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I worded that wrong by the way - he hasn't been making the RESERVE bench. Waste of time sending him to Birmingham when he'd get a game elsewhere or maybe even for our development squad.

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#spoiltbypardew

 

Even the hashtag has been #Pardewed.

 

Not sure what Clark's done to deserve a shot at a bigger club like.

Yeah, I've a lot of time for Clark, but I don't think he's proven himself yet. He's in a tough situation at Birmingham, and would be wise to move on to a club with less off-field nonsense, get a club like Bolton, Shef Wed or similar challenging for the Play Off's/ promoted and he'd have shown sufficient competence to get a shot at a bigger club. Even then he'd still not be ready for our club, imo.

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SB: Lee, as a young lad, you grew up in Walker and played for the famous Wallsend Boys Club, who have also produced other local footballing talents such as Alan Shearer, Michael Carrick and Peter Beardsley. How crucial to your development as a footballer were those early days at the ‘Boys Club’, and what would your advice be to young kids reading this?

 

LC:: Well they were vitally important because the Boys Club didn’t just give you a chance to play football. They taught you about discipline in your life whether that was gonna be as a footballer in your future life, whether it was gonna be in another industry or a trade. They gave you great facilities to use and it didn’t just make you a footballer, but it taught you to be respectful of your team-mates, your manager, your coaches and the discipline you need going forward, later on in life.

For young kids, I would say take onboard everything your coaches say. Everyone’s not right all the time. You aren’t right as the player, the managers not always right and neither are your team-mates. Just respect them and work as hard as you possibly can, never give up. If you give it your best every single time you play or you train, nobody can criticise you.

 

SB: You worked your way through the academy at Newcastle United, before you got your chance in the first team, and were part of the famous ‘Entertainers’ side managed by Kevin Keegan. Personally for you, how inspiring of a manager was he to play under?

 

LC:: I’ve said it many times, he made you feel ten foot tall. Whether it was five-to-three, twenty-to-eight. Whatever time you were playing, as you went in the tunnel area when he gave his last words of encouragement to you, he made you feel the best you’ve ever felt.

He brought players in, he kept the players that were there who he believed could give him the type of football that he enjoyed playing and that gave us a lot of confidence to believe that we could do it. Especially for me, I was here from the day he walked into the day he walked out. So for a young, local lad to be able to handle that and also withstand it with the amount of players that we had, that’s something to look back on with great pride for myself.

 

SB: For a lad like yourself, who really got what it meant to play for the club. Just what was it like to be part of arguably, the best ever, certainly most thrilling, Newcastle United side there has ever been in 1995/96, that went so close to winning the Title?

 

LC:: Do you know what, at the time you don’t think anything of it. You know you’ve got great players around you and a top manager along with great coaches. We had great lads, with great spirit. We socialised together. Training was as competitive as a match, so the matches took care of themselves.

It’s not till later on and further down the line when you realise what you were part of and that’s the biggest regret really. We were so close to achieving an unbelievable feat, almost winning the Premier League. We got so near, but yet so far and it’s a crying shame as we were up there challenging all the time. You look at it now and people talk about the ‘Big Boys’ being the two Manchester clubs, Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea, Arsenal, and we were classed as one of them in that era. We used to go to their stadiums, have a right good go at them and take them on.

 

SB: There were so many names in that particular side, including yourself, who evoke great memories for Newcastle fans, such as David Ginola, Tino Asprilla and Les Ferdinand. Throughout your whole playing career though, who was the greatest player you were lucky enough to play alongside and why?

 

LC:: Well I would say in a short period over the first six months he arrived, David Ginola was unplayable. He took us to a new level as a team, but over the course of many, many seasons and the whole time I played with him, Peter Beardsley was the standout footballer. A maker of many, many goals. A maker of many strikers with his assists. But also, a maker, and taker of unbelievable goals. Peter could score a whole range of all goals. For a little guy, I saw him score headers, tap-ins and wonderful goals.

Two come to mind. Firstly, when we went to White Hart Lane and beat Tottenham 2-1. He scored two absolutely stunning goals. They were very identical as he went past four or five players and smashed the ball into the roof of the net on both occasions, which helped us come away with three massive points from a tough game. That would happen on a regular basis with him, infact, some of the goals that he used to score were that outrageous and that good you sometimes wondered if he meant it. Other people would try it and get nowhere near what he’d just done. He was a fabulous footballer, fabulous.

 

SB: You left the Toon Army in 1997 to go and play for Sunderland. For a proud Geordie, how surreal was it to be playing for the home side at the Stadium of Light?

