|Andy leaving another defender in his wake|
The next in the spotlight is a superb athlete, discovered playing park football, who was simply a revelation in the GM Vauxhall Conference.
In my opinion you have an exceptional talent if, by simply receiving the ball, you are able send a buzz of anticipation around a football ground. I honestly believe that over the decades only Colin Powell and Dougie Freedman have come close to Andrew Weston Clarke's ability to excite an Underhill crowd in this way.
Andy was born in July 1967 in Islington and was spotted by one of Barry Fry's scouts one spring Sunday afternoon waltzing around all comers in of all things a local Greek Cypriot League. Barry hurried for his signature – one of his very best there can be no argument.
Barnet's last League fixture of 1988-89 was on Saturday 6th May at Sutton United, and as the first team had a date the following day in the Club Call Cup Final Fry introduced a few fresh faces to the team for the fixture. The Bees were soundly beaten 5-1 but it was obvious to all watching that day that the slightly built goalscorer on the wing was something rather special!
Mark Flashman, Steve Whitworth, Steve Cox, Richard Nugent, Phil Stacey, Nicky Ironton, Derek Payne, Andrew Clarke, Adrian Mann, David Regis, David Sansom. Subs Edwin Stein and Steve Ketteridge
A relatively late starter as a professional footballer at 22, in the 1989-90 season Andy lined up in what was arguably one of the most powerful attacking forces the club have ever had the privilege to put out. Gary Bull, David Regis, Frank Murphy, Edwin Stein, Paul Harding, Geoff Cooper and Phil Gridelet were regulars in that side that eventually finished runners up to Darlington in the GM Conference. It was a fantastic season to watch our club - attendances regularly topped the 3,000 mark with Clarke the “Star Attraction” as the soccer magazines of the time as well as the national press flocked to interview and feature him. Frankly many supporters I have spoken to since are still amazed that we managed to keep Andy at Underhill at non league level for nearly two years such was his talent.
Dave Regis has said “Clarkey was just so quick, he would push the ball past a full back and he was gone, he had outstanding pace”. Phil Gridelet commented “Andy was always available to receive which was so important for an alleged ball winning midfielder like me, you need an instant outlet. Even when in a corner surrounded he somehow seemed to able to wriggle his way out with the ball almost stuck to his foot”.
Clarke was selected for England non League X1 (now known as England C) and scored 20 goals in his first full season. His performance against Enfield on Boxing Day at Underhill, when he scored both goals in a 2-0 win was perhaps the highlight of a quite brilliant season in which he was voted the Player of the Year by Barnet supporters by a massive majority.
The following season Clarke was to receive even more exposure as Barnet challenged once again for the GM Conference, this time of course successfully, and it was only a matter of time until a very big offer came the clubs way. It did in the New Year of 1990 when Ray Harford at Wimbledon tabled a bid of some £250,000 a then record for a non league player. Some of the proceeds which were accepted bought in the talents of Kenny Lowe and Mark Carter to the fray – money well spent one surely cannot argue?
Andy's final game in a Bees shirt was at Barrow on the 16th February 1990 when the following line up suffered a 4-2 defeat;
Gary Phillips, Paul Wilson, Geoff Cooper, Gary Poole,Richard Nugent, Nicky Evans, Kevin Durham, Paul Richardson, Gary Bull, Kenny Lowe and Andy Clarke. Subs, Roger Willis and David Tomlinson.
Andy played in over 200 games for Wimbledon (including over 100 as a substitute which must be some sort of record) in the Premier League scoring 23 times before a move to Peterborough, reunited with Fry, and playing in a further 266 games at London Road scoring 73 times. He retired from football at the age of 38 in 2005.
Andy Clarke was a king-size hero at Barnet, idolised on the terraces and will always be held in high esteem just because he really was simply a superb athlete and liable to pull off the impossible. He was also one of the very few players at the club over the years who was worth the entry fee alone!