Do You Remember ? Paul Clarke 1974-86
Interview By Donny Muir in 2001
Your introduction into organised football?
For as long as I can remember football has always been the main pastime in the Clarke household. As a young boy I spent many long hours practising my skills with my father Eddie, his brother Jim who was on Kilmarnock's books in the late 1960's and my brothers Stephen and Michael. Like many other boys organised football began for me with the clubs at 8 years and at the age of ten playing for St. Mary's Primary in Saltcoats and thereafter at St Michael's Academy, Kilwinning. At the age of 14 (1971) I played for Saltcoats Star Youth Team and shortly afterwards signed an 'S' form with Kilmarnock. I then played for Kilmarnock's youth team at the time - Kilmarnock Star (alongside a young Stuart McLean).
Did you rough it out in the Juniors or was straight into the senior game?
As a consequence of Kilmarnock being relegated in 1973, I was farmed out at a tender age of sixteen to Ardrossan Winton Rovers for a season. This was a great learning experience for me as the standard of junior football at that time was very good. During my time I played alongside some memorable players…I seem to remember a young and fit Ian Welsh who is now in fact Chief Executive at Rugby Park. Although only there for one season I managed to win their player of the year award.
When and how did the move to Killie come about?
I was spotted playing as a schoolboy by the late Jimmy McIntosh, who as well as being a Kilmarnock scout was also the groundsman at my secondary school. Around this time Celtic also wanted to sign me on an 'S' form but my father thought that Killie was the better option!
Who were the manager and the established stars?
Walter McCrae signed me just as the full-time era at Kilmarnock was coming to an end. Amongst the fans favourites at the time were Brian Rodman and Eddie Morrison. (right)
Can you recall your debut?
Yes, vividly. August 9th 1975, Killie against Partick Thistle. As a seventeen year old it was a tremendous feeling to pull on a strip and play for the first team. We were beaten 3-1 by them and for me it was the start of a long standing dislike for the Jags. I don't think we beat them for years.
Was being a part timer problematic ?
Not for me, I'd just left school and life couldn't be better…football and a job (the good old days)!
What do you recall of the general state of the club?
Being young and impressionable, I thought of the club was well run and had the best facilities in Scotland outside the Old Firm. The people at the club from Jean Milloy in the office, to the players and the fans were brilliant but obviously there were problems upstairs in the Board Room at this time which continued throughout my sixteen years at the club.
How long did it take you to become a permanent member of the defence?
I was lucky, once in the team in 1975 I was never out unless injured or suspended, apart from half a season when Jim Clunie took over.
What were your thoughts on Killie's promotion & relegation habits?
Well life was never boring and there was always something to play for. Attempting to gain promotion was really exciting and quite often, as the fans will remember, it went to the last game of the season and we usually managed it! Obviously the years when we faced relegation were very depressing as we only managed to remain in the Premier League for two consecutive seasons on one occasion in the early 80's.
Who were your favourite defensive partners?
It has to be the famous long serving defence line up of McLean, Clarke, McDicken (right) and Robertson. There was a time in 1983 for around a dozen games, when I played in a unique half back line of Clark, Clarke and Clark!
Do you feel that full time football would have made Killie a force?
Who knows? The money just wasn't there.
Any highlights from your early days?
Yes, too many to mention but one of them must be scoring Kilmarnock's first ever Premier League goal against Motherwell at Rugby Park on 4th September 1976, also the overhead clearance at Firhill against Partick Thistle later that season. I wish I had a pound for every time that still gets mentioned to me! I really enjoyed playing against Kenny Dalglish who was one of my heroes and was proud of the fact that he never scored against us. Other highlights include playing against George Best, another hero of mine, and the great Italian superstar of the time Paulo Rossi. I played against him when playing for the Scottish League in Italy. It became all the more memorable when he scored a hat trick in the World Cup a few months later. I also look back with fond memories of the 'battle of the Clarke brothers' when Killie played St Mirren at Rugby Park in season 82/83. Due to family rivalry (friendly of course) I was under pressure not to let myself down. There was a proud father in the stand that day and I was really chuffed when I scored both of Killie's goals in a 2-2 draw and won the 'man of the match' award.
Any real downers?
The saddest thing I can remember was when our striker, Ian Fallis, died in a tragic road accident in 1977. This was a sad time for everyone at the club then.
Favourite cup-tie memory?
It has to be in 1978 when we were in the First Division. We beat Premier League St Mirren at Love Street in the third round. We were then drawn against Celtic at Parkhead in the next round. We drew 1-1 with them but they were very lucky on the night. At that time everyone wrote us off before the reply even took place saying 'the Old Firm never give you a second chance'. However, on a memorable night we beat them 1-0 with a goal from Big D. I still remember the feeling.
At last I get a chance to put this in print. I was not at Inverness in February 1985. I was injured and not even at the game to witness Killie getting beat 3-0 from a (then) Highland League team. This is my recurring nightmare and I wasn't even there…honest!
You had a few managers, who did you rate best?
A loaded question. Each had their own qualities. Personally, I really enjoyed playing for Willie Fernie. We had a lot of good quality players at the club and Willie's philosophy was just to go out and enjoy the game. In hindsight at that time we were very naive regarding tactics etc. Davie Sneddon was overall the best manager in my opinion. He was a very shrewd judge of a player and a very nice man. Jim Clunie came along next, we got off on the wrong foot…he dropped me! I did not like his abrupt style of management. The following season I regained my place in the team and we both came to respect each other's opinions on the game. My final manager was Eddie Morrison whom I had played alongside. Eddie was great player, a Killie legend and a great guy, but he didn't stand a chance as a manager as he was there at a time when the club was in crisis. No money, no crowds, no team.
