“The hype around the game was incredible, anyone who didn’t understand the rivalry certainly did afterwards. They’re very competitive and to say they don’t like each other is an understatement.” – Neil Shipperley speaking about the January 1996 South Coast Derby.
With now just twelve days left until the South Coast’s two top clubs renew hostilities at Fratton Park, the next installment in our feature looking at players who dared the wrath of both sets of supporters looks at a man who spent three years with both….
Born in Northern Ireland, Clarke made his name for himself as a regular goalscorer in the fourth division for both Peterborough United and Tranmere Rovers before heading to the third division at South Coast AFC Bournemouth. He continued to impress at the higher level, catching the eye of countryman Chris Nicholl, heading to Hampshire from Dorset in the summer of 1986.
Clarke was an instant hit at the Dell, helping himself to twenty league goals in his first season as a top flight player. The start of the 1987-88 season couldn’t have started any better for him either. In the first South Coast derby for three and a half years, Clarke netted twice for Saints at Fratton Park in a 2-2 draw, Clarke also featured in the 0-2 defeat at the Dell in the return game of January 1988.
Clarke finished that season with another sixteen first division goals, and seemingly the future was bright, but the following campaign saw the goals dry up, and Clarke was kept out of the side by new boy Paul Rideout. A loan spell back at Bournemouth was followed by Clarke’s permanent departure to first division rivals QPR.
It was only a short break from Hampshire for the forward though, as he struggled to hit form at Loftus Road. In the summer of 1990 Clarke was signed by then Pompey boss Frank Burrows for a fee of £500k. Clarke was obviously pleased to be back amongst the South Coast air, and had a fruitful opening season at Fratton Park. Scoring seventeen goals for the blues, impressive in a side that had struggled for form.
Unfortunately for Clarke and the Pompey fans, goals would be harder to come by the following season, but the Northern Irishman would play a part in the Pompey side that got to within a whisker of the 1992 FA Cup final, losing out to Liverpool only on penalties after a replay and extra time.
Clarke stayed at Fratton Park until the end of the 1992/93 season when he decided to hang up his boots aged just thirty one due to a recurring knee injury.
Since his retirement Clarke focused his energy on coaching, and has been in management in the USA since 1998. He recently relinquished his role as the manager of the Puerto Rican national team, a position he had held since 2007. He is currently the manager of the Puerto Rico Islanders.