My favourite former Sunderland player
The enthusiastic Barry Venison was definitely in with a shout as my favourite ex-mackem player to play for the Toon, and he had supported them as a youngster apparently.
However, the man who stands head and shoulders (literally) above the likes of Barry, Paul Bracewell and even Alan Brown, is a man that was born in Hemsworth, Yorkshire…and who signed for Newcastle from Sunderland on a free transfer in the crazy summer of 1982.
Crazy if you were a Geordie that is, for after the World Cup in Spain…our manager Arthur Cox went and signed the current England captain Kevin Keegan from First Division Southampton.
There was euphoria on Tyneside and a fair amount of disbelief nationally, that Keegan had decided to take a drop down into the second tier of English football.
His old Liverpool and England pal Terry McDermott would soon be coming back to Newcastle too, whilst the signing of big Jeff Clarke went totally under the radar on Tyneside.
Kevin Keegan played the script perfectly against QPR at a packed St James Park and scored the winner on his debut…but it was Jeff Clarke who stood out as Man of the Match for Newcastle in a defence that also consisted of Wes Saunders, Peter Haddock and a man making his second debut for the Toon sixteen years after his first, John Craggs.
Jeff settled straight in, and he was that good that there were no mutterings about his Sunderland past from any of the lads on the terraces. He didn’t look ugly enough to be a “regular” centre-half but he actually was rugged and tough, plus he could also play. The general consensus amongst my mates after his first few games for us, was why the hell had the mackems let this 28 year old quality defender go, especially to their greatest rivals?
Jeff Clarke had a solid first season, although Newcastle were not consistent enough for a sustained promotion challenge.
However, in the 1983/84 season Peter Beardsley arrived from Vancouver Whitecaps to supplement Keegan and Waddle in a new 4-3-3 formation(our previous season’s top scorer Imre Varadi had left Newcastle for Jack Charlton’s Sheff Wed on the eve of the new season). We also brought in a footballing central defender from QPR to complement big Jeff, the elegant and classy Glenn Roeder.
Newcastle began playing an extremely entertaining brand of football thereafter, with our front three deservedly picking up most of the plaudits along the way. Eventually, Newcastle secured promotion to the first Division by finishing in third position, and everybody from the team to the fans, from the chairman Stan Seymour with the help of Newcastle Breweries to the manager Arthur Cox, had all played their part.
After our final game of the season I remember the supporters refusing to leave St James’ as King Kev, Terry Mac and Chrissy Waddle got down on their hands and knees to pay homage to the Gallowgate End. As I looked just beyond them I saw a big blonde fella looking as proud as punch, with a fan’s scarf draped around his neck and a huge satisfied smile on his face. It was Jeff Clarke and he had done his job admirably after arriving from Wearside two years earlier.
Newcastle United was his swansong and Jeff had successfully crossed over the regional divide and become a hero on Tyneside.
(*After retiring from playing Jeff Clarke coached at Newcastle United whilst also undertaking a degree in physiotherapy. He is currently the physio at Dundee United… a position he has held since 2003.)
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