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"It Was A Very Unprofessional Incident" - Roker Report Meets Lee Clark

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Some moments will live on in Sunderland fans' memories forever.

No-one will ever forget Ian Porterfield's goal to clinch the 1973 FA Cup, nor will Jimmy Montgomery's incredible save in the same game slip out of people's minds.

Gary Rowell has the same priviledge afforded to him, thanks to his hat-trick against the Mags, and Kevin Phillips' looping strike against the same opposition can also claim to be set in the proverbial stone.

In recent times, young and old fans alike will be able to shut their eyes and see Kieron Richardson's free kick hitting the net at the Stadium of Light, they won't need me to tell them what year it was, who we were playing, or what the final score was.

Unfortunately, it isn't just good memories that we are stuck with for a lifetime. Who doesn't remember poor Micky Gray's penalty, and everything that came with it, or the b****y chicken dance that Kevin Nolan did on Halloween. They are just images, and occasions, that are destined to stay with us.

So, when we had the chance to talk to a former Sunderland midfielder who created his own, controversial, memory for us all, we would have been daft not to jump at the chance. Unfortunately, the memory in question concerns a rather offensive t-shirt... By this point you all know who I am talking about, and it is of course Lee Clark.

Before we get down to business, why not have a look back at David Boyle's Cult Heroes piece on the fella while you're here...

And with the formalities done, it's Roker Report meets Lee Clark.

It is easy to forget, thanks to that infamous t-shirt, that Clark was actually a top player for Sunderland. Dave's piece has more to offer on that, but despite the hostility that surrounded him upon his departure, it would be wrong to presume that Clark didn't enjoy his time on Wearside. "Of course I did. Winning promotion at Bury was very special, as was claiming the Championship with a record amount of points." And to pick a favourite game... "My home debut against Manchester City. It was a brilliant atmosphere in the new stadium, I scored, we won, and it was a terrific performance. It's the best feeling ever to score, and whenever I pulled on the Sunderland shirt [despite his allegiance to those up the road], I always gave 100%."

Some would never forgive Clark for his antics, but it is easy to forget what type of decision it must have been to sign for us in the first place. Being Newcastle, through and through, it can't have been easy to decide to cross the divide and pull on the red and white, rather than the black and white. I asked if his friends and family tried to talk him out of a move, and what finally made up his mind. "Yes, of course they did. Everyone did. But the manager, and the size of the club persuaded me to make the move."

Which brings us nicely onto Clark's time at the club... As I mentioned earlier, it is easy to forget the influence that he had in the midfield of the Championship winning team, and it would be wrong of us to do so. I wanted to know who he thought the best players that he played alongside at the club were. "We had a fantastic team back then. Quinny and Kev up top, with Bridges to back them up. Johnston and Summerbee as the widemen, Bally and Alex Rae, who were both brilliant partners for me, with Micky Gray and Curls full-back, and Melville and Jody Craddock absolutely top centre backs. They were all top players, and made up a great, great team." And was there anyone that he ever dreaded having to face in training? "Yeah, Peter Reid, if I played poorly."

And, as we were talking to Lee Clark, there was obviously one thing that was bound to be raised. I asked him for his take on the whole t-shirt saga. "From my point of view, it was a very unprofessional incident. I was gutted, as it spoiled what I had done on the pitch for two seasons, and the Sunderland AFC fans were quite rightly very unhappy with me." We've all heard rumours, and perhaps speculated ourselves, that it was a piece of self-destruction on his part, in a bid to ensure that he didn't have to face Newcastle the following season, but that is something that Lee denies. "No, that was never the case. It happened when I was watching Newcastle. It was put on me by a group of fans as I got out of a cab, close to Wembley Stadium." So does Lee think that he would have stayed, and gone on to face his hometown club the following season, if that picture was never taken? "No, I would still have left, but on better terms - and I would have still been respected for what I did on the pitch. I made my decision before the end of my second year to leave. If we were going to the Premiership and Newcastle were not there, it would have never been an issue." And, does he think that he could have ever truly won over the fans, if that day had never happened? "Yes. 100%."

And so there we have it. Lee Clark, he will always be remembered, and although it will be for all the wrong reasons, he is firmly set in our memory banks none-the-less. Now the manager of Huddersfield Town in League One, and pushing for promotion after two playoff defeats in two years, the former SAFC man is optimistic for his future at the club. I asked if he thought this may be there year, having come so close in the past... "Yes, we certainly believe so. It is a terrific club, with terrific supporters." And do the bright lights of St James' Park hold any appeal in the future to a life-long Newcastle fan? "I can only concentrate on the job that I am in now. Football is a dangerous place if you look too far ahead."

And what of his old team? Any thoughts on the current batch of stars at the Stadium of Light? "I think Sunderland have bought very well over the summer. Steve Bruce has been a fantastic help for me personally, and I believe that he will make Sunderland a top ten side."

And that, as they say ladies and gentlemen, is that. We would like to thank Lee for taking time out of his busy job to talk to us, as well as the staff at Huddersfield Town, for being so helpful and letting us have a word with their gaffer.

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