Former Ajax, Tottenham and Sporta Rotterdam striker Ray Clarke is the latest player to be inducted into our hall of fame.

  • By M.Joseph Valler

Ray ClarkeAged over 100 years in most countries, it is safe to say that Football has a history now.

Since its inception, the game has been developed to suit weather, physical attributes and beliefs. There are two countries, however; who have shaped this sport with a lasting effect that cannot be discarded as the years pass. These two countries are England (where it was first defined) and the Netherlands (where it was developed to become to game we watch today). So, if football is now an antique, the English gathered the raw materials & built it, and the Dutch planed and varnished it.

Ray Clarke is an Ajax hero. He didn’t score as many as Suarez, he didn’t have the skill of Ibrahimovic and he didn’t play as many games as Vasovic but Ray Clarke is an Ajax legend because he was one for the fans. I think the Dutch liked Ray Clarke because he was English. Maybe he harkened back to their youth watching English football. Ray Clarke was loved In the same way that Dennis Bergkamp was loved by the English – because Bergkamp was Dutch, Ajax and therefore synonymous with Cruyff, Michels and Total Football. Ajax fans loved Ray Clarke because he was their own Englishman.

The Ultras of Europe started out emulating the support of English fans from the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s. The Ultras envied the rich football heritage and they appropriated it for themselves. Today, it is English fans who look abroad enviously. What was once so strong in England is now being diluted and we find a reminder of these former glories in Dutch & German support. A reaction to foreign ownership and spiralling match day costs has led to a slow resurgence in Ultra culture in England. Our influences? The Ultras of Europe. So the passing of the torch has come full circle and as long as the fans have the power to carry it, the circle will never stop.

Ray Clarke was born in Hackney on September 25th,1952. Ray first attracted attention representing Islington, London and Middlesex Schools whilst attending the Central Foundation Grammar School for Boys in Islington. It was here that he was scouted by Tottenham Hotspur and signed as for the club as an apprentice in 1969. During his time in the Spurs Youth Team, Ray acquired a reputation as a player who could hold opposition players off whilst still keeping possession. With a strong aerial presence to match his skills with the ball at his feet, Clarke scored 155 goals in 228 games for Tottenham at youth and reserve level. Between the years of 1969 and 1971, the striker scored 86 goals in 95 league and cup games for the youth teams and it was these goals that helped Spurs win the 1970 Youth Cup, beating Coventry in the final replay with a team that contained Steve Perryman and Graeme Souness.

Despite Clarke’s productivity in front of goal at Youth level, he found it hard to break into a first team which contained Tottenham legends Martin Chivers and Alan Gilzean and these two immovable objectsrestricted Ray to only one senior appearance for the club (as a 74th minute substitute for Gilzean in a match on 21st April 1973 against Leicester City). Shortly after this sole appearance, Bill Nicholson sold Clarke to Swindon Town for £8,000 in 1973.

Ray Clarke played 14 times for the Robins and only scoring 2 goals, before he moved on once more a year later to Mansfield Town for an extra £5 per week. Mansfield spent £8,000 on Clarke, which at that time was a large sum for a team in the old Fourth Division and for a player who had played just 15 games of first team professional football. Ray Clarke made his debut for the Stags on the first day of the 1974/75 season at home to Southport and quickly repaid Mansfield manager David Smith’s faith in him by netting 30 goals in 53 matches; he also had a hand in strike partner Tony Eccles’ 20 goals of that season. Mansfield clinched the league title with a 7-0 victory over Scunthorpe at Field Mill, with Clarke scoring 2. The Stags finished the next season in the top half of Division 3 thanks to 29 goals in 58 appearances from Clarke but three days after the end of that season, Clarke submitted a transfer request. Although he had enjoyed happy times at Mansfield, the 23 year old had ambitions to play at the highest level.

