Joe Wark: Pacy, athletic left-back who served Motherwell across three decades and later did valuable work on dementia

Wark was revered for his essential decency as much as his professional excellence

Ivan Ponting
Friday 01 January 2016 02:35
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Joe Wark was an archetypal one-club footballer, a monument to consistency as Motherwell's left-back between the late 1960s and mid-1980s, making more than 500 appearances and serving seven managers. That the pacy, athletic Glaswegian was never capped by his country was viewed as outrageous by regular followers of the Steelmen, who saw his selection for the Scottish League against their English counterparts in 1976 as scant consolation.

Yet while his tangible rewards for such a lengthy career were negligible – two second-tier title medals in 16 seasons – the clean-cut, scrupulously fair Wark rejoiced in rather more than respect at Fir Park. For his essential decency as much as his professional excellence, he was revered. Having joined Motherwell from junior club Irvine Victoria in time for the 1968-69 season, the 20-year-old made a dramatic start, keeping a clean sheet as emergency goalkeeper for all but the first three minutes of his debut in a pre-season friendly with Tranmere Rovers after the regular keeper, Keith MacRae, had been injured. It was a feat he would repeat four years later, stepping between the posts with similar success when Billy Ritchie was hurt against St Johnstone.

An inside-forward at the time of his arrival, Wark enjoyed a golden first season, not missing a match as 'Well romped to the divisional championship, scoring eight goals and being voted the club's player of the year. Thereafter he settled smoothly at left-back, his lack of international recognition more a reflection of competition from the likes of Danny McGrain, Willie Donachie and Frank Gray than any personal shortcoming.

The nearest he came to major club honours was in the two domestic knock-out competitions, but Motherwell lost three semi-finals during his tenure, to St Johnstone in the 1969-70 League Cup and to Airdrie and Rangers respectively in the Scottish Cups of 1975 and '76. There was also relegation from the top flight in 1978-79, but the setbacks were mitigated by promotion to the Premier League in 1981-82 and a lengthy spell as captain.

Wark retired as a player in 1984, later coaching at Fir Park, then retained close ties with the Steelmen following his departure, joining them in a campaign to fight dementia after he was diagnosed with the condition. The former captain took part in the "Remember Well" project – a concerted effort between the club, North Lanarkshire Council, NHS Lanarkshire and Alzheimer's Scotland – by compiling a memory book, featuring pictures and thoughts from his time in the game. The project has been credited with helping other sufferers by stimulating minds and offering camaraderie.

Joseph Wark, footballer: born Glasgow 9 October 1947; played for Motherwell 1968-84; married (two sons); died 1 October 2015.

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