him to get out, to which he replied: ‘I’m staying here Clarkie, they’re not getting past me’ and to be fair to him they didn’t!”
Clarke regarded Brian Slane and Jackie Marks as the best motivators he played
under and they certainly had the players up for the next round when the
Spartans travelled to the Racecourse Ground to face Wrexham. It’s a game that still gives Clarke nightmare’s having been at the centre of a bizarre refereeing decision.
Right at the death, with Blyth winning 1-0 Wrexham were awarded a corner that Match of the Day camera’s proved should never have been awarded in the first place and Dave remembers what happened next vividly: Wrexham scored.
Having safely collected the Les Cartwright’s corner it was then ordered to be retaken because the corner flag wasn’t in place!.
Clarkie had his own theory about why this incident occurred:
“I think we were a total embarrassment to the F.A. because we were getting that much nationwide publicity and a Non League club were making such an impact in the most famous cup competition in the world.”
The journey to St James Park for the replay was a surreal experience for the whole squad as Clarkie explains:
“We were stuck in traffic and a police officer on a motorbike pulled up beside the front of the bus and Jackie Marks wound the window down and asked him if there had been an accident.
The lads were anxiously waiting to hear what the situation was because we’d been stuck for quite a while. Jackie turned around and told us that it was just the traffic heading for the ground and we were going to have to be escorted. Nobody would believe him until the blue lights started flashing and we made our way to the ground.”
Spartans lost gallantly in that replay at St James Park but Clarke and his team mates got their own back on the Welsh side by beating them over two legs in the Final of
the Debenhams Cup played at the end of the historic 77/78 season.
The cup run was just the beginning of an extremely successful career for Dave at Croft Park. Spartans were crowned Northern League Champions in his 3rd season and they
went on to dominate the league during the 1980’s.
Clarkie even managed to score a goal in his time as Blyth’s goalkeeper, at Tow Law the day Spartans won the Northern League title there in 1982/1983 winning 9-1, he scored a
On a personal level there were many accolades and recognition of his quality is clear in his record number of caps for a goalkeeper (16) in the England Non League XI.
For Dave, representing his country was his proudest moment in football:
“Competition for places was really strong and I was delighted just to get in the squad never mind the team. Playing for your country at any level is special and I never thought I would be called up that many times.”
In 1984 Newcastle United seriously considered re-signing him as cover when they were having a goalkeeper crisis knowing that if called upon he could step up from the Northern League to the Football League and perform.
Clarkie received a testimonial On Monday 19th October 1987 when Blyth played against Newcastle United in front of an all ticket crowd of 4,650.
Blyth won 3-0 with goals from Gary Nicholson, Phil Lever, Steve Carney who were all ex Newcastle United players.
Former team-mate Willie McFaul was Newcastle manager and sent a full strength Newcastle United side that featured the likes of John Anderson, Neil McDonald, Glen Roeder, Kenny Wharton, Darren Jackson, Paul Kelly, Brian Tinnion, Ian Bogie and star signing Brazilian Mirandinha, the side also featured a young Paul Gascoigne!.
Prior to the main game a side made up of Dave’s team mates from the 1977/78 Cup squad beat an All-Star XI 1-0 with Ian Mutrie scoring.
Having made his debut August 1977, Dave made his final appearance as a player in October 1987.
Clarke was appointed manager in June 1988, after the sacking of Jim Pearson in May. Clarke had been Pearson’s assistant before being appointed manager of the newly crowned Northern League Division One Champions.
“I am relishing the challenge” stated Clarke upon being awarded a 1 year contract, he appointed former teammate Geoff Hart as his assistant.
However things didn’t go to plan and Dave resigned as manager in November 1988 having seen his side win only 6 of their 20 games so far that season. Dave sent a letter of resignation to the board, they held an emergency meeting to discuss and ultimately accept his resignation and eventually Dave’s former team-mate Tommy Dixon replaced him as manager. When he left Blyth he signed for Alnwick Town as a player and also had a spell as manager and later became goalkeeper coach at his former club Gateshead.
Clarkie made over 400 appearances and in a period of 11 years which included a staggering 110 consecutive appearances from August 1979 till April 1981.
A staggering show of Dave’s service to the club & longevity is that from his debut until his retirement 11 years later, only 12 other goalkeepers played for the club in that period and between them only managed to make less than 20 appearances !.
Clarkie represented the club as a player, coach & manager his enthusiasm and passion for the game was an inspiration to everyone at Croft Park during this time.
Blyth Spartans have been blessed to have some great goalkeepers throughout the clubs long history and Clarkie is regarded by many as the best, and he was acclaimed nationally as the best goalkeeper outside the professional game.
…. Clarkie is without doubt a genuine Blyth Spartans legend.
- Credits & Thank you’s:
Andrew Dodds co-writer and interviewer for the original matchday programme article.
Dave Clarke himself for helping with this article.