The first offer that came in for Clarke was from recently crowned Division 3 champions Hereford but that offer of £40,000 was rejected. The second offer that came in was for £90,000. It was accepted and a club record fee. Ray Clarke was on his way to Sparta Rotterdam. In his first few weeks in Rotterdam he found it difficult adapting to Dutch football – new teammates and a different system in particular. The Sparta fans were also impatient, no doubt hearing of his goal scoring prowess in England and so expecting instant miracles. After a difficult start at Sparta, Clarke eventually adapted well and with then Ajax coach Cor Brom, his assistant Leo Beenhakker and Bobby Haarms looking on, Clarke scored as Sparta beat Ajax 3-1 in September 1976. This goal, along with the other 30 in 64 games, led to the Amsterdam club making na approach for the Englishman. After two seasons in Rotterdam, Ray Clarke went north to Amsterdam and to the club that would define him.

When Ray Clarke joined Ajax in July of 1978; the Amsterdam club, despite winning the title in 1976 was one struggling to gain recognition in the shadow of Cruyff & Michels ‘71-’73 side. In the league they now struggled to match PSV and Feyenoord and were also facing stiff completion from the pretenders like AZ ’67 and FC Twente. The club wasn’t without talent, however; a number of the remnants of the glory years were still there such as Dick Schoenaker, Piet Schrijvers and Ruud Krol – the latter becoming increasingly frustrated by mediocrity around him. Newer younger players were starting to emerge too such as the sometimes brilliant but often erratic Simon Tahamata, Tscheu La Ling and the two young Danes, Frank Arnesen, a & Soren Lerby.

Clarke himself said of coming into the side: ‘One problem was that the quality here is so much higher than anything I’ve been used to before’

It was easy to see why Clarke felt this; he also had large shoes to fill as Ruud Geels had only just been sold to Anderlecht after being the Eredivisie top scorer for a record breaking four consecutive seasons (30, 29, 34, 30 goals respectively). Of his time at Ajax, Clarke considers Frank Arnesen and particularly Ruud Krol, to be the two players who stood out in the side.Of the latter Clarke stated: ‘I don’t think it’s possible to appreciate just how good he is until you’ve played with him’.

Ray Clarke would only play one season with Krol and at Ajax, but in that season he scored 37 goals with 26 league and 6 in the European Cup. Despite the lack of Dutch football coverage in England, word had obviously got back to the England set-up and in 1978, Ray Clarke was sounded out by England manager Ron Greenwood. Unfortunately for both Clarke and the England team, the Ajax board were unwilling to release him and the offer was never repeated. Although Ray Clarke, may not have been the highest goalscorer in Ajax’ history or even their greatest striker (although to be fair, Ajax have morew than a handful to choose from); what has endeared Clarke to Ajax fans was the importance of his goals. Clarke was a player who never went missing in a big game and his performances were the key to ensuring trophies for Ajax.

One of the most memorable examples of this took place on June 4th 1979, when Clarke scored the only Ajax goal in the 1-1 game at AZ ’67 that would secure Ajax the Eredivisie title. The moment was preserved in a famous photograph of the aftermath of this match, with the Ajax fans carrying the Englishman up on their shoulders. Prior to this, on May 15th 1979 & May 29th 1979 Ray Clarke had also scored two of his most memorable goals in both legs of a KNVB Cup final against FC Twente. There were 29,553 attendees at De Kuip for the first final which would be a battle between Ray Clarke, la Ling & Tahamata against Twente defenders Romeo Zondervan and Ab Gritter. Ajax opened the scoring after thirteen minutes but in the wrong net and this own goal from Ajax Defender Wim Meutstege meant that Twente took the lead. Just before half time, in the 42nd minute; Twente goalkeeper Andre van Gerven brought down Frank Arnesen and the referee, Jonker pointed to the spot. Despite the pressure of the occasion, Clarke slotted the ball into the net and got the equaliser that would remain the final score.

