We’re remaining in the late eighties with a player who is often overlooked in the history of great Lincoln stalwarts. Left-back Dave Clarke didn’t make the top 100 players to have represented the Imps in 2007, but with 214 outings in all competitions to his name over a six-year period, he was desperately unlucky not to be given the nod.
Clarke played at left back for the most of his Imps stay, joining the side in 1987 as Colin Murphy put together a side capable of getting back in the Football League. he came from Notts County with Mick Waitt in a swap deal that saw Gary Lund move to Nottingham. Prior to signing for the Imps he had earned England youth honours with the Magpies.
He even racked up 16 appearances in the old First Division for County. His arrival, as with many of the players signed that summer, was a coup of significant proportion but like his place in history, is often overlooked in favour of some of the bigger name players.
Clarke was very much a modern day full back ahead of his time. He could get forward in a time when defenders were expected to defend, but he liked to either overlap a winger or, when we didn’t have wide players, push on into midfield.
He impressed during the historic GMVC season of 87/88, coming off the bench on his debut to bag against Stafford Rangers as we picked up our first away win. Considering the first two matches saw us conceded seven goals, this was a bigger achievement than it sounds today. He went on to play a handful of matches in midfield that year. After coming off the bench at Christmas to bag against Kidderminster, he started in midfield away at Northwich.
Shane Nicholson had the left back slot tied up, but Clarke netted again as we beat Fisher and away at Dagenham as Murph found a way to include both. Nicholson picked up an injury against Kidderminster as we drew 3-3 at their place and Clarke grabbed the number 3 shirt, netting as we beat Altrincham 5-0. He finished the season with five goals from 26 outings.
Injuries often plagued his Imps career and during our first season back in the Football League that was the case. He made 36 appearances in the league, again trading places with Shane Nicholson, scoring three times. He did bag both goals of our League Cup tie with Southampton, proving his worth as a dead ball specialist.
As his Imps career ploughed on he became as dependable as any. He nailed down the left back spot again in 1989/90, only to again pick up an injury and suffer from a lack of games. He missed 16 matches in Colin Murphy’s final season in charge, then played just 14 times in 1990/91.
It seemed as though his days might be numbered as those injuries bit hard, but Clarke persevered. He bounced back under Steve Thompson, making another 30 outings in the league in 1992/93. Never one to shy away from striking the ball from distance, he bagged a wonderful opener against Northampton to give us a 1-0 lead, with Jason Kabia adding a second on a memorable away day.
By 1993/94 the moustachioed figure of Clarke had become a staple for City, much like the ginger noggin of Paul Smith on the other defensive flank. Both started as first choice under Keith Alexander, but Clarke’s rotten luck with injuries was about to end his spell with the Imps. He played in both legs of the memorable FA Cup tie with Everton, looking every bit as mobile and committed as he did the first time he pulled on the red and white.
Just a couple of days later he picked up an injury in a game against Doncaster, which the Imps won 2-1. Ian Baraclough took his place and that was the end of Clarke’s Imps’ career. Keith Alexander left at the end of the season and Clarke followed him as Sam Ellis set about breaking up a half-decent side.
After a one-season stay at Doncaster Rovers here briefly appeared for Gainsborough before dropping out of football altogether.
Would He Fit In Now?
To answer that in a far more succinct manner than I, welcome back Jon Battersby with his view on the left back.
“For some reason, whether it’s been in good sides or bad, Lincoln have always had a canny knack of finding great full backs, and Dave Clarke was no exception.
“A left back with a wealth of experience, Clarke dropped a division to join the Imps for the fateful season in 1987-88 to join Murph’s mission and would stay a further five seasons with the Imps as they attempted to better their usual 10th place finish in Division 4.
“As well as doing his job first and foremost as a defender, Clarky could get forward like the modern day full backs do now, linking up with our wingers, and would chip in with five or six goals a season, no mean feat when that sometimes matched our strikers haul in that era.
“Of course, he will be best remembered for being our dead ball specialist of the time, and scored many a free kick from distance- for me popping up memorably at a freezing Scarborough in February with a last minute 25-yard free kick to gain us a point and make the journey home at least worthwhile.
“I could quite easily see him slotting into our team now, feeding Bruno down the channels just as he did David Puttnam in the late 80’s and early ’90’s and even though he’d probably lack Harry Toffolo’s athleticism and driving forward runs, his intelligence as a player would see him do okay. I’d compare him to more of a Sam Habergham- “Mr Dependable”, the thinking man’s left back who both had a cultured free kick in them.
“Had he been around in today’s world as a footballer and with the levels of fitness, then I think he could have easily have staked a claim as our first choice left back.”