Wolves Target Who Clicked Big Time With Ajax
Who was inducted into Ajax’s hall of fame but might alternatively have trodden a path to Molineux?
Not Cruyff, Neeskens, Krol or Rep – this was someone born in Hackney who had helped heap League Cup embarrassment on Wolves.
The name Ray Clarke might not immediately trip off tongues in this part of the world but the latest issue of Backpass reminds us that the striker was a hero in the lower divisions at Mansfield, who knocked Bill McGarry’s Wanderers out by the only goal at Field Mill two seasons on from them winning the competition for the first time.
He didn’t score that night but the manager is credited with doing much to help his career, even if he was left frustrated at missing out on his signature.
Among Clarke’s contemporaries in Nottinghamshire in that mid-1970s era was Notts County’s Dave McVay, the midfielder-turned-journalist who has just written a revealing piece on him for Britain’s top football nostalgia magazine.
He reflects on the Londoner’s 30 goals up the M1 from Meadow Lane in the Stags’ 1974-75 Fourth Division title-winning campaign and the follow-up of 29 at the higher level. The list of admirers was lengthy….
“Bill McGarry at Wolves, who we had beaten earlier in the League Cup run when I was up against Frank Munro, wanted me,” Clarke is reported as saying. “He was offering £40,000 apparently.”
Can any of our readers offer clearer historical context here? As the League Cup exit at Mansfield was in the late autumn and McGarry was sacked soon after relegation was confirmed in the April, we assume this interest was lodged during the months in between.
So could it be that Bobby Gould wouldn’t have been signed for a second Wanderers spell had the move for the 23-year-old been successful?
In the event, Clarke, having also attracted bids from Bristol City and Leicester, took an entirely different direction. And, at this point, there is a very interesting twist in the tale.
“The chairman called me and told me they had accepted an offer of £90,000 from Sparta Rotterdam,” the interview continues…..”It turned out that Bill McGarry had been interviewed for the manager’s job and when they told him they were looking for a big centre-forward who could score goals, he recommended me.
“Bill went somewhere else abroad (Saudi Arabia) but that recommendation stuck. I owe him such a lot. If it weren’t for him, none of what followed would have happened.”
What happened is this: Clarke, who had grown up alongside Graeme Sounness, Steve Perryman and Barry Daines in the Tottenham side who won the 1969-70 FA Youth Cup, scored at the rate of better than a goal every two league games at Sparta and was transferred to Ajax for big money. And the goals kept on coming.
McVay’s fine piece tells us that he netted inside a minute on his debut, struck in the two matches of the Dutch Cup final, came up with the title-winning goal six minutes from the end against Alkmaar and chipped in with plenty in between. His tally was 38 in 44 games.
It wasn’t enough to prevent his departure at the end of that season – he moved on to Bruges and then back to England with Brighton. But he had written his name into football folklore in Amsterdam.
McGarry did finally get his man in 1980, at Newcastle, but was sacked before the partnership had time to prosper.
Clarke ultimately had to retire at 28 because of hip trouble but such was his impact with Holland’s most famous club during what proved a double-winning season that he was inducted into their hall of fame in 2014.
Before his European tour, he also played for Swindon following a solitary game in Spurs’ first team and later put all that football know-how to good use in a number of high-profile scouting roles, including Celtic, Blackburn, Portsmouth and Middlesbrough.
*The Clarke article appears in issue 80 of Backpass, which has Howard Wilkinson on the front as its main photo. If anyone wishes to purchase the magazine and is struggling to do so, please feel free to contact us for assistance.