There were 29, 274 attendees at De Kuip for the replay but this time Ajax dominated from the off. After 26th minutes, Ruud Krol, Simon Tahamata and Soren Lerby combined beautifully to supply Ray Clarke with the first goal of the tie. There was no looking back for Ajax following this goal, a second from Simon Tahamata and a Third from Dick Schoenaker ensure the cup would go back to Amsterdam. Then, less than a few months after the trophies were lifted; in a move that shocked the Ajax faithful, President Ton Harmsen agreed to sell Clarke to Club Brugge. The decision prompted by the reluctance of the board to spend more on new players – choosing instead to fund any purchases from the sale of the Englishman.

This attitude was decried by Cruyff himself; calling this a ‘grocers’ attitude to running a football club. The move was unsurprisingly controversial, with the Ajax fans up in arms about the proposed move. In response, the F-Side did what they do best; they came out in force and vehemently protested the move, unfurling banners which read: ’Ray Clarke, King Of Ajax’ and ‘Ray Must Stay’. Despite the pressure, petitions and protest from the fans, the board refused to budge and in 1979, Ray Clarke was sold to Club Brugge for £200,000. Unfortunately, for Clarke, his time at Bruges was not the happiest and in October 1979, Ray Clarke returned to England – the south coast to be precise; purchased for £175,000 by Alan Mullery’s Brighton.

At the time of his arrival, Brighton were finding life in the top flight difficult and were propping up the table after 12 matches. Defeats to Arsenal & Liverpool meant that Ray Clarke’s time at Brighton did not get off to a flying start but a win over the then European Champions, Nottingham Forest at the City Ground changed that. With Clarke partnering Peter Ward, Brighton slowly climbed out of the relegation zone to safety. Ray Clarkes strength and selfless play ensured that Peter Ward scored 14 whilst Clarke himself, scored 8.

In July 1980, following a visit to a specialist, Ray Clarke was sold to Newcastle for £180,000. The news from the specialist had been grave; his hips were in a poor condition and his career could be over in either 12 months or 4 years. The ramifications for club and player were immense – at that time, Clarke was uninsured and Brighton would not receive a penny if he broke down whilst on their books. After playing only 14 matches for Newcastle United in the 1980/81 season, Clarke was forced to retire aged just 28.

Today, Ray Clarke lives in Scheveningen in the Netherlands.

In the mid-90’s, his old Spurs youth teammate Graeme Souness contacted him and asked if he would do some scouting for him. Ray did and shortly after this joined Coventry City, Southampton and then to Celtic as their European Scout. Since then, he has been responsible for bringing George Boateng and Cedric Roussel to the UK. In 2004, Ray Clarke returned to Ajax as a guest of honour at the Eredivisie fixture versus NAC Breda. As he made his way up to Box 107, his first utterances on seeing the new stadium was ‘Where is the F-Side now’?

Cantona, Zola, Bergkamp, and Suarez – whether a Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool fan; we loved them. We tend to forget our own players when they venture abroad, however. We should instead be proud – many of these players have been taken to the hearts of their adopted clubs fans. John Charles (Juventus), Paul Gascoigne (Lazio), Steve McMannaman (Real Madrid) and Chris Waddle (Marseille) are all loved by those fans not just because of the goals and medals that came with them, but the fact that they are English and represent an almost forgotten culture.

Johan Cruyff did not re-join Ajax until 1981. During Ray Clarke’s time at Ajax, Cruyff was playing in the NASL. There is a curiosity to know what Cruyff would have made of Clarke had he been at the club. Would he have rated him?

The answer lies in an interview Cruyff gave in 1980. Watching his old team from afar, we shall leave the final word on Ray Clarke to him.

“Those people who wanted to sell Ray Clarke don’t understand that Clarke could take away two or sometimes three defenders on his own because of his vision. The board should have seen Clarke as a goalscorer or a playmaker. He made sure that Tahamata and Ling could play well – and he still scored 30 goals in one season”- Johan Cruyff

Matthew Valler (7 Posts)