Profile of Ray Clarke’s career at Mansfield Town

By Martin Shaw

(Published in Stags fanzine Follow The Yellow Brick Road, March 2001)

Ray Clarke was born on 25 September 1952 in Hackney and started his career at Tottenham Hotspur in 1969. In season 1969/70, Clarke played in the Spurs youth team that won the Youth Cup, beating Coventry 1-0 in a second replay of the final, with Graeme Souness scoring the only goal. Also in that Spurs youth team was Barry Daines. Clarke made just one first-team appearance for Spurs (coming on as a substitute). In 1973 he joined Swindon for 8,000 and played 14 times, scoring 2 goals, before signing for Mansfield Town in August 1974 again for 8,000. It was quite a sizeable sum for Mansfield for a player who had played just 15 league games with his previous 2 clubs.

Clarke made his Stags debut in the first match of the 1974/75 season at home to Southport. Clarke had a promising match along with fellow debutante Gordon Hodgson as Stags won 2-1. Clarke opened his goal-scoring account in the second match of the season away to Scunthorpe as Stags won 1-0. The goal came in the 56th minute as he dived bravely forward into a welter of flying boots to head the winner. He scored again in the following match at home to Rochdale sweeping a Jimmy McCaffrey cross into the net as Stags won 2-0 to keep up their 100% record.

After three matches without a goal, Clarke was on the score sheet again away to Cambridge in a 2-2 draw seizing on a bad back-pass and dribbling around the keeper before scoring off the post. Two games later, he scored both goals in a 2-1 win at Swansea at the beginning of October. First he scored easily from a Sandy Pate cross and his second came with a great header from a Hodgson centre. Four days later, he scored in a 4-2 home win against Darlington at Field Mill, rounding off a move with clinical precision after McCaffrey had made the running down the right and Mick Laverick had astutely stepped over the winger’s low cross. Two days later, Stags beat Swansea 3-0 at home with Clarke scored the final goal superbly heading in from a Gordon Hodgson free-kick, as Stags stormed back to the top of the table, a position they were to retain for all but one week (later in the same month) of the remainder of the season.

Two games later, two Clarke headers in the second half pulled Stags from a goal behind to win 3-1 at Barnsley. The first header was from a Hodgson free-kick and the second from a Laverick cross. Two matches later, Stags completed the double over Barnsley with a 2-1 win as Clarke scored the first with his knee following a free-kick from Pate which was helped on by Hodgson and John Lathan. This game started a run of six successive games in which Clarke found the target. Five days later at Hartlepool, Stags suffered a rare defeat losing 2-1 despite taking the lead when Clarke chalked up his 11th goal of the season after McCaffrey had set up the chance, but the defeat was only a temporary blip as Stags’ terrific form continued. In the next game, Clarke hammered a brilliant goal after showing superb control to leave three defenders in his wake as Stags went on to beat Northampton 3-0 at home. The goal scoring run continued as Stags beat Bradford 3-0 at Field Mill at the beginning of November. Clarke’s goal came after an hour when he controlled a centre from John Lathan with great skill to beat the helpless keeper. Stags were now four points clear of their closest rival Shrewsbury. The run continued in a memorable 3-2 win at Brentford, Clarke scoring Stags’ first goal, a magnificent header from a left wing cross from Barry Foster. In the next game, Clarke notched his first and only hat-trick of a prolific season, in a 5-2 thumping of Doncaster at Field Mill, to take his goal tally to 17 and to head the entire Football League goal-scorers’ list. His first came on 17 minutes as Barry Foster’s accurate free-kick to the near post was back-headed on superbly by Terry Eccles and brilliantly rounded off by Clarke. His second, on 51 minutes, came as he supremely tamed a Jimmy McCaffrey pass in a tight situation before slotting in. His hat-trick goal came 13 minutes later, side-footing home from close range in front of the North Stand after magical work by Paul Matthews and John Lathan. The hat-trick came on the day that manager Dave Smith picked up the Division IV Manager of the Month award. The game ended a remarkable run of goals in 6 consecutive games and a total for Clarke of 18 in the opening 20 league games of the season.

Stags were unbeaten in the next 7 league and cup games winning 5 and drawing 2 without Clarke on the scoresheet. But he was back on the scoresheet on December 28th against Newport and there was no disguising his relief at the end of his personal goal famine, as his 28th minute header smacked into the back of the net at the North Stand end following good work by McCaffrey. It put Stags two up and they went on to win 3-0.

