A Tribute To Ike Clarke
Isaac Clarke : 9th January 1915 - 2nd April 2002

Ike Clarke : 1915 - 2002 © dovecot.net
Ike Clarke, player-manager of Yeovil Town, 1953-1957
Ike Clarke, Yeovil Town player-manager from 1953 to 1957, died on the 2nd of April 2002 after a short illness, and a fall from which he did not recover. He had been in a nursing home in Kent for some time. His wife Florrie predeceased him in 2001. Ike was 87.

Isaac, called Ike everywhere he went, was born at Tipton (just north of Dudley) during the First World War on the 9th of January 1915. He began playing in an amateur Wolverhampton league for Toll End Westley, and then signed as a professional for West Bromwich Albion, then a First Division club, in 1937. Ike was officially on their books for ten years, but most of that career was lost through the Second World War. By the end of his time there he had played 108 games and scored 39 goals.

As football began again in fits and starts after the War had ended Ike moved to Portsmouth. West Bromwich were in the Second Division by then, and it is recorded that the Fratton Park faithful initially weren't very impressed that £7,000 had been spent on a striker already in his thirties from a lower division. Ike was to win them over, and become one of the most popular players in the side. He was a big brave centre forward in the classic British tradition, but also had a good footballing brain and some skill, and linked up what was the formidable forward line that Pompey boasted at that time. He stayed at Portsmouth for six years, and was an important part of the team that won back-to-back Championships in 1948-49 and 1949-50. It was Ike's winner in a 2-1 victory against Bolton Wanderers on 23rd April 1949 that clinched the points that took Pompey to their first ever Division I title. In all he clocked up 129 appearances (116 in the League), and 58 goals (49 in the League).

Clarke played five representative games for England, though 'B' Internationals were not awarded caps at that time, scoring 17 goals.

In 1953 Ike gave up playing full-time football at the age of 38 and looked for his first job in management. Yeovil Town were advertising for a new (player-) manager, not an uncommon occurrence at our beloved club, after two disappointing seasons under the stewardship of Harry Lowe. The Supporters Club offered to help with the wages of the new appointee, and a tied house was thrown in. On the 10th of May 1953 Ike Clarke became The Glover's fourth manager since the War, the shadow of the first, Alec Stock, still hanging heavy over the club.

Ike arrived to find the board had already decided off its own bat which players to retain for the following campaign. He invited numerous trialists to Huish, using his connection through the Football League, including several he'd known at Fratton Park. The campaign began with three straight defeats, all away, but then the team didn't lose again until the end of November, in the F.A. Cup against Norwich. The 1953-54 season ended with Yeovil Town finishing third in the league, and some silverware on the shelf after beating Bath City 2-0 in the final of the Somerset Professional Cup. As well as managing Ike had played 26 games and scored 18 goals, despite missing substantial parts of the campaign with injuries. He laid out his philosophy early: Team spirit is the thing which counts in present day football. It is even more important than playing ability. His team was to show plenty of spirit the following year in one of the tightest championship races ever.

Again the season got off to a slow start, with three defeats out of four, but by October he had the club at the top of the league. For once an early exit from the F.A. Cup did not put pressure on a Yeovil manager because the league title was the priority. The defence wasn't the tightest, but more goals were going in up front than were being conceded. A 9-1 win over Kidderminster Harriers on Boxing Day was one of the highlights of the season, but simply reflected an attacking style that had the crowds flocking in, and saw Yeovil Town rack up 105 league goals in that campaign. Ike scored 20 goals in 48 appearances, but such was the talent he had accumulated up front was still only fourth in the goalscoring table.

To add extra spice it was old rivals Weymouth who were the main challengers for the Southern League title. With two matches left the sides were virtually neck and neck, the Glovers holding a slender one point lead. Both sides won their penultimate games, Yeovil crushing Bath 5-0. Weymouth played their last match on the Friday night, leaving Yeovil to face third placed Hastings United the following day. The preceding week Ike had led the side to victories in the finals of the Southern League Cup and the Somerset Professional Cup. On Saturday 7th May 8,676 packed into Huish to see if the club could make a clean sweep of every trophy available to them, in those pre- F.A. Trophy days, bar the rather unobtainable F.A. Cup. Yeovil took the lead through Mickey Reid after fifteen minutes, but Hastings equalized just before half-time and then went ahead early in the second period. With the title seemingly slipping away that spirit Ike had talked about the previous year took hold and Jimmy Fraser equalized. Huish went mad as Yeovil Town were presented with the Championship Shield at the final whistle, the goal average system then in use meaning that 3/10's of a goal was the difference between the winners and the runners-up, Weymouth. With Yeovil Town Reserves also winning their league on goals Ike Clarke had taken the club to four trophies (see picture below) in his second season of management. It was a feat far above anything the club had ever done before in terms of silverware, and which it has yet to equal since.

The Yeovil Town Championship side : 1954 - 1955
Ike Clarke (front row, centre) with the four trophies the club won in 1954-55, including the Championship Shield.

The following season Ike and his team were in the hunt to retain the league title, but fell short at the last and finished third. The goals were still going in, with 10-0 and 9-2 devastations of Kidderminster Harriers and Hereford Town respectively particularly noteworthy, but Ike himself was now past forty and did well to manage 17 appearances and 8 goals. Yeovil reached the finals of the Southern League and Somerset Professional Cups again, but lost each narrowly, the SLC after 210 minutes of football.

Ike began to rebuild a new side in 1956-57 but as he admitted, did not find the right blend quickly. The Glovers were fourth from bottom of the league after Christmas and, whilst other clubs might have forgiven one bad season in four, this is Yeovil and the knives were out for Ike. With some fans moaning about tactics, and the local press stirring the discontent, the Yeovil board maintained that great tradition of spineless short-termism the club has cultivated over the years and announced in February that Ike Clarke would be leaving at the end of that season. Ike's reply was to ask "Tell me what I have done wrong?" in his programme notes, and take his team on an unbeaten run of 10 league games. The answer of course was that Ike had done nothing other than give Yeovil Town one of the best periods in its history. His managerial record reads 218 played, 110 won, 49 drawn, 59 lost. As a player he made 103 appearances and scored 49 goals. Just to make the club's decision look even more foolish his replacement, Norman Dodgin, upped and left during the close season for then League club Barrow without seeing a ball kicked in anger.

After Yeovil Town Ike moved to Kent. He took over the helm at Sittingbourne and won the Kent League, Kent League Division One Cup, Kent Senior Cup and the Thames & Medway Combination League Championship. He took Sittingbourne into the Southern League Division One in 1959-60 and they missed out on promotion on goal average. The same fate awaited them the following season, again missing out on promotion to the Premier Division on goal average. He left at the end of that season. We believe Ike also managed Canterbury City. He was also Pools Manager at Chelmsford City from the late Sixties. It was to Canterbury he retired, living in the city until declining health saw him move to a Margate nursing home.

The funeral will be at 10.40 on Monday 8th April at Thanet Crematorium, Margate. Our sincere condolences go to his family and friends.

Thanks for everything you did for Yeovil Town Ike, and especially that wonderful season of 1954-55.

NOTE: Photography © Western Gazette and Dovecot.net

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