Beith Juniors FC: My Site News: From Beith with the Juniors to the Champions League

From Beith with the Juniors to the Champions League
From Beith with the juniors to the Champions League
STEVE Clarke, as befits the best of his breed, possesses the uncanny knack of being at the right place at the right time. Few can boast as impressive an array of coaching influences as the former St Mirren defender from Saltcoats – Ruud Gullit, Gianluca Vialli, Sir Bobby Robson, Sir Alex Ferguson and Claudio Ranieri among them – yet the stealthy ascent of the archetypal unsung hero was confirmed this week when he was appointed as assistant to Jose Mourinh Champions League winner and inheritor of Chelsea's aspirations of continental supremacy.
Such is the esteem in which he is held at Stamford Bridge, where more than 15 years of service has been broken only by a brief spell at Newcastle United, he was spared from the latest revolution promoted by the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich to become the only "foreigner" of Mourinho's all-Portuguese backroom team.
His is a most remarkable tale, one which began in unusual circumstances if not quite so cosmopolitan surroundings.
Beith Juniors' Bellsdale Park was the venue for his introduction to football. St Mirren turned up a week early for their friendly match against the physical Ayrshiremen in the summer of 1979 and the locals, unprepared and outnumbered, scrambled to field a team. An oversized jersey was thrown in the direction of a curious 15-year-old and his impressive performance sufficiently tickled the professionals from Paisley to offer him an S-form on the spot.
An 18-month stint sweeping the Love Street terraces as an apprentice was followed by a season-long character building exercise at Beith and upon returning to Paisley in 1982, he made his debut as an 18-year-old against Ayr United.
For a teenager who had turned up at Bellsdale by chance, the rollercoaster ride proved riotous. His emergence was rewarded with inclusion in the Scotland under-19 squad for the World Youth Cup in Mexico and Clarke's impact was integral to Scotland's surge to the quarter finals.
Indeed, his winner against the hosts in the group stage almost sparked a pitch invasion as 100,000 natives expressed their disgust with a shower of bottles and hail of abuse.
He was, and is, most comfortable out of the limelight and quietly Clarke moulded himself into a versatile performer comfortable in any position in defence or midfield. The arrival of Feyenoord on UEFA Cup duty in 1983-84 provided the ultimate test of his capabilities, with the Dutch arriving with the formidable strike pairing of the legendary Johan Cruyff and the man who would follow in his illustrious footsteps, Gullit. A deflected shot from the dreadlocked striker was the only blemish on an otherwise flawless and fearless display.
It was a matter of time before the growing interest north and south of the border manifested itself in a firm offer and despite Celtic's initial inquiries, John Hollins secured his services for £400,000 in 1987.
His early years at Stamford Bridge did not hint at the start of a long and fruitful relationship. Chelsea were relegated after his first full season and his hopes of playing in the World Cup in 1986 were ruined by a back injury that sent him on a downward spiral that prompted him to hand in a transfer request.
He was dissuaded by Ian Porterfield, given senior status by Glenn Hoddle, and reached his peak with the help of an old adversary. Gullit, whom Clarke had marked in his last of six international appearances, in 1994, placed his faith in the studious Scot and was rewarded with an imperious performance in the FA Cup final against Middlesbrough. He captained the team to a European Cup winners Cup win against VfB Stuttgart and wound down his playing days as a source of support to the new player-manager, Vialli.
He was invited to assist Gullit at Newcastle United in 1999 but the Dutchman could not recapture his success at St James' Park and was replaced by Sir Bobby Robson. Clarke's services were retained until he was offered the chance to return to Stamford Bridge, ironically enough to replace Jim Duffy as youth coach.
His experience of the club and knowledge of the game made him a reliable lieutenant to Ranieri and the Italian has made little secret of the role Clarke has played in the unprecedented success of last season, finishing second in the Premiership and reaching the semi-final of the Champions League.
Now, having outlasted yet another manager, Clarke will attempt to preserve Chelsea's finest traditions while Mourinho – armed with his new owner's millions – plots worldwide domination.
It is a far cry from that fateful pre-season knockabout at Bellsdale Park.

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