A week later, Clarke scored the only goal in an FA Cup third round win over Cambridge at Field Mill in front of 10,486 which was so far its biggest crowd of the season. The goal came as early as the 9th minute as an astute free-kick from Hodgson sought out Pate overlapping on the right. Pate slid past a desperate tackle to move the ball on to the unmarked Paul Matthews. Matthews hit a low shot towards the far post and in raced Clarke to hammer in his 20th goal of the season. Two weeks later, Clarke headed in a fine cross from Pate to seal a 3-0 win at home to Torquay as Stags romped seven points clear of Shrewsbury with an incredible 20 wins, 5 draws and just two defeats from the opening 27 league games of the season.

At Gigg Lane a week later, Stags won 2-1 against Bury to reach the 5th round of the FA Cup in front of 16,600 fans. Clarke scored Stags’ winner after 72 minutes from a Gordon Hodgson corner kick with a goal which was initially credited to Colin Foster. Clarke failed to score in the next two league games which were both drawn. Stags then played at home to First Division Carlisle in the 5th round of the FA Cup in front of 19,293 and the Match of the Day cameras. Despite a creditable performance, Stags were beaten 1-0 thanks to an excellent display from the Carlisle keeper Alan Ross. Clarke failed to score in the next two matches as well, as Stags lost at Doncaster and drew at Lincoln.

Stags’ lead was down to two points but Clarke’s lean spell came to an end scoring the vital winner in a 1-0 win at Rochdale on March 1st. The goal was a well taken effort from a Gordon Hodgson corner as Clarke made acres of space for himself at the near post.

It was announced at the PFA Awards on March 2nd that Clarke, along with Sandy Pate and Gordon Hodgson, had been included in the Fourth Division All Stars XI selected by votes cast by professional Football League players. Clarke’s 24th goal of the season arrived in the next match in a 2-1 win at home to Cambridge. The goal was elegantly set up by Lathan and McCaffrey and clinically finished left-footed at the far post by Clarke. Clarke was scoreless in the next four games, two of which were won and two were drawn, as Stags remained comfortably placed at the top of the table.

After losing only three times all season in the opening 37 games, successive defeats followed away to Rotherham and Newport County, despite Clarke’s goal at Rotherham, a game in which he finished with a head bandage and blood streaming from a cut that needed two stitches. A draw at home to Stockport followed, before promotion was clinched with a 2-0 win at home to Hartlepool on April 5th, 1975, with five games of the season still to play. Clarke scored the crucial second goal on 58 minutes to clinch promotion after McCaffrey’s low cross had been played back across the goal by Terry Eccles, for Clarke to slide in his 26th goal of the season. Clarke lobbed his 27th goal in the next game as Stags lost 2-1 at Darlington.

Although promotion was assured, three defeats in five games had brought Stags lead down to just two points over Shrewsbury but this was extended to four points two days later as Lincoln was beaten 3-1 at Field Mill. The headline on the back of the Chad was "Four points clear as Lincoln are McCaffreyised", such was the quality of the wing-man’s trickery. Clarke took advantage of McCaffrey’s skill to hammer Stags’ third goal in the 78th minute.

A 1-0 win over Workington followed before, on Monday April 21st, Stags hammered Scunthorpe 7-0 at Field Mill to clinch the title. Clarke played his part with two of the goals, the first on 20 minutes, the neatest of chips into the far corner of the net and his second (Stags’ fifth) on 77 minutes, as he slammed home his 30th goal of the season from a McCaffrey corner. The photo of the goal shows Clarke beautifully poised and watched by Scunthorpe’s Dudley Roberts, himself a former Stags hero. The final game of the season at Reading was drawn as Stags finished the season with an incredible 90 goals from 46 games, with 28 wins, 12 draws and 6 defeats and three of the defeats coming in the last 9 games. Of the 90 league goals, Clarke scored 28 and Terry Eccles 17. When including cup games, Clarke had scored 30 and Eccles 20. Clarke was ever-present, playing in all 46 league games and 7 cup games.

Stags opened the 1975/76 season with three games in the new Anglo-Scottish Cup competition. In the last of the three games, Ray Clarke scored after 24 minutes in a 2-1 win over Hull City at Field Mill. The goal followed good work by Paul Matthews and Gordon Hodgson but the game will be remembered as the last performance at Field Mill of all-time Stags favourite Ken Wagstaff, who turned in an outstanding display and scored Hull’s goal.

Clarke scored his first league goal of the season in the second league game nodding home a Hodgson free-kick as Stags won 2-0 at Colchester. Clarke then scored a vital goal as Mansfield won 2-1 at Wrexham in the second round of the League Cup. This time he met Hodgson’s corner at the near post with a fine header. Mansfield were off to a poor start in the league and after 7 league games, had only three points to their name and Clarke had only one league goal.

