Wayne Clarke

Former Player Remembers: Wayne Clarke

Last month, Club Historian John Hutchinson spoke to former striker Wayne Clarke, who played an important role in the Everton team which won the old First Division title in 1987, before he moved to Leicester City two years later.
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He is one of five brothers who all played in the Football League. When he retired from playing in 1993, Wayne had made 520 league and cup appearances for eight different clubs, and had scored 158 goals. 

Born in Wolverhampton, Wayne was the youngest of five brothers, all of whom played league football. This prompted Wayne to begin by saying: “I think that five brothers playing in the Football League is probably a record.” 

When Wayne was seven, one of his brothers, Allan, joined Leicester City from Fulham for a British record transfer fee of £150,000, and when he was 15, he won the first of his England Schoolboy caps. 

“My first game as an England Schoolboy was at Oxford United’s old ground,” Wayne continued. “We beat Northern Ireland 5-0. I scored a hat-trick playing on the wing. I scored my third goal directly from a corner kick. We played West Germany in Koblenz and the Dutch in Holland. I also played at Wembley twice, against France and Wales. 

“It was a great start for me. To play for your country was a massive honour. When you think of how many kids there were up and down the country, I was very proud that I was chosen. 

“I was also capped at youth level five or six times. I got four caps in a tournament in Monte Carlo. All of this was a great experience, but I was such a home bird. I remember I was really upset to be leaving home for trials in Durham. It was quite daunting for me at the time. Obviously, I came through it and things like that build you up going forward. 

“At that time I also had trials at Arsenal and Leeds, but I didn’t want to leave home so the natural place to go was Wolves, as an associate schoolboy at 15, an apprentice at 16 and a professional at 17. They are a great club, but they were struggling a bit in the First Division. Players like John Richards and Willie Carr looked after me. I learned a lot from them.” 

Wayne made his First Division debut in May 1978 and, by the time he left Molineux for Birmingham City in August 1984, he had made 170 appearances for the club and scored 33 goals, during which time he suffered relegation in 1982 and celebrated being promoted back to the top flight a year later, along with Queens Park Rangers and Leicester City. 

Then (Everton legend) Colin Harvey became the manager. He wanted his own way and his own players, like Tony Cottee. The first game of the new season was the Charity (now Community) Shield match at Wembley against (FA Cup winners) Coventry and I scored the only goal.

Wayne Clarke

“In my last season at Wolves (1983/84), I was on a monthly rolling contract. I would have gladly signed a new contract if they’d improved the squad, but they never did. We were relegated again at the end of the season and I realised I had to leave, which I did. In the next two seasons, they suffered two more relegations and finished up in the Fourth Division.” 

Wayne signed for Ron Saunders at Birmingham City. The fee, which disappointed the Molineux club, was set by a tribunal at Old Trafford. 

“Birmingham had just been relegated with Wolves but, unlike Wolves, who were relegated again that season (1984/85), we went straight back up again, and I was Birmingham’s top scorer with 19 goals,” Wayne remembered. “However, the next season (1985/86), we were relegated again. I had quite a few injuries, which didn’t help and, like Wolves, Birmingham were selling their better players. 

“Back in the Second Division (1986/87), we struggled a bit. Ron Saunders left in January 1986. He had made me stronger, as a person and as a player. But then John Bond came in and he was brilliant. He played the type of football I enjoyed playing and I was top scorer again with 19 goals. This, and the way we were playing, got a few clubs interested in me, and I heard on the grapevine that Howard Kendall, Everton’s manager, was interested in signing me.” 

Everton, at the top of the First Division, signed Wayne in March 1987 for the closing months of the season. 

“The move came out of the blue,” Wayne continued. “John Bond phoned me to say that Howard [Kendall] wanted to meet me at the Posthouse Hotel in Great Barr that night. I went, and Howard told me that I could do a good job at Everton. I didn’t sign that night as there were two little things I was concerned about and when I did sign, he told me that whenever a player told him they wanted to think it over, he turned his back on them. That showed how much he wanted me.” 

Wayne quickly established himself as a key member of the Toffees’ side which went on to win the First Division title that season. 

“I scored five goals in 10 games,” Wayne recalled. “The big one was my first goal which I scored against Arsenal at Highbury because that day, Liverpool lost at home to Wimbledon and that gave us a six-point cushion. 

“At the end of the season, I got a First Division championship medal which is in the loft somewhere with my caps. I haven’t looked at them for some years now. 

“We had an end-of-season tour to Australia and New Zealand. We played the Australian national team. Then, during that close season, Howard left to go to Athletic Bilbao. He wanted to have a crack at European football because at that time, English clubs were banned from Europe (due to the Heysel disaster). At the time, Everton and Liverpool were the best teams in England and I think we would have had a very good crack at the European Cup. 