If you could replay a match again what one would it be and why?
It would be the match on 12th April 1986 against Forfar Athletic at Station Park. You may think it a strange choice, but it changed my life. A few months earlier I had decided that if Kilmarnock failed to get promotion to the Premier League that season, I would apply to join Strathclyde Police. We lost 1-0, missed two penalties and subsequently failed to gain promotion by one point. If I could play this match again I'd have taken one of the penalties…even with my penalty record! Or how about Killie against Ayr, 30th October 1976. We beat them 6-1 at Rugby Park. I wouldn't change a single thing in this one apart from letting that shower score towards the end. A memorable victory for all Killie fans.
What happened after we blew promotion at Forfar?
Well, as I've said, this was a crucial game for me personally so I entered into this game like a man possessed, splitting my head open, Rab C. bandage, blood and guts…the lot. After the game Eddie Morrison the manager was so disgusted with the result he just walked out of the dressing room saying nothing. I decided to take over and lost the plot a bit with the other players. I think the frustration had been building up for a long time and I wanted to say my piece…so I did.
Was it frustrating to see Steve go to Chelsea?
Not at all. At the time I was 28 and had missed the boat, so to speak. After all he is my wee brother, so he went South with my best wishes and anyway, I taught him all he knows. The most important thing is I still hold the family 'keepie-up' record, although my son, Peter, isn't far behind.
Did Paul Clarke fulfil his ambitions?
Not entirely, although playing for Killie for ten years was an honour it would have been nice to try full time football. I enjoyed the experience of being selected for the Scotland Under 21 pools which at that time included Roy Aitken, Davie Cooper, Willie Miller, Gordon Strachan etc. Given the opportunity, I felt I could have been a better player if I'd been full time.
How would Paul Clarke describe Paul Clarke as a player?
I may be accused of being biased but…Good solid defender, both in the air and on the ground. Not the quickest, but able to play football from defence and always capable of scoring the odd goal. As Ernie Bolton says, 'good enough to play in midfield'.
How would a fit young Paul Clarke fit in with today's team?
Difficult question, but I sometimes wonder. The game is so much quicker nowadays and tackling is almost outlawed, so who knows?
Why, oh why, did you leave us to join the police?
This is the question I ask myself every Saturday afternoon at 3.00 pm! In 1986, approaching my 30th birthday, I realised that life at Rugby Park had become frustrating for me personally, as the club was really struggling and showing no apparent signs of improving. Although my last season at the club was one of my best, I knew deep down that my football career was coming to an end. At that time most players retired in their early thirties. I had witnessed other long serving players like George Maxwell and Derrick McDicken being phased out and I didn't want to finish like that. I wanted to leave on my terms. I had always thought about joining the Police Force and back then you had to join before you were thirty years of age.
How did you feel watching Killie lurch from one crisis to another and being unable to do anything?
Very frustrated…just like every other Kilmarnock fan.
How destructive were the Killie Board before you left?
I watched it happen over a long number of years…just like the Celtic of recent times. It's all credit to Bobby Fleeting for his foresight and of course the late Mr. Moffat for Kilmarnock's resurgence.
Did you keep an eye on Killie's re-birth under Burns and Fleeting?
During this period I was living and working on Arran but always tried to take my son Peter (a Killie die-hard) to games when I could. In fact during my time on the island I started up an Arran boys team, which is still going strong. I brought them over here for several games and hopefully made some of them Ayrshire Killie fans.
Do you ever wish you could have been a part of it?
Not really…I try to be philosophical enough to realise that my time as a pro player had been and gone.
Did you get to our the 97 Cup Final at Ibrox?
Yes, what a fantastic day for everyone to remember. We had a real family outing, my daughter Pauline even dressed the dog in Killie colours. It was a great feeling being part of the convoy coming back down the A77. I remember we were standing outside the courthouse with Stuart McLean and his family, watching the open top bus go past and thinking how terrific and unbelievable it all seemed. Everyone was so euphoric, I don't know if we could ever repeat that day.
Do you feel you get the recognition you deserve for your service to Killie?
I don't think of it in those terms but yes, definitely from the true fans.
How would you sum up your Killie memories…and any regrets?
I have a vast store of terrific memories and can recall most of the 450 or so games I played in, but don't ask me what I had for my tea yesterday! Most football players and fans will know what I mean by this. My only regret is retiring, I'm still getting used to it thirteen years later.
You're back at the club now, in what capacity?
For the past four years I've been helping with the youth set up. I coach the Under 16's with Jack McGillvary (ex Killie left winger, 1976). We play on Sundays and travel as far afield as Inverness, Montrose and even Dingwall. Job satisfaction comes when some of the boys are good enough to come through the ranks. One of the reasons I am involved with the club is that, like everyone else at the club, I feel as if I belong.
Any closing statements or words for the Killie faithful?
Killie's had a great few years under Bobby, Jimmy and Gerry's guidance as we all know, so lets hope everyone remembers this whatever the future holds. And finally, on match days it would be great to hear the fans really get behind the team and give us more singing. Lets be heard.
P.S. Watch out for some good young players coming through…you read it hear first!
Interview By Donny Muir