But on September 27th, he was back with a bang hammering a superb hat-trick as Mansfield thrashed Walsall 4-1 at Field Mill. His first goal came as he latched on to a Barry Foster through ball and lashed the ball past the keeper Mike Kearns. Then for his second, he ghosted in at the far post to crash the ball past the helpless keeper after another Barry Foster centre. Finally, Clarke headed in his hat-trick goal direct from Hodgson’s right wing corner. Two days later, Clarke was on the score sheet in a 2-0 victory over Ayr United in the Anglo-Scottish Cup following up after Colin Foster had headed on Hodgson’s corner.

A week later, Stags embarrassed First Division Coventry in the third round of the League Cup as Clarke put Mansfield in front after only 70 seconds at Field Mill, hammering the ball into the roof of the net after the Coventry keeper had dropped a Hodgson corner. Stags went on to win the game 2-0. Three days later, Clarke headed a late equaliser as Mansfield scraped a 1-1 draw at home to Peterborough. He was on target in the third successive match a week later in a 2-2 draw at Southend, heading in from Mick Laverick’s chipped cross. Clarke then endured a seven week goal-less spell as Stags were rooted to the foot of the Third Division table, though Stags did enjoy another memorable League Cup night with a 1-0 win over First Division Wolves at Field Mill in the 4th round.

Clarke was back on the scoresheet in the 5th round of the League Cup at the beginning of December when the Stags finally bowed out of the competition 4-2 at First Division Manchester City. Clarke scored in the 17th minute after a poor Joe Corrigan goal-kick, to level the scores at 1-1 before the Stags finally succumbed in front of more than 30,000 at Maine Road. Three days later, Stags picked up a rare league win beating Swindon 3-1 at Field Mill with Clarke scoring with the help of an assist from Kevin Randall who was making his home debut. Five goal-less games followed for Clarke as Stags ended 1975 bottom of the league having won only three of their opening 20 league games.

1976 started with Clarke on target twice in a 3-1 win over Port Vale at Field Mill. His first goal came after the Vale keeper failed to hold on to a McCaffrey centre with Clarke prodding home the loose ball in the 13th minute. Just two minutes later, Clarke superbly found space to head in McCaffrey’s corner kick. Four further games followed without a victory and without a Clarke goal, but then he was on target slamming in a rebound in a 2-2 draw with Hereford United. After defeat in the following game, Stags found themselves five points adrift at the bottom of the table with only 16 points from the opening 27 games.

But what followed was an astonishing run of 19 league games unbeaten which saw the Stags end the season in the top half of the table and only nine points from a promotion place. It all started on the 14th of February with a 2-1 win at Halifax as young Mick Saxby headed in the 89th minute winner on his debut. Earlier, Clarke had scored his 16th goal of the season (including Anglo-Scottish Cup games) prodding home at the far post after Kevin Randall had eeled his way through a gaggle of defenders before providing a pin-point cross. In the next game against Grimsby at Field Mill, Clarke headed home a Paul Matthews cross for the only goal in a 1-0 victory. In the next game, Clarke swept home McCaffrey’s low cross as Stags drew 1-1 with Bury. He was on target for the 4th successive game in a 2-0 win at Preston for his 19th goal of the season. Terry Eccles made the goal with the perfect cross from which Clarke made no mistake.

After three games without a goal, Clarke was back with a bang in front of the BBC Match of the Day cameras as Mansfield won 3-0 at Peterborough. His first came after Posh keeper Eric Steele blocked Eccles’ shot but Clarke was there to pick up the pieces. His second was so typical of his flare and finesse as he found acres of room by the far post to hook in Gordon Hodgson’s corner kick. Two days later, Clarke picked up the third and final hat-trick in his two year stint with the Stags, as Southend were brushed aside 3-1 at Field Mill. His first, on 13 minutes, came as Laverick headed on Hodgson’s corner kick and Clarke added the finishing touch. His second came on 55 minutes, hammering in the rebound after Laverick’s fierce drive had been blocked by the keeper. Finally, on 85 minutes, the best goal of the lot as Clarke headed in Randall’s superb centre. Three games followed without a goal for Clarke as Stags continued their superb run, before Clarke nodded in his 25th goal of the season from a Hodgson corner in a 2-1 win at Shrewsbury.

A further 3 score-less games followed for Clarke before, in a memorable 3-0 demolition of Sheffield Wednesday on Easter Monday at Field Mill in front of 13,410, Clarke scored a typical header after 71 minutes rising high to glance in a Hodgson corner kick. Clarke’s final goals for Mansfield came in the penultimate game of the season as he notched both in a 2-2 draw at Port Vale. His first came with a neat header at the near post from a Paul Matthews cross and his second came with another great header from a fine Barry Foster cross. Clarke’s final game in a Stags shirt ended in a 0-0 draw with Colchester at Field Mill as Stags incredibly ended the season in the top half of the table.