“Then (Everton legend) Colin Harvey became the manager. He wanted his own way and his own players, like Tony Cottee. The first game of the new season was the Charity (now Community) Shield match at Wembley against (FA Cup winners) Coventry and I scored the only goal.

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Wayne Clarke

Wayne Clarke celebrates winning the First Division title with Everton in 1987.

“That was the only trophy that Colin won, so I was pleased for him. Later that season, I scored the only goal in the Merseyside derby at Goodison, which stopped Liverpool from setting a new record of 39 games unbeaten. I also scored at Anfield. Actually, I scored two but the second one, which should have stood, didn’t. 

“But under Colin, I just wasn’t getting much game time. When I was playing I was scoring, but he seemed to leave me out. It came to a head in the 1989 FA Cup Final against Liverpool. He didn’t even have me as a sub, which I couldn’t understand, bearing in mind I often scored against Liverpool.

“I’d had a few run-ins with Colin, but that’s all water under the bridge now. I’ve still got huge respect for Colin and on the odd occasion I do go back (to Goodison), I’ll always greet him and hug him.” 

In June 1989, after making 76 appearances for Everton and scoring 22 goals, Wayne moved to David Pleat’s Leicester City, who were in the Second Division, in a deal which took Leicester City striker Mike Newell to Everton.

“I was about 30 then,” Wayne explained. “I didn’t want to be stuck on the bench. I wanted to play. Three clubs were interested in me: Ron Atkinson at Sheffield Wednesday, Jim Smith at Newcastle and David Pleat at Leicester. 

“When I’d been at Everton, Howard had been happy for me to live in the house I live in now, near to where I was born and share lifts with (Everton forward) Adrian Heath, who lived in Stoke. Leicester were also happy for me to live in my house and I liked what David was saying about Leicester City and football. I didn’t realise until then that David had played with my brother, Frank, for Shrewsbury Town. 

“When I signed for Leicester, I was looking forward to helping them out and scoring goals. Gordon Lee (who had managed Everton between 1977 and 1981) was the coach there and I got on well with him. Also, there were some good players at Leicester, like Gary McAllister, Ali Mauchlen, Gary Mills and Steve Walsh. 

“Unfortunately, I was carrying an injury from towards the end of my last season at Everton. I scored on my Leicester debut in a 1-1 draw at Hull, but I was struggling. Even in that first game, I was only able to run at three-quarters pace because I was struggling with my Achilles tendon.

“I played regularly (until the end of October), but in the end I had to go into David and say: ‘Look, I’m really struggling. My Achilles tendon is very sore.’ He said: ‘Right. We’ll get it sorted.’ I had the Achilles stripped in order to repair it. 

“While I was recovering, I’d heard a few whispers that Howard [Kendall], who’d signed me for Everton and who was now manager at Manchester City, was interested in me. His side was struggling in the First Division, but he was bringing new players like Peter Reid, Neil Pointon, Alan Harper and Adrian Heath. All of us had played for Howard at Everton.” 

Wayne signed for Manchester City in January 1990, with David Oldfield arriving at Filbert Street from Manchester City as part of the deal. 

I’ve played for some wonderful clubs, played with some really good managers and I’d like to think I got on with all of the supporters that I played for.

Wayne Clarke

“David Pleat was really good about it when I left Leicester,” Wayne continued. “It was an opportunity to return to the top flight with a manager I knew, but I was sad that the Leicester fans never really saw the real me because of the circumstances.

“I went straight into the Manchester City team, even though, recovering from my injury, I’d not even played a comeback reserve game at Leicester. Playing set me back, and I struggled for the rest of that season. Also, Howard had brought in Niall Quinn. 

“Then, Howard left after less than a year and went back to Everton. Peter Reid, who was a pal of mine, took over but I didn’t get on with his assistant manager, Sam Ellis, who had been Bury’s manager. He didn’t fancy my type of football, so I didn’t play many games.” 

While at Maine Road, Wayne had loan spells at Shrewsbury Town, Stoke City and Wolverhampton Wanderers. 

“In my first game back at Wolves, I was elbowed in the ribs while making a challenge,” he recalled. “Two ribs were broken and one went into my lung. I came off, my chest started to go tight and I could hardly breathe. They took me to hospital and I was x-rayed. It was very painful. It turned out that I had a massive hole in my lung. Thankfully, after five days, it healed itself so no operation was needed.” 

Wayne signed for Walsall the following year (1992/93), where he was top scorer with 21 goals, with the Saddlers losing out to Crewe Alexandra in the Fourth Division play-off semi-final. 

A year later, and despite suffering from groin and hernia injuries, Wayne scored 18 goals, which helped Shrewsbury Town win the Fourth Division title. 

“In my second season at Shrewsbury I got 11 goals in 12 games, but I had a back problem which meant I left Shrewsbury at the end of the season, ending my Football League career. But I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve played for some wonderful clubs, played with some really good managers and I’d like to think I got on with all of the supporters that I played for.” 

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