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Clarke, Steve (1987-2008)


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Steve Clarke (1987-2008)

Written by Loz in October 2007 and last updated September 2008

Cut Stevie Clarke and he undoubtedly bleeds blue although if you do want to cut him be prepared for the strong possibility that he will ‘stick the head on ye’ – he is after all a Saltcoats lad and those West Coast towns in North Ayrshire are not known for their airs and graces!

sc%20st%20mirren.jpg Clarke was born on August 29th 1963 and his football career got off to rather an odd start. St Mirren were due to play in a friendly against Beith Juniors (another Scottish town you wouldn’t take your kids to) and in a bizarre cock up the St Mirren team turned up to play the game a week early. Beith couldn’t get all their players together at such short notice and thus asked a local 15 year old kid to make up the numbers. That kid was Stevie Clarke and he impressed the St Mirren management team so much in that game that they offered him terms to play for the Paisley based team. He then played a further season with Beith before making his debut for St Mirren against Ayr United in August 1982.

He made 152 appearances for St Mirren before joining Chelsea (who fought off Celtic for his signature) in January 1987, a signing that sparked the beginning of a Chelsea career that is still going strong 20 years later.

In the tradition of the many of the right backs that came after him at the Bridge, Stevie Clarke would often be seen breaking forward to support the attack but, certainly in the early stages of his Chelsea career, his defensive capabilities were sometimes questionable. He made his Chelsea league debut on Saturday, 24th January 1987 as a sub in a 2-2 draw at Norwich City as a centre half as Darren Wood was our established right back at that point however his qualities as a full back soon meant he replaced Wood on the right hand side (well it was either his qualities or the fact that Sharon was crap!).

sc%20oct%201987.jpg The 1987-88 season wasn’t exactly memorable for Chelsea fans as it ended with us dropping out of the top flight. The fact that our two best players that season were Tony Dorigo at left back and Steve Clarke at right back probably gives some indication that our defence that season had their hands fuller than Ron Jeremy. The following season saw Chelsea display supreme bouncebackability before the phrase was even invented (although I believe Germany may have done it before us between 1919 and 1939) We stormed to the second division title and Clarke was a picture of consistency throughout the campaign.

Unfortunately Steve was to then be cursed by a back injury he picked up whilst on Scotland duty in the build up to the 1990 World Cup.

It cost him his place in both the World Cup squad and also the Chelsea first team and when he couldn’t win his place back in the Chelsea first team this had a knock on effect on his international opportunities and he put in a transfer request. This was granted however nine months later he was still a Chelsea player and his fortunes for the Blues were about to take a turn for the better.

Ian Porterfield was appointed as Chelsea manager in the summer of 1991 and Clarke saw this as a clean slate providing him the opportunity to stake a claim for his place in the first team. He duly succeeded in achieving this and it is notable that it was round about this time that we saw him develop into a far more defensively savvy full back although he was often still seen thundering up the right flank before shooting hideously high and wide! By now the Chelsea fans had taken Steve well and truly to their hearts which made it even harder to stomach when a hernia operation put him out of action and Gareth Hall took over as the regular right back.

sc%20feb%2091.jpg Just as with the appointment of Porterfield in 1991 it wasn’t until another managerial change (this time the replacement of Porterfield with Webb in 1993) that Clarke once again proved his worth and was re-established as our first choice right back. Webb’s reign was short lived and it was to be the appointment of Glen Hoddle that saw Clarke go from strength to strength.

We had reached the 1993/94 season by now and it was to be one of the finest seasons for Clarke in a Chelsea shirt. For me he was comfortably the most consistent player in the squad that season and you wondered how he had ever been kept out of the first team by the likes of Gareth Hall.

In the course of the season he won his international place back, helped Chelsea reach the FA Cup final (we know where you live Elleray) and it all culminated with him being rightfully chosen as Chelsea’s Player of the Year.

sc%20sept%2095.jpg After a season like that it seemed like the right back role was firmly Clarke’s now and he could look forward to an extended run in the first team followed by a the unveiling of a bronze statue in his honour in the Shed End and possibly a knighthood or a Nobel peace prize. Well actually not, Hoddle preferred wing backs to full backs and the signing of Dan Petrescu signalled a change in policy that once again threatened Clarke’s first team spot.

Unlike Jamie Carjacker, Clarke rolled his sleeves up and won a first team spot in Hoddle’s system, not as a right back, but somewhat surprisingly on the left hand side of the back three where he excelled.

In those days Chelsea manager’s came and went as quickly as …….. err……. Well as quickly as they do these days.