During the season, Clarke had played in 45 of the 46 league games scoring 24 league goals, plus another 5 goals in 13 cup games (FA Cup, League cup and Anglo-Scottish Cup).

Just 3 days after the end of the season, Ray Clarke shocked the Mansfield public by asking to be placed on the transfer list, claiming he was not happy about spending another season in Division 3. Clarke made it clear that he had enjoyed his stay at Mansfield but would not be satisfied until he could play in a higher grade of football. The first offer for Clarke came from Division 3 champions Hereford, but their offer of 40,000 was rejected. Soon afterwards, in July 1976, Clarke was transferred to Sparta Rotterdam for a new Stags record fee of 90,000.

In two seasons at Field Mill, Ray Clarke scored 59 league and cup goals, missing just one game in the process.

 

Clarke spent 3 years abroad, first with Sparta in Holland, then joining Ajax Amsterdam in 1977, and finally Bruges in Belgium.

Clarke talked about his time at Sparta as it took him a while to adjust: "It’s a very different kind of game over there in that they tend to play a waiting game, whereas we are more direct. I wasn’t helped by the fans. They seemed to expect miracles from me straight away. I thought if I couldn’t make it in England after scoring the goals I scored for Mansfield, I never would. That’s why I gave myself a chance in Europe." After a difficult start at Sparta, Clarke eventually adapted well.

At Ajax, Clarke really began to make a name for himself. He began to bang in the goals in the Dutch League (picking up a league runners-up medal) and in the UEFA Cup, notching one per game in 1978/79. Clarke was at last happy. He said "The more you are at the top, the harder it is. You must train harder, work harder to stay there."

Clarke was sounded out by England manager Ron Greenwood in 1978 but Ajax were unwilling to release him and the offer was never repeated.

After a short spell at Bruges in Belgium, it was the elusive promise of playing at the top level of the English game which tempted Clarke away from the continent, to join First Division Brighton for 200,000, in October 1979. During the 1979/80 season, Clarke made 30 league appearances, scoring 8 goals, in a campaign spent fighting relegation. Brighton did avoid relegation, finishing 16th.

On the 5th January 1980, Brighton were playing at Mansfield in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. Clarke played and scored Brighton’s second goal in a 2-0 win. His goal came after 79 minutes, side-footing the ball home at the far post after being left unmarked. After the game Clarke said: "I felt really sick when I put in that goal, although naturally I was delighted for Brighton. I'll always have a soft spot for Field Mill. I was very happy here, and it is such a happy family club. I would have no hesitation in returning if it was ever possible."

Clarke then joined Second Division Newcastle in July 1980 for 180,000. During the 1980/81 season, Clarke made 14 league appearances and scored 2 goals. His last game was on 7th February 1981, at home to QPR. His last league goal was a week earlier on 31st January 1981, at home to Bolton in a 2-1 win. After this, Clarke was forced to retire due to a hip injury.

It was noted in Jack Retter’s excellent `Who’s Who The Stags` book that Clarke joined the hotel trade first in East Anglia and then in the Isle of Man. I heard a rumour a few months ago that Clarke was now scouting for Coventry City and I set about trying to track him down. Eventually I was able to talk to Ray on 27th February 2001 and confirm this.

Ray told me on the phone that after retiring due to his hip problem, he did a couple of coaching badges but couldn’t get a job within football, so he went into the restaurant business and had 2 or 3 restaurants. Then, six years ago, Graeme Souness (who he had played with in the Spurs youth team) contacted him and Ray did some scouting for him. Then he became reserve team coach at Southampton for a while, before he joined Coventry City four years ago as European Scout. Since then, he has been responsible for bringing such names as George Boateng and Cedric Roussel. Ray was in Spain when he phoned me, watching an Under-21 game, and he told me that he now lives in The Hague in Holland. I promised to send him this article along with photos of some of his goals.

Ray Clarke at Coventry City

Ray Clarke is very fondly remembered by Stags fans as one of the club’s all-time scoring heroes.

With thanks to Paul Taylor.

 

Below, Clarke scores against Newport in December 1974

Below, Clarke scores against Scunthorpe in April 1975.

Below, Ray Clarke is part of the squad that won the Division 4 Championship in 1974/75.

Below, Ray Clarke watches on as Sandy Pate collects the Division 4 Trophy in 1975

Below, Clarke scores against Port Vale in January 1976.

Below, Clarke scores against Grimsby in February 1976.

Below, Clarke scores against Southend in March 1976.

 Below: Clarke scores against Cambridge in 1975