Hero and villain

Only Peter Reid and Lee Clark, and perhaps whoever served them at the Yarm Country Club, know for sure whether it really took five shared bottles of champagne to persuade the Wallsend-born midfielder to join Sunderland from his beloved Newcastle United.

That is what I recall Reid saying happened in an interview at the time. But whatever the truth of the 1997 booze-up recruitment meeting, it will come as little surprise to Sunderland supporters that Clark now regards the move as a mistake.

Having helped us to promotion, he then chose to wear a t-shirt bearing the slogan “Sad Mackem Bastards” at the 1999 FA Cup final, which he attended as a NUFC fan (they lost to Man Utd).

He never played for Sunderland again and the incident in commonly regarded as the trigger for his departure.

But in his newly published (and ghostwritten) autobiography Black or White, No Grey Areas, which you can buy from Salut! Sunderland’s Amazon shelf, he insists he had already told Reid he could not give 100 per cent against Newcastle. With the two sides together in the Premier, that would have handicapped Reid unreasonably on team selection.

From an Evening Chronicle report, we have Clark’s explanation of his feelings: “Even though my time at the Stadium of Light ended on a sour note, I’d like to think Sunderland supporters appreciated I was an influential player in a very good team for the two years I was on Wearside.

“Sunderland fans knew where my heart lay, but were happy as long as I did the business for them on the pitch. And they knew I always did that.”

Clark says he looks back his time at Sunderland as two of the best years of his life. He claims it was honest rather unprofessional to make it clear he could not play for us in a Wear-Tyne derby.

The player, or, rather, his “co-author” Will Scott adds:

To understand you have to know about the feeling between the two North East clubs. People talk about the Old Firm game; the Merseyside and Manchester derbies; the north London contests and other local clashes. I’m sure they are passionate, feisty affairs with no quarter drawn.

But the Tyne and Wear derby is something else. There is pure hatred, poison and venom. It makes seemingly rational people punch horses for God’s sake. I wish that wasn’t the case but it is.

Speaking only for myself, a player’s allegiance to the Mags is not, in itself, of the least concern. I make judgements based on performance, and therefore rated Clark but not, for example, Danny Graham.

As I wrote at ESPN a couple of years ago, Clark “showed exemplary resolve and midfield flair to help Sunderland to a runaway promotion as champions in his second season”.

Lee Clark may want buy one, for old timel's sake, at https://goo.gl/8wcuwP

Lee Clark may want to buy one, for old time’s sake, from our pals at Classic Football Shirts

The publisher’s blurb tells of a book that is “explosive, controversial and hilarious in equal measures”, tracing the rise of an “emotional, talented, yet cheeky footballer with a volatile temper”.

Wearing that t-shirt was immature and provocative, and there is a strong case for saying a true pro should be able to rise above tribal rivalries and always do his or her best.

But I tend to believe Clark when he says he was already committed to leaving and had made his intentions clear to Reid. I will choose to look back on a player who made a valuable contribution to what remains the best Sunderland side I have seen in decades.

M Salut, drawn by Matt, colouring by Jake

M Salut, drawn by Matt, colouring by Jake

Tags: , , ,

Salut! Sunderland is written, illustrated and edited by - and principally for - supporters of Sunderland AFC. The site aims to be sufficiently literate and entertaining to appeal to people who do not follow SAFC but enjoy good football writing.

6 Responses to “Lee Clark. ‘My mistake: not the t-shirt but leaving Newcastle for Sunderland’” Subscribe

  1. Eric012 October 25, 2016 at 9:19 am #

    Let’s be honest. Have you ever thought that if you had been a pro footballer you would have had a clause inserted in your contract – ‘not allowed to play against Sunderland’.

  2. john mac October 25, 2016 at 12:02 pm #

    Half our squad must have a clause that says “not able to play for Sunderland”

  3. BillytheFish October 25, 2016 at 2:28 pm #

    Anyone who knows Clarky will tell you he loved it at Sunderland and played his best football under Peter Reid..

  4. david miller October 25, 2016 at 7:01 pm #

    When the t shirt incident happened I rang that smoggie century radio phone-in with gatesy, supermac and the Boro bloke, and complained that Lee was a typical Geordie and had let us down, just like Don Hutchison had that week with his “demands”- which he immediately blamed on the bloke that did his social media crap.

    Lee’s mam got onto the radio station immediately after me, bless her, she’d even stopped doing the ironing, and said something like ” that mackem who was just on slagging off our lee, he wore the t shirt as a joke and it backfired, etc.”

    She then proceeded to say I was slagging off his performances for us, and to be fair to gatesy, he pulled her up on that cos it was bollocks. He was a fine player for us.

    I hope her ear has recovered from the iron burn.

    • William C October 26, 2016 at 9:53 am #

      david – great story.

      I always imagined this was a case of a would be joke, carried out by a young lad who was having a laugh with his mates. Unfortunately for Lee, and for us, someone took a picture, and it suddenly became an international incident.

      IMO he was the best central midfielder we have had in years, and always gave his absolute best on the field.

      This is another one of the consequences of the nonsensical attributes fans place on players and managers. They [ fans ] seem to assume that all players must share their own fanatical love for the club. The fact is they don’t. They support other teams, or none at all, and meanwhile, as professionals, they [ mostly ] do their best for the club that pays them.

  5. Jeremy October 26, 2016 at 11:51 am #

    He never his or gave less than his best for us, is my recollection. I sometimes think he gave us more than he gave any other club because he was motivated to prove his commitment. A good player who was compromised by attending the FA Cup Final. It was an unwise move to go to the game and even more unwise to allow himself to be set up like that on top.

    He was a very good player for us and I’ve never heard anyone of our supporters say anything different.

Leave a Reply

Stoke City, the U23s and the Hetton Irregulars. What more could you want on a Monday Night?

Salut Banner4(featured image)

As soon as Pete Sixsmith and the trusty Mazda returned from Luton he was under the bonnet, checking the oil, […]

Sheffield Wednesday Who are You?: ‘League One might be good for you. We should know’

Jake: 'back on the Wembley trail?'

Monsieur Salut writes: at around this time last season, Dave Briggs* gave us some great responses as Sheffield Wednesday supporter […]

SAFC vs Sheffield Wednesday prize Guess the Score: we’re the underdogs

Guess the Reading-SAFC score and you could win a mug - whoever you support

It is a fact of life as we find it, says Monsieur Salut. Sunderland start the Carabao Cup tie (league […]

View From the North West Corner: give Catts a break

View From(featured image)

Following a lot of public criticism of one of our players by followers of The Black Cats, Malcolm Dawson appeals […]

A Long and Winding Road leads to Luton Town and a hard fought draw

Sixer'sSoapbox(featured image)

John McCormick writes: I woke up this morning feeling fine and decided that, as Pete Sixsmith had introduced a musical theme […]

Luton v Sunderland Hutch’s one word ratings

Hutch's Patch(featured image)

Rob Hutchison is a home and away regular and manages to encapsulate each of our players’ performances in the briefest […]