We are delighted to bring you another interview with a former Blues player, this time it is Ian Clarkson.
Ian was one of the 1991 Leyland Daf winning side and another Brummie Bluenose to play for the club, but enough of the introduction – let’s get cracking.
Before we talk about yourself Ian, what are your thoughts on Blues at the moment?
Well football has changed massively. I think unless you are a regular top 6 finisher in the Premier League you’ll go up and down and I think most Blues fans I know who are my age are quite pragmatic about it. Yeah we may well go up and down, but we’ve seen us bag a major trophy! While we’d all like to be in the Premier League, it isn’t necessarily good fun to pay 40 quid for tickets only to see half a dozen wins! In truth, I’d go and watch Blues if we were playing the “Dog and Duck” or Macclesfield or Aldershot.
I don’t think we’ll go up this season. Don’t get me wrong I hope we do, but we have a brand new side and they need to gel. Of course the longer you stay out, the parachute payments dry up which makes it even more difficult. Obviously the difficulties with Carson Yeung don’t help things. I don’t think we’re a cash rich club, but we have some decent players. All I’m hearing back from people is good reports about Chris Hughton though. He’s a calm collected guy and a hands on first class coach. Ultimately though, he’ll be judged on results.
In the Championship you can win and lose games, but still remain competitive. Away from home it can be tough though, so it may mean we have to sacrifice the aesthetic beauties of the game for some grubby draws!
Ian, you were bought up in Solihull, so was I – where abouts were you bought up?
I was brought up in Olton/Hobs Moat and went to Chapelfields Primary School and Tudor Grange Secondary School. My dad worked in the motor industry for years (Pressed Steel Fisher/Longbridge and Land Rover….)
When did you start to realise you were a decent footballer?
I guess at primary school. I always had a huge desire to be the best and a will to win and I used to captain most of the sides I played for from primary school level. When I started playing for the district side as well, as this was in the days before academies and you didn’t generally start training with professional clubs until you were about 12.
You are a Bluenose, what was your first match as a fan?
I think my first game was an FA Cup game when Howard Kendall scored and we beat Portsmouth 1-0 and I was in the Railway End. I got my first season ticket in 78/79 and didn’t see us win a home game until December!!!!! However, our first win was a 5-1 smashing of Manchester United…
How did you get a trial at Blues?
We had a top Sunday team in those days called North Star Rangers and myself, Andy Harris, Matthew Fox and Andy Williams all got taken on YTS forms at Blues. Daryl Burgess was signed by Albion and a lad called Richard Hartigan was signed by Wolves so we always had plenty of scouts at our games. However, Norman Bodell was chief scout at the time and asked me if I wanted to train with them. I was training at Villa as well at the time, but there was only one club I wanted to sign for at the age of 14.
What was it like getting taken on by Blues? What was it like being a youngster at a professional side?
A cliche but it was a boyhood dream as I supported Blues and went to watch every game so I was a massive fan. It’s hard to describe but you go from being the best player in your school and playing for the district/county/England schoolboy trials etc and then you turn up on your first day and there are nine of you who are all equally as good competing for a professional contract. Lee Sharpe was in our age group and wasn’t offered a YTS contract but with hindsight I suspect the club wish they had!!!!!
It goes by in a flash as all of a sudden you are cleaning the first team’s boots and dressing rooms etc. By the end of my first year I was training with the first team and then I made my debut at 17 against Villa (we lost 2-0) and I got my first professional contract on my 18th birthday – £80 per week (!) it is a fantastic feeling. All you have worked for since the age of about 11 has come to fruition and the fun was just starting to begin..
What was Lou like to work for?
No nonsense! I respected him as a manager as he was fair in that he didn’t do anyone any favours. He wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea but he was good for me personally and he was what the team and club needed at that time. He just got players to play to their limits and created a great team spirit. But bloody hell did we work hard in training…Some of the training we did was unusual….for instance we sometimes trained at the park down by Eddie’s Bar and it was ten times worse than it is now. If we had a ‘keep ball’ or five-a-side he wouldn’t mark out a pitch, just goals, so you would have players running past the swings and slides trying to tackle each other and avoiding people with their dogs and on their bikes!!!! It was crackers.
Who were the characters in that squad? Any funny stories about previous team colleagues?
Hoppy was and still is a character who always says it as it is…… Paul Tait is the same age as me so I knew him from an early age and everyone has got a good Taity story. My favourite was at a Christmas party organised by Samesh Kumar at a hotel in Brum and everyone was dancing and Samesh hit the floor in a effort to be one of the lads…however, Taity got hold of him by his jacket and was dancing toe to toe with him as a late eighties house tune came on! Taity was in the lager zone and Samesh was trying to smile but you could see he was hating every second – priceless!
Things were tough at the club in those days, any particular memories about that?
We had to queue up for wages every Friday when Ken Wheldon was in charge. He paid us on a weekly basis but in those days the banks shut at around 3.30 on a Friday so there was always around 40 first and youth team players hanging around the office on Friday at about 3.15 getting very irate as they made sure we couldn’t pay it in till Monday. I remember it was a great place to be. Despite the fact there wasn’t much cash and the stadium and training ground (????) were light years behind what the club has now it was always fun. Blues is never dull and you always felt as though something was about to happen – whether it be good or bad. The players were always happy to go into Solihull or Birmingham after games and we would always face up to fans irrespective of what had happened in the game.
