Brian Clark: Footballer best known for scoring the winning goal when Cardiff City beat Real Madrid
Saturday 21 August 2010
The sublime header which condemned Real Madrid to an unexpected defeat by Cardiff City in a European quarter-final stands as the shimmering pinnacle of Brian Clark's career.
Yet certainly in terms of glamour and publicity it offered a vivid contrast to his routine experience as a courageous and supremely dedicated striker who served six Football League clubs, totalling 220 goals in more than 600 appearances throughout the 1960s and '70s.
Clark was always going to play the game for a living, following in the footsteps of his father, Don, who had been a prolific marksman for Bristol City in the seasons immediately after the Second World War. Having captained an exceptional Bristol Boys team in the late 1950s, the sharpshooting 17-year-old enlisted at Ashton Gate in the spring of 1960, making his senior debut a year later.
For another season Clark burnished his skills in the reserves before making a sustained breakthrough in 1962-63, forming a potent dual spearhead with the former England centre-forward and local folk hero, John Atyeo. With Bobby "Shadow" Williams completing an inside trio of immense enterprise, it was disappointing that Fred Ford's side languished in mid-table in the old Third Division, but that didn't obscure Clark's eye-catching personal progress.
That season he topped City's scoring chart, scoring 26 times in all senior competitions and becoming a crowd favourite, not only for his goals but also for his unselfish and fearless approach. Standing just under six feet tall and sturdily built, the blond Bristolian was adept at shielding the ball under intense physical pressure, though he wasn't overtly aggressive, which would have been alien to an essentially amiable nature.
Clark was a glutton for sustained toil, which made him a perfect foil for the ageing but still mightily effective Atyeo, and he was a deft passer of the ball, excelling at quickfire interchanges with his stylish partner. Best of all, he was a fine finisher, powerful in the air just like his father, and packing a savage shot in either foot.
Inevitably, as the decade wore on and the goals continued to flow, Clark was the subject of transfer talk – a possible £35,000 switch to top-flight West Bromwich Albion was mentioned – but nothing came of it, nor did he receive the England under-23 recognition which many observers believed was the least he deserved. For the Robins, though, he continued to thrive. He was top scorer as they earned promotion to the second flight in 1964-65, he and Atyeo both registering in the climactic last-day home victory over Oldham Athletic, and then doing well as City finished a creditable fifth in their first season at the higher level.
But then came a lean spell at the outset of 1966-67, and manager Ford dismayed the majority of the Ashton Gate faithful by dispatching the 23-year-old to Huddersfield Town in exchange for the veteran Scottish schemer Johnny Quigley and £2,500. The easy-going West Countryman never really settled in Yorkshire and after only 16 months with the second-tier Terriers he was sold to Cardiff City of the same division for £8,000 in February 1968.
At Ninian Park he blossomed anew, registering twice on his debut in a 4-3 victory at Derby, averaging a goal a game for his first six outings and striking up a productive front-line understanding with the young John Toshack. Meanwhile, the Bluebirds flirted with material improvement, particularly in 1970-71, when they finished third in the table, only three points off a promotion place, though that season was most significant for the European Cup-Winners' Cup campaign for which they had qualified by lifting the Welsh Cup.
With Clark a pillar of the attack, especially after the mid-season departure of Toshack to Liverpool, City cruised past Larnaca of Cyprus and the French club, Nantes, before confronting Real Madrid in the last eight. Though given little hope outside the Principality, they confounded the Spanish thoroughbreds in the first leg at Ninian Park, with Clark's adroit nod, from a cross by rookie winger Nigel Rees, securing a 1-0 win which was greeted tumultuously by the 47,500 supporters who had crammed into the ground.
A 2-0 reverse in the second leg at the Bernabeu saw them eliminated, but they had fought bravely, and Clark's goal became the second most famous in Cardiff's history, behind Hughie Ferguson's winner against Arsenal in the 1927 FA Cup final.
In 1971-72, during which the Bristolian was City's leading scorer for the third successive term, the team fell away badly, avoiding demotion only narrowly, but it still came as a surprise when he was sold to Third Division Bournemouth, valued at £70,000 in a package deal which also took midfielder Ian Gibson to Dean Court in October 1972. However, he didn't tarry on the south coast, switching to second-flight Millwall in September 1973 before returning to Cardiff in May 1975, assisting the Bluebirds' rise from the Third Division a year later.
There remained a two-and-a-half-year sojourn as a part-timer with Fourth Division Newport County while working as a sales representative for a firm selling industrial safety equipment, before Clark retired from League football, somewhat battered physically but eternally cheerful, in his mid-30s in 1978. Later he served as player-manager with non-League Maesteg, AFC Cardiff and Bridgend Town, still displaying the same combination of big-hearted commitment and estimable expertise that had stunned Real Madrid all those years earlier.
Brian Donald Clark, footballer; born Bristol 13 January 1943; played for Bristol City 1960-66, Huddersfield Town 1966-68, Cardiff City 1968-72 and 1975-76, Bournemouth 1972-73, Millwall 1973-75, Newport County 1976-78; married (two daughters); died Cardiff 9 August 2010.
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