Geoff Clarkson

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The Independent Online

Geoff Clarkson, rugby league player: born Wakefield, Yorkshire 12 August 1943; married (two daughters); died Huddersfield, West Yorkshire 10 July 2001.

There has never been a rugby league player who has lived up as handsomely as Geoff Clarkson to the aphorism coined for Tommy Docherty in football – that he had more clubs than Jack Nicklaus.

By the time he retired in 1983 at the age of 40, Clarkson had been transferred 12 times – more than any player in the history of the game. There are those who believe that, if he had stayed in one place long enough, he would have won International honours to go with his Yorkshire caps but, as the game was structured in his day, the best way to make money from it was to keep on the move.

Clarkson also represented Yorkshire at rugby union before signing for his first professional club, Wakefield Trinity, in 1966. He played in the final and replay as Trinity, then a major force in the game, won their first Championship in 1967 and was a substitute when they won the trophy again the following season.

It was then that his travels began, initially to Bradford Northern and then in 1970 across the Pennines to Leigh. If there is one club with whom this restless player should be most closely associated, then it is Leigh.

As a Leigh player, he won the Lancashire Cup and, most memorably, the Challenge Cup in 1971, producing a strong performance in the second row as the club engineered one of the biggest Wembley upsets of all time by beating the unbackable favourites, Leeds, 24-7.

When the Leigh player-coach, Alex Murphy, moved to Warrington later that year, he soon took Clarkson with him. It was the way coaches worked in those days; they liked to bring in familiar faces, men like Clarkson, whose abilities they knew and trusted. A year later, however, he returned to Yorkshire to join Leeds, where he became one of the few players to win both Lancashire and Yorkshire Cup-winners' medals.

York, Bramley – whom he helped to promotion – and a second stint at Wakefield were his next ports of call, but another of his career highlights came at Hull Kingston Rovers, a club he joined in 1978 and did much to steer to the Championship the following year.

He was by now playing in the front row and his Rovers team-mate Phil Lowe believes his uncompromising approach made all the difference to their prospects that season. "He changed Hull KR from a team that got beaten every time we went across the Pennines to one that commanded respect," Lowe says – but there was, of course, no question of Clarkson's settling down there on a long-term basis.

Short stints back at Bradford and at Oldham followed, but any theories that Clarkson, in his late thirties, was playing on borrowed time, were disproved when Murphy, back at Leigh for the second of his four spells as coach, sent again for his tried and tested work-horse – a decade after they had shared in the Wembley triumph.

The talisman had the desired effect once more, Clarkson making 24 appearances as Leigh won the First Division title for the only time in their history. It would have been a good time to retire, but Clarkson tried out another new club at Featherstone, becoming one of the few players to soldier on beyond their 40th birthday.

A surveyor by profession, Clarkson later headed his own construction company, but he will be remembered as a player who built a remarkable, itinerant career by making the most of the game's structure at the time.

Lowe is one of those who believes Clarkson would have played for Great Britain if the selectors had known where to find him from month to month. But that was not his way, because he was always on the lookout for a chance to turn his abilities into another pay-day somewhere else. Lowe recalls: "He used to say to me, 'Phil, the whole of Cumbria's untapped.' " Amazingly, he never signed for a club in that county, although he did have a short time in Australia.

No player has been more entitled to the motto that should have been on his locker: "Have boots, will travel."

Dave Hadfield

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