 

LC: You know what, I already knew the assistant manager Paul Bracewell who I had played alongside and he’d been a big mentor of mine when I was a young player at Newcastle. Then I met the manager Peter Reid and had other options, coupled with the possibility of still staying at home in the North-East I made the decision to go there.

In terms of football, I had two terrific years. I loved playing for Peter Reid, he was a brilliant manager for me personally. The team had great success and we played some lovely football. At the time in the Championship, the club were in the top five for attendance in the whole of the country.

As everyone knows though, once they got promoted back to the Premier League and were going to compete against Newcastle United I didn’t feel it was right for me to carry on anymore. I believe in every game, in every training session I give my very best and there would have been something missing if I was in a red and white shirt playing against Newcastle. That was my honest opinion, and that was the reason I had to move on when I did.

 

SB: After a short two-year spell playing for the Black Cats, you went down South to play for Fulham. Considering you had stayed fairly local in your career up to that point, what attracted you to leave the North-East?

 

LC: In the past, when I’d managed to go and play in London. We used to go down the night before, I would go for a walk in the morning, to get out the hotel and it just seemed such a huge place. It was quite daunting and I never ever thought I’d go down there and play for a club, as well as live there with my family.

I seen a club that had ridiculous ambition. When I signed, the story was that five years they had finished 91st out of 92 clubs. They were in the Championship and looking to get into the Premier League. Obviously, they had a very wealthy owner, Mohamed Al-Fayed. I’d seen the players that they took, even when they were in League One, from the Premier League such as Chris Coleman. I just thought, this is a club with huge ambition and they want to get to the Premier League, but when they get there they don’t just want to survive, they want to kick on.

In the seven years I had there, we won the Championship, played an unbelievable brand of football under the Frenchman Jean Tigana. We got in the Premier League and got the club up to a record-highest ninth position. At one stage that season, we were third, but sold Louis Saha to Manchester United on the January deadline day. If we kept him, possibly we could have finished in the top-six. We then got the club into Europe, qualifying for what was the UEFA Cup, now the Europa League. That was a fantastic period of my life both on and off the field. My family loved it, my children grew up down South. A special, special club and one that’s still very close to my heart. I look for there results every weekend, and want them to do well. Every one of the three clubs I played for I want to do well. The Black and Whites will say, ‘why do you want Sunderland to do well?’. I prefer the Derby matches, I want to Newcastle and Sunderland both in the Premier League.

 

SB: How did the return to Newcastle in the twilight of your career come about?

 

LC: I was looking at options, and was 33 going on 34. I went to speak to a couple of clubs. There was the possibility of staying down South with Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth and Crystal Palace were having a sniff. Then, out of the blue, I got a call from a good friend Terry McDermott who, at the time, was assistant manager to Graeme Souness. He said ‘come back to the North-East, come and train with us. We know you’ve started your coaching career, so there could be a possibility of a coaching role with you being a bit of a back-up for the first team’.

I wanted to get on the coaching ladder anyway, so I got in there, started training and quickly what happened was quite astonishing. I established myself in the squad first of all, coming off the bench a couple of times and then got into the team. We won 3-0 at Ewood Park away to Blackburn. It was a comprehensive victory and I ended up staying in the team until the second half of the season. I’d put off having a double hernia operation since we lost a few midfield players. You can get away with a hernia, it doesn’t make it any worse if you carry on playing. The last few games of the season I was having to have injections just to get through the games. Overall, I think I was involved in 30 games, started roughly 25 of those, so it turned out personally to be a fantastic season.

 

SB: That leads us onto the next question. What was the deciding factor that made you think, “now is the right time to call it a day”?

 

LC: At the end of that season, I was lying in the hospital bed having a double hernia operation and thought ‘right, my playing days are over. I’ve had a cracking career, loved every minute of it. I want to move onto the next stage of my life now. Let’s push everything into the coaching.”

Another thing is that there wasn’t going to be another contract at Newcastle. I’d come back home. We purchased a new property in the North-East. My family were still younger then and I decided at that age, pushing 35, is it really worth pushing after a double hernia operation to go through another pre-season? I’d had problems earlier, snapping both achilles which was an ongoing process that I had to manage. So all those factors added together meant it was time to pursue other things.

 

SB: You had a cracking first spell in charge as a manager for four years at Huddersfield from 2008-2012. Then, enjoyed a decent spell at Birmingham for two years. You left your last club, Bury, in October 2017. Is management something that would still interest you in the future? What about the role of assistant manager?

