Clark's meteoric rise a Boys' own story

Huddersfield manager eyes promotion today – and don't bet against him landing Newcastle job down the line

Lee Clark described it as his "best night in football" and anyone fortunate enough to have attended Hudders-field Town's League One play-off semi-final second leg against Bournemouth will understand why. Amid the unfolding drama of a 3-3 draw and penalty shoot-out, it became apparent this was one of those special occasions when it is possible to feel a football club – players, staff, supporters – united in pursuit of a dream.

At 38, Clark is at the end of only his second full season as a manager but his ability to galvanise his club is already clear. Last season he led Huddersfield to the play-offs, where they lost to Millwall in the semi-finals; they have bounced back this term by finishing third and enter today's Old Trafford showdown against Peterborough unbeaten in 27 League matches in 2011. Yet his "bright young thing" status comes as no surprise to Brian Clark (no relation), his one-time mentor at Wallsend Boys' Club, who saw him as a manager in the making when he was just a teenager.

Clark, whose first find as a scout for Newcastle United was a certain Paul Gascoigne, encountered his namesake playing for his primary school at the age of seven. The sight of him "bossing the game" persuaded him to take the young terrier to Wallsend Boys' Club, the famed breeding ground of North-east talent from which Peter Beardsley, Alan Shearer and Michael Carrick, among others, emerged.

So far, so usual, but it is what happened next that singles Lee Clark out. In 1988, the year he turned 16, he and Brian set up a football club in Walker, his deprived home district in Newcastle's East End. "He said, 'I want a team to have of my own. I want one in Walker'," Brian Clark remembers. "He said that his friends in Pottery Bank, where he lived, didn't have anyone to take them on. He wanted it and I got it for him. The local council gave us the money – about £350 – and we started a team off called Walker Central. That was 1988 and he was with us till 1992."

Clark was then making his way as a talented midfield prospect at St James' Park but every Thursday night he would lead coaching sessions, then oversee their Sunday fixtures. "He wasn't just a coach who got them kicking a ball around in a gym and then came to the game. He would sit down and talk with the kids and tell them their faults. For those four years Walker Central couldn't get beaten. As a coach, he won cups, leagues, everything. He had a knack."

One of the youngsters under his wing was the current Newcastle striker Shola Ameobi; another, David Beharall, made six league appearances for the club in the late Nineties. Walker Central has grown subsequently and two recent alumni, Sam Ameobi and Michael Richardson, are on the fringes of Newcastle's first team.

Today Clark is a touchline jack in the box, his manner underlining Brian Clark's observation that "he is always in a hurry, he wants things to happen now". Even in his Walker days, he was a perfectionist. Brian recalls the teenager devising a plan to stop Paul Brayson, now with Blyth Spartans, scoring against them for another boys' team, Montagu & North Fenham – even though Walker were winning their meetings handsomely. "He said, 'He's back again, that little kid there – he scored twice last time and the time before three times. I don't want him to score against us any more'."

When Clark took the Huddersfield job in December 2008, after assisting Glenn Roeder at Newcastle and Norwich, he declared that he had wanted to manage from 16. He took his first coaching badge at 23 and throughout his playing days took notes of what his managers were doing.

Listening to Brian, it is possible to see that key pieces were slotting into place at an early age. "When he signed for Newcastle, other lads like Steve Watson looked up at Lee. People wanted to play for him, people wanted to be with him, older lads respected him." Watson himself – who, like Paul Stephenson, is another Wallsend Boys graduate and Newcastle old boy in Huddersfield's boot room – says Clark was the player team-mates always turned to with questions about football trivia, such was his knowledge.

On the field, Clark, though never the quickest, had the priceless ability to read the game. "I remember saying to him, 'To make up for your lack of pace you have to read the game, you have to stand and see the game, see where the weaknesses and strengths are of the other teams'," says Brian. He could also pick a pass. "When Kevin Keegan was at Newcastle, he didn't like him at first because he thought he couldn't run, but Keegan fell in love with him because of his passing," he adds, citing Clark's role in the goals scored by team-mates Andy Cole, Kevin Phillips and Louis Saha. Perhaps inevitably, Clark has Huddersfield playing passing football with the sweet left foot of winger Gary Roberts a prominent feature.

If Old Trafford seems the perfect stage for Darren Ferguson, son of you know who, to repeat the promotion which he won in his first spell with Peterborough, Clark himself has known success there – scoring for Fulham in a 3-1 win over Manchester United in 2003.

That was among the highlights of a playing career that included promotion with Newcastle, Sunderland and Fulham. Whether or not he achieves another today to end Huddersfield's 10-year exile from the second tier, Brian Clark is confident that a bright future beckons.

Before Huddersfield faced Newcastle in the Carling Cup last August, their chairman Dean Hoyle admitted that Clark regarded the manager's job at St James' Park as "his Holy Grail". Brian does not doubt that he will one day attain it.

"He wants the big job, he wants the Newcastle job at some time in his life. He is determined to be a top manager and he will be. I will have a bet with anybody."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence