In a time before Luke Freeman, there was Adrian Clarke. Both graduates of Arsenal, there is a little bit of disparity between the ages of the pair upon arriving at Boro’, but there are also some striking similarities – not least both being wing wizards on the left hand side.
Clarkey was recruited by Paul Fairclough during summer 2000, having played at Southend in the three years after his departure from the Gunners. Having gained invaluable experience both in the Premier and Football Leagues, he became an important player for a Boro’ team looking to end a four-year wait for a second Conference title, and a first Football League promotion.
One of Clarke’s significant traits in his time at Broadhall Way was his ability to score goals that would make seasoned strikers blush. Ten, 15, 20, 25 or 30 yards, nothing was beyond his capabilities. Notable examples were the two thunderbolts against Forest Green Rovers in February 2002, but these were not in isolation. Many of his 19 goals during his time at the club were special.
Another occasion on which Clarkey’s importance was underlined came against struggling Dover Athletic on the following April Fool’s Day. After the visitors went ahead, Clarke was determined not to see Boro’ being the fools and hit back with another piledriver – the type that would have Alan Partridge comparing his left peg with a traction engine. But injury forced him off after just 20 minutes, and Boro’ wilted.
For whatever reason, he fell out of favour with Wayne Turner and was loaned to Hendon – with respect, a team below Clarke’s abilities. A permanent move followed, to Margate, and Boro’ were left relying on Michael Blackwood and Louis Riddle for their left wing artistry. Was it a decision that backfired on Turner? Well, he was sacked with Boro’ bottom of the table in December. A minor coincidence?