What were your highlights and lowlights playing at Blues?
Highlights were every game…. If I had to pick one it would be making my debut against Villa. We lost 2-0 but for a 17-year-old Blues fan that was a dream come true.
Lowlight was getting stuffed 5-1 at Tranmere one Friday night when the scoreline flattered us….that was a long journey home and probably the quietest coach I have ever been on.
Obviously the LD final was a great day for the club and fans alike. Some 45,000 bluenoses (me included), were there.
What were your memories of the day. What was it like pre match?
Pre-match was a week spent in spartan surroundings at Reading University with no TV or contact with the outside world! This was pre-mobile phone era and it certainly wasn’t a glamorous location. The day itself was amazing as it was just jam packed with Blues fans who had waited over 30 years for their trip to Wembley. I was only 20 and it flies by but it was a real turning point for the club.
I seem to remember you had a really good game. What do you remember of it? Is it true that it passes you by quickly?
Tranmere were favourites and won the play-off final a week later but we played really well. It is just a blur although once you kick off it is just a game of football and everything else melts away.
Did you think we had blown it when Tranmere came back to 2-2?
No. I always thought we could score and even though the tide was with them, Gayley was terrifying their defenders and that proved to be the case for the winner. I was always positive and believed we could win – Lou had got us in a good frame of mind.
Talk us through the winner from your perspective. When Gayle scored the winner I went absolutely nuts!
We won a free kick. I swung in a cross towards Vince who knocked it back for Gayley to score an unbelievable goal and the place erupted. I remember thinking the last few minutes took forever but we held on. I actually think John’s first goal was the better of the two he scored that day but he will always be remembered for the winner. It’s funny, I think that win kick-started things for us as a club, we had hit rock bottom.
What happened after the game? Did you know that Lou may be leaving?
We went mad and basically spent the next two weeks drinking…..There was a boozy post match reception and then the next day at the Council House in Central Birmingham. That really hit home then as we were on the roof in Central Birmingham and there were thousands of people there. That stuck with me more than the actual game and will be one of the highlights of my career as that was my city! Everywhere we went we’d bump into fans who just loved us because of that win. Brilliant.
We weren’t sure if Lou was leaving or not but there had been quite a big row over the bonuses pre Wembley and Lou didn’t back the chairman so you could see the cracks starting to appear.
Did you go to Wembley in February? Did the game bring back the memories?
I had tickets but I couldn’t go in the end due to work. I did manage to watch it on TV. I watched it as a fan, didn’t believe we could win like most Blues fans, but as the game went on began thinking that we could nick it. The atmosphere was fantastic, something Blues fans have always been able to do. For us to win, is was brilliant. I wouldn’t swap staying in the league for winning the cup.
You went on to replace Vince as Captain, that must have been an amazing moment in your career as a fan?
Absolutely. For me to make my debut against Villa, win at Wembley and then captain Blues to promotion at the age of 21 was pretty much all I had dreamt of as a boy. That side was a pleasure to play in as Terry Cooper wanted us to attack and we had real flair in all areas.
You were sold to Stoke. That must have been tough leaving the club you supported.
It was but sometimes you need to move on and I was a better player when I moved there as I was older and far more experienced. We were 90 minutes away from reaching the Premier League in 1996.
It must have been a regret not to play at a higher level.
Not really. I think you if you give it your best shot then you can’t have any complaints. I played in the Championship for a few years and that was probably about right.
Your career finished early, you were still in your 20’s weren’t you; what happened?
I was playing for Northampton in 1999 ( I was 28) and my leg was smashed by a bad tackle that kept me out for a season. I came back but was on a stupid amount of painkillers every day just to get out of bed…I retired at 29 and went to play part-time for Kidderminster in October as I only had to train one day a week. However, we won the Conference and they paid my insurance money back and for another operation for me so I had a further two years in the Football League before calling it a day at 32.
Did you ever consider having a career in the game as a coach?
Well I do have my coaching badges and I was assistant manager at Kidderminster and was at the Blues and at Derby in the youth acadamies. I was actually a journalist for four years working for the Birmingham Post and Sunday Mercury I covered all sorts of sports. I really enjoyed that and it was what I fancied doing. I also used to write for the PFA website as well and also have been an FA Tutor delivering FA courses. I also worked at Solihull College coaching. I also ran a sports project in Chemsley Wood an inclusion project. So I have tended to do coaching / education rather than coaching / club stuff.
Eventually I started working at Repton Preparatory School in Derbyshire as a PE teacher, (my partner worked there). It is primarily a football school, (with hockey and cricket). It’s a great school to work for with amazing facilities and brilliant for family life. I would recommend anyone send their children there if they can! It’s full on as it’s a boarding school, (when they are here – and yes I get plenty of holidays!) I can’t imagine me doing anything else to be honest.
I am currently doing my degree in Sports Fitness and Leisure. I also work as a tutor for the FA on a part-time basis and play for the Blues All-Stars as often as I can, which is good fun, as well as spend as much time as I can with my three children – Annie, Amelie and Eddie.
Ian I really appreciate your time mate, once again ladies and gentlemen – IAN CLARKSON!