 

LC: Of course I’d never rule anything out. To be perfectly honest with you, without sounding arrogant, if I was to take an assistant manager’s role it would have to be at a real high level, working under an experienced manager at a big club because management is in my blood.

There have been a couple of mishaps, and a couple of the jobs get misread because people don’t understand the scenarios.

As you’ve said, at Huddersfield, we changed the mentality of the club and still hold the record of 43 games unbeaten. I went to Birmingham looking to try and get the club promoted. The finances changed dramatically when the ownership suffered problems. Because of that, the objective was to try and trim the wage bill hugely whilst keeping the club in Championship, which we achieved. Blackpool was a poor choice on my behalf. I totally accept that. Kilmarnock was a great experience, I had a terrific year there and loved it. We took the team from bottom of the table and survived relegation via a play-off. Then, when I left I had them in the top-six, which in Scotland for Kilmarnock to be at that level, at that time with the budget they had was another great achievement. When I went to Bury, I stopped them from getting relegated. Then tried to build a squad that could challenge at the other end of the table and the new players hadn’t particularly gelled greatly, but there were signs they were getting there. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the time to see that through.

I’ve been out the game for a year now as we speak. I’m ready for the next challenge, wherever it may be. Whether that’s at home, abroad, whatever level. I just want to coach, I want to manage, I want to get that buzz back on a Saturday. I want to be on the training pitch Monday to Friday, with the camaraderie of the players and staff.

I’ve got to say, it’s been a tough year, for various different reasons. I’ve tried to go for jobs that I didn’t get. I’ve turned down jobs that I didn’t think were right. I’ve turned down jobs, certainly not long after leaving Bury for personal reason which if those jobs were available again I would take. So I’m just waiting now, and the saddest thing about it all, is I’m probably waiting for people to lose their jobs at various different levels for me to step in. That’s the downside of management for me because although we all have a competitive edge and are up against each other, we all respect each other as well. The fact I’m waiting for one of them to lose their job for you to get back into the game is a tough one.

 

SB: Currently Newcastle are going through a torrid run of form. Do you think they will still be in the Premier League with Rafa Benitez at the helm by this time next year?

 

LC: I sincerely hope so. It’s going to be a tough call because we need to probably take at least 17 points from now until Christmas, to get us to the halfway mark as it’s usually 38 or 40 points which get you to safety. This is the period to do that, it started with last week’s game against Brighton and the games that are coming up now. These are the games that Rafa and his staff would earmark as the games we can pick up points in. It didn’t start well last week, losing at home to Brighton. The longer you go without that elusive win, the harder it gets. The players start doubting themselves, the confidence levels drop. The manager, as good as he is, will find it hard to try and lift them since that self-doubt is in there. But there’s another opportunity tomorrow against a Southampton team that haven’t really set the league alight this season. Even a point against them, to stop the rot. Then we come back home against Watford, and see if we can kick on from there.

It’s difficult because it’s all about the momentum, and at the moment Newcastle haven’t got any. I thought they started well against Brighton, missed a good chance with Perez and then the first-half started petering out. Brighton got the goal which gave them something to hang on to. It’s going to be tough, but they did it last year, finishing an impressive 10th. It looks like we’ll need something similar this season.

 

SB: Football has changed a good deal since you retired, what do you think the sport could do in a better way? Are we commercialising the sport too much?

 

LC: Personally, I think it should embrace some of the stuff that happened a while back and not get sucked into all this modern stuff. I read with interest, some of Steven Gerrard’s quotes leading up to Rangers’ game against Spartak Moscow and he was talking about his team-talk, and that it would probably be the same one that Walter Smith delivered ten years ago, and what Graeme Souness would have delivered 20 years ago.

There’s modern technology, with sports science and analysts. Yeah, I get all of that. I’ve been part of it, and it’s very useful, but your eyes don’t lie. I don’t need anyone to tell me and throw stats and data at me, to let me know my team’s played well, if individuals have played well, what we’ve done right, what we’ve done wrong etc. We’re getting a little bit obsessed by all that. You can look at statistics any way you want, and flip them in your favour, and I think we’re going that way.

I agree with you that it’s getting commercialised too much, especially at the top level the corporate side of things is becoming obsessed over. The genuine fan is getting left behind a little bit, there’s no relationship between the players and the supporters really anymore, which is that’s the saddest thing for me.

 

SB: Thanks for your time Lee, and good luck in the future.

 

https://sportsbyte.sunderland.ac.uk/an-interview-with-former-newcastle-and-sunderland-player-lee-clark/

 

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