Interview: Peter Clarke: “Why I came back”

Peter Clarke was one of our prized assets in the early 2000s under Steve McMahon and Colin Hendry. He bravely helped us against relegation in his two full seasons at Blackpool, winning numerous Player of the Year awards and showing fight, desire and commitment to the shirt. So why did he risk his reputation when he re-signed in the ill-fated spell of Jose Riga, where he made 41 appearances in what was one of Blackpool’s worst seasons in our history? We caught up with him as a special guest in our podcast, to find out.

We recently spoke to Peter Clarke in episode #34 of our podcast, which you can listen to now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or our Podcasts page.

Having come through the ranks at Everton, Clarke had a successful loan spell with us in 2002 and eventually signed permanently in 2004, where he went on to make nearly 100 appearances in two seasons, scoring 14 goals and winning the club’s official Player of the Season. A move to Championship side Southend United followed, where he played for three seasons, before moving onto Huddersfield Town where he played nearly 200 games in five seasons.

Then, in 2014, he found himself without a club. He’d been training with Doncaster Rovers that summer where there was planned to be a takeover by One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson. But after that takeover fell through in late July, Clarke was left without a club on the eve of the season.

He said: “I got the call to go in and train down at Squires (Gate). The goalkeeper coach at the time had been at Huddersfield, so in I went and trained for 2-3 days.”

It didn’t take Clarke long to work out how much chaos the club was in off the field at the time.

“There were lots of different bodies about, all with their different ideas. A pretty eclectic bunch, shall we say? There was no pre-season game because there weren’t enough players and we were given the weekend off, then trained again Monday – Tuesday and the manager Jose Riga, I assume he liked what he saw, and he said he wanted me to sign on a permanent basis and I was asked to go and crack on at negotiating something with the owner.

“Let’s say it was interesting. It was a relatively short conversation and I ended up agreeing terms on a contract – a year with a year’s option, would you believe? So that’s how it initially started and that was my year back at Blackpool.

“Everyone’s well aware I’m sure that it was a very trying and testing time for everyone involved with the club, no more so than the fans and the people of the team.”

Opening day at Forest

It was a rather chaotic start to the season, as only for the season opener at Nottingham Forest, Pool only had eight senior pros registered and had to scramble to fill the squad on the morning of the season. Sadly for Blackpool fans it was the perfect arena for us to realise how low we’d dropped in four seasons, given that magical night we’d had with Ian Holloway in 2010 when we won the second leg of the play-offs. But this was another experience altogether for those who attended.

“It was comical. We were in the hotel at 11am and it became apparent that we only had eight players registered to play, as well as the young lads Mark Waddington and Dom Telford, so we could field 10. They managed to get another three registered before midday, so we could field an XI and we had some bodies on the bench. I think the best way of describing the situation was that it was a tell-tale sign of what was to come.

“There were various individuals who were told they weren’t going to be getting registered because there were two centre-halves or a right-back, or 2-3 centre midfielders, so it was pretty comical to be honest with you.”

The revolving door

While we only had 8 players registered for that day, 56 different players actually appeared in a matchday squad that season – a club record even for us. When writing this article I had a quick look, and wish I never had. On the more positive end, we had the likes of Jamie O’Hara, Chris Eagles, Gary Madine and Andrea Orlandi. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Islam Feruz, Jonathan Legear, Jeffrey Rentmeister and Nile Ranger.

“It was a dire situation. For that to be the case, one it equals no consistency, no continuity in team selection and no relationships forming across the team. With those things happening it becomes a recipe for disaster to be perfectly honest.

Clarke scored twice that season, and only two players in Steven Davies (5), Andrea Orlandi (4), Nathan Delfouneso (3), Gary Madine (3) scored more. Clearly, we were heading for an unsuccessful campaign.

“There weren’t enough goals in that side to win enough games to get the club where it wanted to be, and obviously relegation ensued.”

One of the 56 was Joel Dielna, who had a torrid 20 minutes in tangerine at Huddersfield Town in a 4-2 defeat, in which we found ourselves 3-0 down after 16 minutes.

“We’d gone 3-0 down very early and the manager took off a left-back making his debut after 20 minutes and again, another decision that was a pretty comical one. I think he played that time and that was his whole Blackpool career. Not an ideal scenario and just another one of the examples that you could add to the ever-growing list of farces that became that season.”

Team morale

So what was it like sharing a training ground and dressing room with so many players, from such varying backgrounds and footballing experience?

“It was difficult to be perfectly honest with you. At the time, there were a great number of players who weren’t accustomed to the rigours of the Championship who were signed. Some players that were a little bit soft, not up for a fight. I remember coming in after playing Derby at home and we lost 1-0 very late on. One of the full-backs gave away a penalty and it hadn’t been a bad performance, but we lost the game. So I came in and although I wasn’t the captain, I’ve always been one who speaks my mind. I came in and before I’d even sat down some of the individuals were laughing and joking, and that didn’t sit well with me.

“I told them in no uncertain terms that they were miles off what was required and I’m not sure they took too kindly to that, but I couldn’t care less. It wasn’t about being liked, I wanted to win football matches, so as I say there were some players who were signed, certainly early on in that season, who weren’t ready to play Championship football and the combative nature of Football League games. But as time wore on, there were signings that were signed – Nyron Nosworthy, Gary Madine, Jamie O’Hara, who were a bit more experienced with the Football League, but ultimately far too much ground had been lost in the early part of the campaign to realistically be made up.”

