Pacy Manchester City winger
Wednesday 15 March 2006
Royston James Clarke, footballer: born Newport, Monmouthshire 1 June 1925; played for Cardiff City 1942-47, Manchester City 1947-58, Stockport County 1958-59; capped 22 times by Wales 1948-56; married (three daughters); died Sale, Cheshire 13 March 2006.
For a decade in the middle of the 20th century, Roy Clarke offered everything that might be expected of a winger in the top flight of English football. Manchester City's wiry Welsh international flier was a dashing entertainer, both pacy and tricky; he packed a venomous left-foot shot and he refused to be intimidated by the violent attentions of hulking defenders whose delight it was to deposit slim flankmen such as he over the touchline and into the (mostly) cloth-capped crowd.
Clarke, who turned in a brightly inventive Wembley display against the polished England right-back Jeff Hall as the Mancunians beat Birmingham City in the 1956 FA Cup final, also excelled for Wales throughout the first half of the 1950s, until he was supplanted by Cliff Jones, 10 years his junior.
A natural all-round sportsman, Clarke excelled at swimming and rugby as a boy. He experienced an early taste of international competition with the Welsh schools baseball team, but it was at football that he shone most persistently. After leaving school, he worked in coal mines during the Second World War, but found time to play for the Newport amateur side Albion Rovers, then was spotted by Cardiff City, who signed him in December 1942.
Clarke's game developed rapidly at Ninian Park and he played for Wales against Northern Ireland in an unofficial "Victory" international in 1946, then starred as the Bluebirds romped to the Third Division South title in the first post-conflict League campaign.
By then his penetrative talent was being sought by several leading clubs, and in April 1947 the shy 21-year-old was sold to Manchester City for £12,000. Soon he claimed the unusual, probably unique, distinction of playing in three different divisions of the Football League in consecutive games. After his farewell outing for Cardiff, Clarke lined up for the Maine Road club in their final match of a Second Division season in which they had already secured promotion as champions; thus his next appearance was in the First Division at the outset of 1947/48.
From the day of his Manchester City début there was little doubt that Clarke would make his mark in the top tier. By the time he made his full international entrance against England at Villa Park in November 1948, he was a regular member of the City attack. In 1949/50 City suffered the trauma of relegation, but they bounced back at the first attempt, then spent several terms in the wrong half of the table before stabilising in mid-decade, when they reached two consecutive FA Cup finals.
Clarke was outstanding on the Wembley trail in 1955, scoring the only goal of the semi-final against Sunderland with a spectacular diving header on a Villa Park quagmire, only to be shattered by a knee injury in the dying moments which was destined to sideline him for the final. Though subsequently he looked likely to make a timely recovery, he received another knock on the damaged joint and missed the Wembley defeat by Newcastle United.
There was redemption in store as the much-improved Blues reached the next final, where they faced Birmingham. Resplendent in maroon-and-white striped shirts, rendered necessary by a colour-clash with their opponents, they made an ideal start, with Clarke playing an integral role in a slickly worked goal after three minutes. The centre-forward Don Revie slid the ball to the Welshman on the left flank, then the deep-lying schemer ran forward to take a precise return before deftly setting up Joe Hayes to net from close range. Soon Birmingham equalised, but in the second half, Manchester City seized control. The northerners prevailed 3-1, thanks to further goals from Jack Dyson and Bobby Johnstone.
By now Clarke had reached his thirties and had won the last of his 22 caps for Wales but he completed another two terms in the top flight before accepting a move to Third Division Stockport County in September 1958. After one season at Edgeley Park, he spent a brief spell as manager of non-League Northwich Victoria before establishing a local sportswear business.
But Roy Clarke was far from finished with Manchester City. In 1960 he returned to Maine Road to run the development office for six years, then he and his wife Kath took over the management of the Blues' new social club, running it for more than 20 years with enormous success. Roy was nothing loath to get his hands dirty, being ready to sort out the plumbing or use a hammer and nails in an emergency.
An affable character, he was a leading light in the Manchester City Former Players Association, and after his retirement he conducted supporters' tours of Maine Road, proving an eloquent ambassador for the club to which he had given most of his life.
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