Clarke bids farewell to Football with a final goal
about a year ago
David Clarke brought his international career to a fitting end at the Riverbank Arena this morning (Saturday), scoring the second gold in ParalympicsGB’s 2-0 win over Turkey three minutes from time to secure seventh place for his 5-a-side Football team at London 2012.
It was the veteran captain’s 128th international goal in his 144th, international. It was also an early birthday present for the Harpenden forward, who will celebrate his 42nd birthday on Tuesday, and a satisfying way to end his final tournament.
“There ain't going to be many people who finish seventh in these Paralympics in a team sport who can say they drew three, lost one and won one and ended with a positive goal difference,” said Clarke, who also captained the GB team which finished fifth in Beijing.
“That tells me, if you compare it with the five goals we scored and 16 we let in in Beijing, and the four losses and the one win, factually, we’ve moved on,” he said.
“With the tremendous support of the Football Association and our coaching staff, I hope we’ve made a sufficiently factual argument to be allowed the opportunity to go on to the next step.”
Clarke’s goal – his second of the tournament – capped a brilliant display as he ended his career with a flourish, creating 13 chances to score and controlling the game from the moment Keryn Seal put Britain ahead in the fifth minute.
In quick succession Clarke put one shot into the side netting, scuffed another when well-placed and had another saved, before twice waltzing his way through the Turkish defence without finding a finish.
Robin Williams also had his best performance of the Games and between them the two Britons ran the show, tormenting the Turkish defence as they forced save after save from Ali Hidir Kurt in the Turkish goal.
They must have thought a second goal for the team, and a final goal from Clarke, would never come, but eventually it did as he finished off a fine move to complete the victory.
After the final whistle, Clarke took the stadium microphone and made an emotional address to the crowd and his teammates before jumping into the stands to sign autographs for children.
“If I can inspire blind kids to start playing football, then as far as I'm concerned it's job done,” said Clarke before leaving the pitch for the last time.
Asked whether he will have second thoughts about retiring, he said: “Yes, but the kids coming through are brilliant, they don’t need me standing in their way.
“The fundamental reason for giving up is that the building blocks are there now to move forward, and perhaps four years ago they weren’t there.
“I don’t ever want to have that conversation where someone says, ‘Dave, you know what, you’re in the way now, you’re not good enough’.
“Secondly, my family have given up an awful lot to let me do this. I work a full-time job, I have to run an office of a bank, I can’t continually do this and that, and give my family what they need from me.
“Everyone’s been fantastic to me – I love the team to bits, the FA have just been unbelievable in the support they have given us, and that really needs to be recognised.
“This time next Saturday I will be coaching 75 seven year olds – a little bit different, eh?”
But the Paralympic Games may not have seen the last of David Clarke, who has represented Britain at three Games - the first playing Goalball in 1996 - and had a leading role at the Opening Ceremony when he handed the Paralympic flame to Margaret Maughan to light the cauldron.
“One day I would like to pursue a career in Paralympics sport administration or football administration,” he said. “And if that can be for 2016 just in time for me to get full use of the food hall without having to play that will be even better.
"In the Paralympic world I’m a bit of a nobody, and yet here I’ve had the opportunity to run right across the stadium with the torch on day one and I got a couple of goals and played in some great games.
"There’s always that tinge of what could have been, we know how close we were to be playing this afternoon and being involved in the real games, but I will leave here with some phenomenal memories.”
Britain’s coach Tony Larkin called Clarke “unbelievable”.
“He has been at the top of his game in all the competitions he has been in, he's been a fantastic ambassador for blind football,” said Larkin.
“To play in the Paralympics at his age is a tribute to him. He is just a fantastic role model, not just for blind football but for all disabled people.
“I'm glad he got that goal towards the end and he enjoyed the occasion, his two boys were here and his family. He has had to sacrifice a lot. I think he has earned his time off now, he can put his feet up, although I hope he doesn’t put too much weight on.”