On this day 18th of January 1954, Jeffrey Derrick Clarke was born in Hemsworth near Pontefract.
Clarke had only played 13 games and one season for Manchester City when he arrived at Roker (along with £200,000) as part of the deal that saw Dave Watson move to Maine Road in June 1975.
At 6’1”, blond-haired, well-built and ruggedly good-looking, Clarke looked as if he would be more suited to a film set rather than the Roker paddock.
This young centre half quickly settled despite the massive shoes he was attempting to fill, thanks in no small part to his central defensive partner the experienced Scottish international Bobby Moncur, (who had been put out to grass by Newcastle and was snapped up by Sunderland in 1974).
Clarke and Moncur were the central defensive backbone of our title-winning promotion team of 1975/76. Clarke’s ability defensively was exceptional, he was quick and a decisive tackler. He was very good in the air and had a good ability to disrupt his attacker if he could not win the ball outright without giving a foul away.
Like Watson and Hurley before him, he was very good at bringing the ball out of defence and finding his man with a well-placed pass short or long. Such was his impact in that first season that had there not been so many cracking English centre halves around at that time (including of course Dave Watson) the oft-heard Fulwell End chants of “Jeff Clarke – England” may have had less a sense of hope and more reality!
In a pattern that would to a degree dog his playing career, Clarke was hit by injury coming toward the end of season 1975/76, though he still made 37 appearances in all competitions as we went up as champions.
He returned for the heroic but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to avoid relegation in 1976/77. He was once again injured two thirds of the way through the season and his absence could have been a key factor at the death. He still managed thirty-three appearances in all competitions and was a fan favourite with his effective skilful displays allied to his 100% effort and attitude.
His injury did not see him return till mid-November of season 1977/78 when he made 24 appearances in all competitions. Despite the failed promotion campaign, the partnership of Clarke and Shaun Elliott at the centre of defence had certainly given fans some hope that season 1978/79 could see promotion achieved.
Managerial merry-go-round saw Jimmy Adamson leave in October, then Dave Merrington (Adamson’s assistant) who had taken over, left in December to follow Adamson to Leeds Utd. Billy Elliott assumed the reigns of care-taker manager and did a sterling job but once again it was a near-miss for promotion and heartache for the Roker faithful.
Clarke was once again troubled with injury in the last third of this season, a disrupted campaign for the club generally.
With Ken Knighton installed as manager Clarke and Elliott were re-united at the centre of our defence. With Turner in goal, Joe Bolton and ever present Steve Whitworth at full backs, Sunderland were undefeated at Roker in the league in season 1979/80 and went up behind champions Leicester City.
Clarke made a total of 46 appearances in all competitions that season, the highest total since his arrival in 1975, ironic then that a career-threatening injury would rob us of a player at his peak, for the whole of season 1980/81.
Season 80/81 had seen us mired in the relegation places for most of the season and led to Ken Knighton’s dismissal in April. We survived, primarily because of the poor form of the teams around us. How we missed Clarke that season, Sam Allardyce had been bought in to shore up the defence - but for me, he was not the player Clarke was.
We started season 1981/82 with another new manager, Alan Durban. Clarke returned to partner youngster Rob Hindmarch. Durban played Shaun Elliott in front of the back four in a season that threatened good things without ever quite materialising. As with Ken Knighton before him, Durban did not enjoy a great relationship with chairman Tom Cowie and the cracks began to show. Once again Clarke experienced injury that took him out of the team in February of that season and he never regained his place in the first eleven, playing his last game for the lads in a 1-0 defeat at the Dell in May 1982 having come off the bench.
Durban was under pressure to lighten the wage bill before any new arrivals and at the end of the season, and Clarke along with Barry Siddall and Kevin Arnott were given free transfers.
Controversially Clarke signed for Newcastle and went on to play 124 games for them between 1982 and 1987, helping them to promotion in 1984 and winning player of the season. With injuries once again impacting and after brief spells at Brighton, in Turkey and at Darlington he retired to coach at Newcastle (whilst also completing a Physiotherapy degree part-time) in 1987.
He qualified as a Physiotherapist in 1996 and returned to Sunderland in that role. He moved on to Leeds United as physio in 2001 and then Dundee United as first team physio in 2003. In 2020 he took on the role of Youth Academy Physio at Tannadice.
Jeff Clarke made a total of 210 appearances for the Lads from 1975 to 1982. Whilst injuries curtailed his appearances over-all, he was a fan favourite as well as a crucial and popular member of the 1975/76 and 1979/80 promotion-winning squads.
Happy Birthday Jeff Clarke!