Wayne enjoying his brave new world

Phil Shaw meets the youngest member of the Clarke clan, who takes his Telford United team to Notts County today in the FA Cup second round
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The Independent Online
A star-struck 11-year-old sprang deliriously from his seat when his brother scored the goal that won the FA Cup at Wembley. Nearly a quarter of a century later, Wayne Clarke is ready to uphold family honour on a humbler stage.

Now nudging 35, Clarke is in his first season as player-manager of the club lying 20th in the Vauxhall Conference, Telford United. It is all a far cry from his own top-flight career, let alone the day in 1972 when "our Allan" headed Leeds to glory beneath the Twin Towers.

Telford, though, have a Cup tradition of their own, having dumped 11 League teams from the competition in the past 13 years. After surviving a decade and a half as a full-time player without experiencing such an upset at first hand, Clarke is keen to make a start when Notts County visit Shropshire in the second round today.

Some former colleagues may, he admitted, be surprised to find him in management. The youngest of five brothers from the West Midlands who all played league football - and a striker who shared Allan's instinct for ruthless finishing - Wayne somehow seemed too specialised, too sharp to risk his reputation on the lower rungs of such a precarious ladder.

Allan tried it, notably at Leeds and Barnsley, with mixed results. He now works in the extractor-fan business in Scunthorpe, while Frank, Derek and Kelvin are also out of the game. "Allan told me: 'Unless you've got money, forget it'," Wayne said. "He had a bitter experience, but I went in with my eyes open and I believe I can turn things around."

His summer arrival at the Buck's Head, where Wolves now stage reserve fixtures, brought him almost full circle. Born in Wolverhampton, he was an apprentice at Molineux and made his senior debut for the club. They were already in free fall when the chance arose to join Birmingham.

The Clarke scoring instinct would have been useful the night that Birmingham, then in the old First Division, lost a third-round tie at home to Altrincham. "I played in the reserves at QPR that afternoon because I was coming back from injury," Clarke said. "I got in the ground for the last 10 minutes and it wasn't a pretty sight. But it does show that anyone can beat anyone else on their day."

Twelve months on, in the spring of 1987, he joined Everton for just pounds 300,000 as an emergency replacement for Graeme Sharp. Ten games and five goals later he had a championship medal, but it is for a moment of opportunism the following year that Merseyside remembers him.

Liverpool crossed Stanley Park needing only a draw to set a record of 30 matches unbeaten from the start of a season. Clarke struck the only goal, earning "a peck on the cheek" from the watching Allan, a member of the Leeds side whose landmark was thus preserved. It became "A Smacker from Sniffer" in the headlines.

In retrospect, it was the high point of Clarke's career. A succession of moves followed, including a loan return to Wolves in 1991. He was to be a foil for Steve Bull. "It could have been a great partnership because by then, teams had cottoned on to the long ball over the top for Bully. I liked to come short and link with midfield, so it would have given them variety.

"I was 20 minutes into my first match when I bust my ribs and punctured a lung. I went back to Manchester City, but when I was fit Peter Reid blocked the deal, so we shall never know now."

Clarke had been bought for City by Howard Kendall, who heads the list of those he hopes to emulate in his new role. "The best man-manager I played for. Never shouted his mouth off. Unfortunately for me he left soon after he signed me. Ironically, that's also what had happened at Everton."

Then there was John Bond. "His tactical awareness and technical ability as a coach were excellent when we were at Birmingham. Everything was geared to going forward, which suited me perfectly. But he'd get frustrated with players and let it show, when sometimes he should have bitten his lip."

Not to mention Ron Saunders. "He was a shrewd man and he could be extremely sarcastic, but we had a great laugh with him in training at Blues. He just never got on with the media, so people mistakenly assumed he was a dour character."

Clarke, however, resolved to be his own man when, with a century of league goals behind him, he took over a Telford team who had narrowly avoided relegation. Funds are scarce, the squad young and small in numbers, and he soon discovered that: "You're not just playing your own game, but 10 other people's too.

"But the most frustrating part is not having the players in every day. They train two nights a week, which makes it hard to iron out individual bad habits."

Notts County are second in the Second Division, 65 places above Telford. Clarke trusts that the loss of his old Anfield adversary, Steve Nicol, to Sheffield Wednesday may even matters up, though it was candour rather than kidology when he said: "We'll have to do a lot better than we have if we're going to beat them."

Despite a back injury, Clarke expects to lead from the front - "I haven't got much choice" - and at least one of the brothers in lore will be there to watch. Frank, a former Ipswich striker, is 53 now, yet if Wayne were to oblige with the winner, sibling revelry might once again be unconfined.

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