Adrian’s football career started with Arsenal as a school boy in the summer of 1991. Adrian worked his way through the ranks at the North London club eventually breaking into the first team and reaching the pinnacle of every school boys dream to play Premiership football.“I played nine games, seven Premier League matches and two FA Cup appearances. It was a fantastic experience and a fulfilment of many years’ hard work. I joined Arsenal at the age of 11 and was always quietly fancied to ‘make it’ but that’s much easier said than done. The competition was stiff and it takes a lot of fight and patience to stay on the right path”.
“After impressing for the reserves, I got my chance under George Graham at first, and then for Bruce Rioch who had the confidence to give me five starts. My best memory is from my full debut on Boxing Day 1995 when we beat QPR 3-0 and I had a really good game. I also played against Southampton, Everton, and Newcastle amongst others. It was a pleasure playing alongside the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Ian Wright and Tony Adams; real legends of the game”.
“I’d played pretty well in the first team and definitely held my own, but I didn’t stand out as much as I could have done I guess. I knew my time at Highbury was coming to an end after Arsene Wenger took over as new boss. He didn’t include me in his squad and was on the look-out for better players right from the word go. When I left, Marc Overmars came in, so I couldn’t exactly grumble!”
During his time at Arsenal, Adrian had two loan spells firstly with Rotherham in 1996 and then later in that same season a more significant loan spell in Essex with Southend United. “After spending the entire 1995-96 season in the first team squad, I was back in the stiffs during 1996-97, Arsene Wenger’s debut campaign. At 21 I needed first team football, so Rotherham and then Southend offered me those opportunities. It worked for me because I was playing competitive football and it also worked for Arsenal, who had one less disgruntled player on their hands. When I returned from my loan, Southend offered to sign me, and all parties agreed to the deal”.
Adrian joined The Shrimpers on a free transfer in August 1997, playing in excess of 75 games in his time at Roots Hall scoring 8 goals in the process. His debut goal was scored against Brentford in a 3-1 victory, the month after he signed for the club.
Adrian spent a short period on loan at Carlisle United in the early part of the 1999/2000 season, turning out 7 times for the Cumbrian club.
“When the season ended (1999/2000), so did my contract and it was no surprise when I received a letter from the manager informing me I’d been released. I was sad to leave the club and quite angered by the treatment I’d received but that’s football. It can be quite a ruthless game”.
Paul Fairclough secured Adrian’s signature in the 2000/2001 pre-season. It certainly wasn’t a foregone conclusion that Adrian would swap Essex for North Hertfordshire but if anyone was going to secure his signature then Paul Fairclough would be the man.
“At first I was determined to stay in the Football League, but having been ostracised the season before, I didn’t exactly have a queue of clubs lining up to sign me, although Leyton Orient and Plymouth did show an interest. I was falling out of love with the pro game, and wasn’t keen on becoming a journeyman lower league footballer, especially as my partner at the time was pregnant”.
“I was toying with the idea of playing part-time football and beginning a more stable career as a journalist – and that’s when Paul Fairclough called out of the blue. He was extremely persuasive! I knew Stevenage was a very professional club in every respect already but he did a brilliant job at reminding me of its strengths. He made me feel incredibly wanted and I have to say that he stuck to his word. He was a terrific manager for me”.
Adrian made his debut in Boro colours on 19th August 2000 in a 1-1 home draw against Scarborough. For the record, the Boro scorer that day was Darren Hay.
Adrian found the back of the net 19 times in his spell with Boro. “I can’t remember the first. I did hit a purple patch in the season we reached the FA Trophy final, where I scored a number of long range strikes, the favourite of which was against Forest Green which flew into the top corner from 30 yards. It earned the supporters’ goal of the season”.
In terms of his most memorable match for Boro the Gloucestershire club figures again. “Beating Forest Green 2-3 away from home in the 2000/2001 season, having been two goals down with not long left to play. It was an epic comeback, and I’ll never forget Paul Fairclough waiting for us in the dressing room with a beaming smile, telling us how humungous our b*****ks were. It was classic”. A Neil Illman brace and a goal from Adrian inflicted the damage for Boro that day.
Looking back at his time at Broadhall Way, Adrian has some fond memories of his fellow Boro Players. “I used to share lifts with Dean Martin and Robin Trott – both absolutely brilliant lads. It was always hilarious driving to training or matches in Robin’s work van. We’d lay in the back with all his painting and decorating tools flying everywhere around us. It wasn’t a salubrious ride”!
“As for me and Deano, we used to pass the time in our car playing ‘Beat the Heat’. We’d layer up, and then turn the heater on full blast until one of us could stand it no more. First one to cave in was the loser! It wasn’t great for hydration but in those days we didn’t worry about that too much”.
When questioned about the best player at Boro in his era, there is no hesitation from Adrian. “I’ve got to say it was my mate Dean Martin. I thought he was a criminally under-rated winger. He had great pace, relentless energy, and almost always injected real life into the side. It was a shame he only played for part of the season, before heading off to the Icelandic top flight”.
“I still speak to Dean Martin, who is still playing in Iceland. He is the Peter Pan of football and never seems to lose his fitness! I’ve bumped into Sam Sodje, Rob Trott and Nathan Bunce a few times and we always have a great laugh”.
Adrian picks out Yeovil Town as the best team he came up against in a Boro shirt. “Yeovil Town under Gary Johnson, when they won the FA Trophy Final against us, they were a fabulous side, who even at that time could have coped with League 1 football. I wasn’t at all surprised to see them fly through League 2”.
