I'm reluctant to write 'Cult Hero' for this controversial fella, David Boyle takes to the stage to convince us that Lee Clark should be remembered slightly more fondly for his efforts on the pitch, and not just for one photograph. He was actually quite decent when you think about it, or so I'm convincing myself...
Woah, woah, woah! I can see you all frantically aiming your mouse to the big red cross in the top corner, but bear with me here! Unlike other sites and blogs on the world wide web, here at The Roker Report we do not shy away from controversy! In fact we embrace it! So ladies and gentlemen, may I reintroduce to you... Lee Clark.
Lee was a product of the Wallsend Boys’ Club and worked his way up the ranks at our friendly neighbours, captaining England Schoolboys, before making his league debut for the Mags aged just seventeen. Clark made over two-hundred appearances for the Geordies even though ten months of his career was spent on the side-lines with injury – something Lee would become accustomed to over the years.
Like many fans I was sceptical of his signing in the summer of 1997 for a then club record fee of £2.75M – oh, how far we have come!
As a born and bred Geordie, Lee was going to find it hard to win around the Sunderland faithful, but as a midfielder himself, Peter Reid saw through local loyalty and could see the potential in Clark.
Lee soon became an integral part of the Sunderland eleven with his neat first touch and great vision for a pass. An impressive debut season saw Clark hit the net thirteen times and was even made captain. Clark’s fellow professionals agreed as he was named in the 1997/98 First Division Select Team.
I was so impressed with Clark’s industrious midfield exploits that I even had his name printed on the back of my shirt – the innocence of youth!
Injury was to again strike in the following season as Clark spent three months out with a broken fibia, but undeterred he went on to rediscover the form which had earned him the respect of the crowd and was again named in the Division One team of the season.
It was all going so well...
In the summer of 1999 Lee joined his fellow Magpies on a doomed trip to Wembley as Newcastle inevitably succumbed to Manchester United in the FA Cup Final. One ill advised drunken photo later and Lee’s Sunderland career was over, quite literally, in a flash.
After ultimately proving the myth that all Mags are idiots with that one click, Clark was unceremoniously shipped out of the club and made the move to the capital in a £3M move to Paul Bracewell’s Fulham.
Clark then went on to spend the remainder of his playing career shying away from his former employers, missing every tie with the Black Cats through "injury". To be fair to the lad, it was probably a wise decision as his reception would have been as far from the polite round of applause reserved for most returning ex-players as imaginable.
If ever there was a player in Sunderland history that epitomised the term "Hero to Zero" it is Lee Clark.