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Obituary: Willie Clark

Footballer

Born: 27 September, 1918, in Cockenzie, East Lothian.

Died: 28 December, 2008, in Pathhead, Midlothian, aged 90.

WILLIE Clark, the oldest surviving Hibs player until his death three days after Christmas, displayed unwavering dedication, professionalism and loyalty during his 15-year footballing career with the club, between 1938 and 1953.

He was a highly competent right-back, but his opportunities for first team action were curtailed by the consistently excellent form of Jock Govan, the first-choice pick in that position at Easter Road.

Those who knew Clark said they never heard him complain, and instead of wallowing in frustration, he enthusiastically embraced his role of reserve team captain, encouraging some of the younger players alongside him.

While he was a private man, he was still a lively presence around the dressing room and a popular character with his team-mates.

Injuries also limited his appearances. A knee injury sustained during Hibs' tour of Belgium in the late 1940s kept him out of action for several months, and on his first game back against a Hearts "A" side he broke his nose. He would go on to make eight wartime appearances and a further 17 appearances for Hibs' first team and was recognised as a highly capable player whenever his chance arose. He may have been largely a fringe player, but this was during an era when Hibs won the Scottish league championship three times – in 1947-48, 1950-51 and 1951-52.

The game for which Clark will perhaps be most remembered came at Easter Road against Celtic on 4 February, 1950, when he volunteered to go in goal after keeper Tommy Younger was injured in a collision within five minutes of kick-off. Clark had been deputising at left-back in place of the injured Davie Shaw but selflessly passed up the opportunity to try to press home his claims for a more regular role in the team to help the ten-man team battle against the odds.

He was rewarded when Hibs recorded a 4-1 victory, all four of their goals scored by Eddie Turnbull and three of them from the penalty spot. Celtic's goal was also a penalty, converted by Bobby Collins. Unfortunately for Clark, Shaw was deemed fit for the next match and returned to reclaim his first team place.

Clark was born in East Lothian in 1918, one of eight children. Along with his two sisters and five brothers, the family later moved to nearby Prestonpans.

His father was a miner, and the young Clark followed him into the pit, working as a teenager at the pithead in Glencairn, Longniddry. However, Clark showed an early aptitude as a mechanic, and by the time Hibs spotted him playing for the junior side Bonnyrigg Rose, after spells as an amateur player with Cockenzie Star, he was a trained mechanic.

Clark's time at Easter Road, during which he lived in Prestonpans, was interrupted by the Second World War, and Clark served with distinction in the Royal Air Force, based mainly in South Africa.

He became great friends with his fellow RAF serviceman Archie Middleton from Sussex, and the pair stayed in touch for many years. In a strange twist of fate the pair died within days of each other all these years later.

Clark decided to move on from Hibs during the 1953-54 season and although he had an offer from Dunfermline Athletic, he chose to instead join St Johnstone. During his time at the Perth club, he was able to combine part-time football with a job as a mechanic in the chairman's garage.

Clark played 34 times for Saints in his two seasons at Muirton Park before retiring from football a couple of years later.

He embarked on a new career as a sales rep, first for Usher's Brewery, then for Crawfords Whisky. He relocated to Inverness and was a popular face in the course of his work at outlets across the Highlands and Islands and was regarded as one of the company's finest operators.

The bachelor moved back to Prestonpans after retiring and lived there until his late eighties before he moved to Pathhead to be close to his niece and carer, Christina Dean.

Golf was Clark's other main passion. He was regarded as one of the top golfers during his time at Easter Road, and earned the nickname "Baff". He joined the golf club that was set up for former Hibs players by former Scotland striker and Famous Five member Lawrie Reilly, and remained a regular at outings until recent years.

Both Reilly and Turnbull were present when a small family gathering was held in Pathhead last September to mark his 90th birthday.

COLIN LESLIE

 
 
 

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