Reflecting on his time at Boro Adrian looks back fondly at his time with the club. “I really enjoyed my time at Boro, it was a lovely club to play for and I was extremely sad to leave. Under Paul Fairclough we had a great set of lads – real men – and in a different era when there were less full-time teams I think we could have gone up. We probably under achieved a little, but there wasn’t a match we didn’t feel we could win. Once Wayne Turner came in, everything changed. The transition to going full-time began and sadly that didn’t fit in with my career”.
Towards the end of his time with Boro, Adrian was sent on loan to Hendon, a period of time in North Hertfordshire that he reflects sadly on “I was playing some of the best football of my career, scoring lots of goals, and then Wayne Turner came in and put me straight on the bench. The fans were fantastic, calling my name during matches to try and persuade him to put me on but the more that happened the less chance he was going to use me. I complained, he didn’t like it, I asked for a transfer, and as punishment he made me train on my own at the David Lloyd centre and banned me from coming to matches”.
Adrian felt he need first team football again and agreed to the loan spell at Hendon (he played 4 games). “I was banned from mixing with the players and was told I’d have to train three times a week on my own at the David Lloyd centre, or I’d be fined. It was horrific, and I was miserable”.
“Wayne Turner knew that other Conference teams wanted to sign me on loan but he refused. Instead, he told me that Hendon – who were top of the league below at the time – wanted me. They couldn’t afford my wages and Stevenage wouldn’t supplement it, so I had to take a big cut for that month, just to play football and regain some sanity”.A few weeks after the loan spell ended “I agreed to cancel my contract – which is what he (Wayne Turner) wanted. My exit was horrible”.
Adrian is not surprised at the recent rise of Boro through the football pyramid commenting “I knew that Phil Wallace was very ambitious to turn Stevenage into a full-time club and I didn’t doubt that it would happen. In fact, I thought they’d get promoted quicker than they did. That said it’s amazing to think that Stevenage are now recognised as a powerful nPower League 1 team. They’ve done superbly well to get that far. I’m very happy to see it”!
Adrian has a number of regular commitments that has thus far prevented him from returning to Boro since his departure, something he hopes to remedy this season. “I haven’t been back, but I’d like to. I normally work on match days for Arsenal TV or BBC Radio Essex, but if I get a spare weekend I am planning to take my son to Broadhall Way and show him the club I played for. This season I’ll be back one day for sure”.
“I don’t feel I achieved as much in my career as I could have done, but I still have some fantastic memories. If the Boro fans remember me as somebody who entertained them with some good wing play, and scored some nice goals then that’s good enough for me”.
|Name||Adrian James Clarke|
|Place of Birth||Cambridge|
|Nick Name||“I was always plain old Clarkey, although the Boro fans did give me a picture of David Ginola at the end of one season because they thought I was a look-alike.To be honest that flattered me more than it would have done him”.|
|Boro Career||2000/2001, 2001/2002,2002/2003|
|Boro Shirt Number||“I was always a number 11, and although I often wore that for Boro, Paul Fairclough also loved to hand me the 9 shirt even though I always played on the wing for him. To be honest, I was happy with any number from 7 to 11, but if you’re asking me for my favourite it was definitely 11. I wore it when I first started playing football, and I guess it suited me”.|
|Superstitions||“I’m not a superstitious person at all! I liked to relax before games and try not to get too hyped up about them. At Southend I did play with a keeper called Martyn Margetson who was so superstitious that he once drove around for miles in search of a second magpie after seeing one en route to a match. He was late, but in his mind it was worth it. Mad”!|
|Influence on Career||“I couldn’t have achieved anything without the help and support of my parents. They backed me all the way, driving me all over the country as a kid to help me achieve my dreams of becoming a pro”.|
Adrian joined Margate after leaving Boro, playing for them over 50 times scoring 5 goals in the process. He has fond memories at the Kent club. “I knew that if I got fit for a month at Hendon, and then cancelled my contract, that they would sign me and that’s what happened. Ironically my debut was at Stevenage, when we beat Boro 0-3. I must admit it was a lot of fun at Margate. As part-timers we were perennial under dogs, but continued to defy the odds with top-half finishes. I ended up captaining the side. They were a good old fashioned non-league club”.
Welling United, another Kent based club was the last port of call in Adrian’s playing career. “Welling was another good club and I almost got promoted with them into the Conference. Unfortunately I picked up a serious pelvic injury at the start of the season and although I played on with it, I was in almost constant pain and was rarely able to train. At the end of that season, I found out that the problem was chronic, so I had to take a year-long sabbatical which included an operation to fix it. The operation worked well, but at that stage I’d lost my appetite for the game, so decided to call it a day. If you no longer love playing, it is time to stop”.
When asked whether Adrian ever considered another role within the game, his answer was unequivocal. “Not really! I think that I would make a half decent manager, but I am not a natural coach. I also knew that my real desire was to be a sports journalist and it’s impossible to do both jobs on a Saturday”!
Adrian is now a full time journalist. “I learned journalism the hard way at the Southend Echo, whilst I was playing for Boro. I was up at 5.30 and wouldn’t get home on training nights until 11pm but it was all good fun. From there I became a football writer in London and that’s where I have been for the last 11 years. I love my work, writing and talking about football. I co –commentate for BBC Radio Essex on Southend United games and I am the analyst for Arsenal TV where I present my own feature each week called ‘The Breakdown’, as well as commentating on matches. I also write for newspapers, magazines, websites and books, so it’s a nice varied freelance job. It doesn’t beat playing but for me, it’s the next best thing”.
The Stevenage FC History Website would like to thank Adrian for taking part in the interview and wishes him all the very best in his Journalism career.