Glen received the call from England, packed his dog collar and vacated the manager’s chair which was soon to be filled by the Ruud boy. A man who had played as the best, with the best and against the best. What on earth would he want with a right footed boy from Ayrshire playing on the left hand side of his defence? If you ever needed evidence that Clarke had developed into a quality defender then a vote of confidence from Gullit is surely enough. That is exactly what Clarke got. Clarke held down his place as a left sided centre half and Ruud even had the faith in him to play him at left back in the FA Cup semi final when Erland Johnsen was selected in the centre to combat Wimbledon’s hoof and run approach to football.

sc%20march%2097.jpg A tactical decision that paid off handsomely as Chelsea secured their place in the 1997 FA Cup final against Middlesbrough. It is worth pointing out that Gullit had come across Clarke before, many many years before in fact. In 1983/84 when Clarke was still a young kid playing for St Mirren a Feyenoord side came to Love Street (St Mirren’s ground) boasting Johann Cruyff and Ruud Gullit in their side – Clarke is reported to have played a blinder that day and only a deflected Gullit shot gave Feyenoord a slender 1-0 win. For the final Clarke was reinstated in the centre of the defence and was partnered by Frank ‘please don’t duck’ Lebouef.

It was widely reported at the time that Dennis Wise turned to Clarke to be his right hand man when it came to motivating the team before the final by making sure everyone of them seized the opportunity to vanquish the bad memories of the 1994 family (we also know where you holiday Elleray). And vanquish it they did, with consummate ease.

Clarke was 34 by now and his playing career was beginning to draw to a natural close. Gullit still selected Clarke for first team duty on a fairly regular basis and when Gullit was replaced by Vialli, Luca continued to call on Clarke’s services as and when they were required. Despite no longer being a first team regular Clarke still picked up a League Cup winner medal in 1998 when he came off the bench after 75 minutes to replace Dan Petrescu (he made six appearances in that cup run including four starts) and then topped that by winning a European Cup Winners Cup medal by playing in seven of the nine games including the full ninety minutes of the 1998 final against Stuttgart.

sc%20and%20ruud%20at%20newcastle.jpg That final was to be Clarke’s last appearance in a Chelsea shirt. At the start of the new season he was out of the first team and he recognised that his playing days were over maybe it was time to consider a non playing role. Given this it was no great surprise that he accepted an offer from Gullit to take up a coach’s post at Newcastle. After he best part of 12 years of loyal service it appeared his days on the Chelsea books were over.

I felt sad to see him leave, he was part of the Stamford Bridge furniture but unlike Winston Bogarde not something you would rest your muddy feet on. In his playing career he made 321 league appearances for Chelsea (total appearances was in excess of 400) but he only won six caps for Scotland which is nothing short of scandalous.

sc%20reseve%20team%20coach.jpg However happily the Steve Clarke Chelsea story doesn’t end there. His time at Newcastle working under Gullit and then Bobby Robson (with a brief spell as caretaker manager in 1999) was a fairly forgettable one and he left the Geordie club in 2000. At that point he returned to Stamford Bridge purely in a scouting role, he was soon promoted to a position working with the youth team and held down this post until 2004 when new manager Jose Mourinho offered him the role of assistant manager. It would appear Jose wanted a right hand man who firstly knew the English league well, and secondly was a Chelsea man to the core. On both counts he could not have picked a better man than Clarke, when you consider that Clarke, in one role or another, has now worked for the last ten Chelsea managers (it’s true – count them, from John Hollins all the way through to Avram Grant).

With the shock departure of Jose Mourinho it was wisely rumoured that Clarke’s Chelsea days were soon to be ending however at the time of writing he is still very much in job, Avram Grant stated that he wanted Clarke to stay and stay he did.

sc%20and%20jm.jpg He carried on staying when Felipe Scolari replaced Grant as Chelsea manager at the start of the 2008/09 season however the end of an era was not far away. The appointment of Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola as manager of the West Ham pikeys led to a job offer for Clarke to be Zola's assistant at Upton Park. Clarke was keen to work with his old friend and put in a transfer request which Chelsea initially rejected claiming they were wanting to persuade Clarke to stay on. The truth was that they were being obstructive to secure suitable compensation from West Ham and a fee was soon agreed upon and Clarke let the Bridge probably or the final time (at least as a Chelsea employee).

Whatever Stevie chooses to do one thing is for certain, he is a Chelsea legend and will always be a Chelsea legend. He was been with the club for twenty years and for that I doff my cap in his direction. Having said that - West Bloody Ham!!

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