“It left a lot to be desired that season and it culminated in that day in May against Huddersfield.”

Judgement Day

The game against Huddersfield needs no introduction, as Blackpool fans took matters into our own hands by getting the last game of the season called off by protesting on the pitch as we looked to raise awareness of what was happening to our once-proud club. So what did Clarke make to the goings-on?

“I was aware of things bubbling. I have friends that are season ticket holders, and I knew that there was undoubtedly unrest, and something was likely to happen that day. I fully understood and the frustration to the situation, to be honest, was fully justified.

“Ultimately as a player, I want to play footy. The timing of it, you’d like to have gone a bit further in the game but it wasn’t to be, and once the supporters were on the pitch I don’t think it was going to be a case of the game continuing or finishing. That probably sums up best the way that season had evolved.

“I remember there being a motorised scooter on the pitch that day and I thought to myself ‘They’ve actually covered more grass on the pitch than some of the players who were contracted to the club this campaign’.

“It was not a sad end, I think it was – from a personal point of view – a frustrating end to the campaign but I think it was something that needed to happen in terms of the fans being able to voice their displeasure and get their message across to the powers that be, and ultimately try and fight their corner.

Regrets

“It was a case of, I signed in late July and most of the clubs – I’d met with Coventry and Doncaster in May and lots of clubs had sorted their recruitment. I had turned offers down. I was delighted to be returning to Blackpool because it’s a club I hold very dear to my heart. I think it’s a good club with lots of good people involved over the last 20 years. Not always all of them have been great people, but there have been lots of great people who do have Blackpool Football Club’s best interests at heart who have been there during my playing career. So it’s a club I hold very dear. Do I regret coming back and the way the season panned out, and how it ended? I thoroughly enjoyed pulling on a tangerine shirt that season and giving my all.

Clarke’s contract did contain a one-year option but that was not taken by the club, something he wasn’t given any reasoning to at the time and hasn’t had clarity on since.

“The option was in the club’s favour so if they wanted to take the option up then they would, if they didn’t they wouldn’t. I’d played over 40 games that season and played the majority of football that was available to players – I probably played more games than anyone. I didn’t assume the option would be taken up, but had a thought process that what I’d done the previous campaign may mean that it was. There were one or two brief conversations regarding the following season but nothing concrete. Ultimately that Sunday morning I went in and was thanked for my time and given my p45 as such, my release forms, and that was that basically.

“From a personal point of view, going back to when I left Everton and the manager at the time didn’t think I should sign for Blackpool because they weren’t too well placed. I’ve always wanted to prove people wrong. The season before hadn’t been too great and I wanted to be part of a group that could maybe right those wrongs and take Blackpool back to a better place. That decision was taken out of my hands, at the time I wasn’t overjoyed – I was disappointed, frustrated and upset. But the way that campaign panned out, you do look and think it wouldn’t have been ideal to be part of that group of players who suffered back-to-back relegations. It was a case of looking for another club.

“Without going into facts and figures, the contract I was on as a Championship player, I was probably being paid less than the majority of League One players, maybe even some League Two players. So to my way of thinking, I don’t think it was a financially motivated decision. Ultimately, I’m not sure we’ll ever know. I really don’t know. But at the time, I felt it was a little bit of a strange decision. I felt that I could be a benefit to the club the following season but ultimately that never came to pass.”

The future

Clarke moved onto Bury where he spent one season, then did three years at Oldham Athletic which also included a brief loan back to Bury. He spent last year at Fleetwood Town, then joined Tranmere Rovers in the summer where he’s joined fellow former Pool players Jay Spearing, Liam Feeney and Calum MacDonald, as well as former coach Ian Dawes. The aim is promotion, which they feel entitled to given their harsh relegation on points-per-game last season despite winning their final game – coincidentally at Bloomfield Road in Neil Critchley’s second game in charge.

“It’s got the makings of hopefully being a decent season. That won’t become apparent until May and people can judge us then. We have a great dressing room – a group of more experienced players that have seen the various levels of football and have good experience and know-how, and then a group of younger players in probably their mid-20s, but a really good blend of youth and experience, and a group of really hungry players that want to succeed. I think there’s obviously the motivation because of the way the season ended last year, and felt hard-done-by from the EFL. They can hopefully take the club back up the football pyramid.”

Summary

Listening to a Blackpool fan favourite in Peter Clarke puts the state of our club at present into really clear terms. The fact that someone with such high personal standards was allowed to be treated so poorly is unacceptable. He gave his all in tangerine in all three spells with us. It sums up how far we have come since Simon Sadler walked through the door and the success we’re starting to see on the field feels even better when you know you’re in safe hands off the field. Hopefully one day Clarkey can return and get the reception he deserves having suffered first-hand in the club’s lowest ebb in its history. The only positive is that his contract wasn’t extended – not that he was too happy about it!

Have a listen to the whole podcast with Clarkey below or via Spotify or Apple Podcasts!

Enjoying our content? Make sure you check out some of our other podcasts!

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Published by Tom Johnson

Seaside exile living in Leeds. Been watching the Pool home and away since 2001

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