NICKY Clark admits his self-belief suffered a blow when Rangers told him he was too small to make it in senior football six years ago, but now believes it was the making of him as the prolific goalscorer who signed for the Ibrox club yesterday.
A youth team contemporary at Murray Park of players such as Danny Wilson, Rhys McCabe and John Fleck when he was a schoolboy, Clark was released by Rangers at the age of 15 because of his diminutive stature.
Initially hurt by the rejection, Clark continued his development at the Aberdeen youth set-up before progressing into the senior ranks at Peterhead and then Queen of the South, where he scored a remarkable 41 goals in the season just ended.
It has earned him a return to Ibrox where he signed a three-year contract yesterday. While the aforementioned trio of Wilson, McCabe and Fleck all made it to the Rangers first team before moving on elsewhere, Clark feels the different route he was forced to take will prove to be to his benefit. “Looking back now, leaving here when I was younger has probably worked out for the best for me,” he said. “I’ve played elsewhere and played every week. But to get the chance to come back now and play for the first team is amazing.
“It did dent my confidence a bit when Rangers let me go as a kid. But I had good people around me at the time, like my dad, who helped me through it. I went straight to Aberdeen when I left here and did well up there. I’ve done well at other clubs too. So my confidence is now as high as it could be.
“It is funny how it works. A lot of boys develop differently at different stages of their career. There were other lads who were here at the same time as me who have gone on to do well elsewhere. I’m just over the moon to be back to play in the first team.”
Clark, who will celebrate his 22nd birthday next Monday, owes much to the support of his father Sandy. A former Rangers player himself, who scored 22 goals in 64 appearances for the club between 1983 and 1985, he was on the Aberdeen coaching staff when his son joined the youth set-up at Pittodrie and also worked with him at Queen of the South, where he is currently assistant manager to Allan Johnston.
“My dad has been great for me throughout my career,” added Clark. “He has been there and done it. He played for Rangers as well, of course, so when they came in for me he was really keen for me to sign.
“He gave me a lot of advice when I was growing up. He was always in the back garden with me kicking a ball about. He has helped me right through, from Aberdeen and at Queen of the South.
“He has showed me the footage of him playing and scoring goals for Rangers. It’s on VHS, not DVD! He was always quick to do that. He had a good partnership up front with the current manager Ally McCoist back then.
“The manager gave me a tour of Ibrox a couple of weeks ago when the signing talks were going on and you can tell just how much this place means to him. For me, going around the trophy room, boardroom and dressing room with him was incredible. It’s an unbelievable place.
“The manager told me he was really keen to get me and told me what his plans are for the future. He wants me to be a part of it. For the Rangers manager to tell you he wants you as part of his team for the next three years is great.”
Clark has already scored one senior goal at Ibrox, the opener for Queen of the South last September on the night they defeated Rangers in the quarter-finals of the Ramsdens Cup.
“The manager mentioned that when we were talking – he said it was lucky,” smiled Clark. “That was a great night, but it wasn’t the first time I’d played on the pitch at Ibrox.
“I did it once when I was here as a kid. It was during half-time of a pre-season friendly the first team had against Everton in 2003. It was just a ten-minute bounce game for the young lads.
“There was a big crowd there and it was a big deal for us. I think I scored as well. To now have the chance to do it for the first team is unbelievable. Last season was great for me with Queens in the Second Division. If it is anything like that again with Rangers, then it will be fantastic. I will give it my best shot and see what happens.”
Clark quickly completed his move and media commitments at Ibrox before catching a holiday flight with some of his now former Queen of the South team-mates for a close season celebration of their successful campaign. But he has pledged to keep his partying in moderation.
“I’ll go and enjoy myself on holiday now, because it’s been a great season,” he said. “But I’m a sensible lad. If I do anything daft, my dad will boot my a**e! But I’ll enjoy myself, then come back to get my head down and work really hard in pre-season for Rangers.”