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  • Birthday Bhoy John Clark

    Birthday Bhoy John Clark

    By: Joe Sullivan on 13 Mar, 2018 15:31

  • LISBON LION, John Clark celebrates his 77th birthday today, Tuesday, March 13 and it goes without saying that everyone here at Celtic Park wishes him many happy returns.

    One way of assessing a player’s career is to count his medals, and a brief glimpse at John Clark’s collection on display in the Paradise boardroom pays tribute to his service to Celtic Football Club.

    Among the main honours from the 316 games he played for Celtic are three championship medals, three for the Scottish Cup, four for the League Cup and, of course, there is the pinnacle of the European Cup in 1967.

    However, that is only part of the story as John Clark is still very much part of the fabric of the club nearly 60 years after he first joined as a fresh-faced teenager in 1958 and he has held a host of positions with the Hoops.

    He was Billy McNeill’s partner in defence during the most successful period in the club’s history and, as one of the revered Lisbon Lions, he will forever hold a place in the hearts of the faithful as one of the club’s greatest ever players.

    And when Cesar returned as manager, it was John who he turned to as his right-hand man to help steer the Hoops to more silverware as a new generation of supporters looked for success. Today he remains a popular presence at both Celtic Park and Lennoxtown, still enjoying every Hoops success because he is still as much a Celtic supporter as he was when he cheered on the players from the terracing in the 1950s. 

    Here we look at some highlights from his amazing career.

    Amazingly, five was the paltry sum of Scotland caps that John Clark received for his efforts as the most successful sweeper in the Scottish game. Like the rest of the Lions, John discovered that talent and achievement at club level mattered little to national team selectors. However, players and supporters recognised his ability and years after marking Pele out of the game in a 1-1 draw with Brazil in 1966, the ‘world’s greatest player’ made a beeline for ‘Luggy’, stopping for a chat after spotting him in the lobby of a New York hotel.

    There were three nicknames that John picked up in his more than 50 years at Celtic Park. The first is ‘The Brush’, the moniker that was given to him in the newspapers, for his ability to calmly sweep up at the back. The next was ‘Luggy’, the name that John doesn’t really like and was picked up after he ended up with a cauliflower ear after an accidental collision with Billy McNeill in training. The third is the one that he prefers to be known by and is best known as today, ‘Clarky’. As Clarky himself pointed out in an interview, he has been called a few other things over the years, mainly by his former assistant, Angie Thomson, but ‘none of them are printable!’

    He won an impressive 11 medals during his years as a player at Celtic Park. Between 1958 and 1971 he won three league championships, three Scottish Cups, four League Cups and, of course, the European Cup in 1967. It should also be remembered that John has also played a significant role in the backdrop during other major triumphs, as a coach between 1973 and 1978, assistant manager between 1978 and 1983 before returning to the club as kit controller in 1997. All of his medals are on display in the Celtic boardroom. “I feel really honoured that they are on display there and that supporters are able to see them,” he said.

    A total of four was the number of goals that the ‘prolific’ John Clark scored for Celtic – three in the green and white Hoops and one in the blue and white hoops of Morton. Raise this issue with Clarky today and he will rightly point out that he was a sweeper, more accustomed to stopping goals than foraging forward. And he’ll also tell you that he scored one of the strikes of the century! “I always say that I scored the best goal ever,” he said in a Celtic View interview. “It was in a Scottish Cup replay at Easter Road against Hibs and I beat a defender at the byline, cut in and poked the ball through Ronnie Simpson’s legs and said to him: ‘You couldn’t get any better than that could you!’” There was one other memorable strike, though, and when John returned in 1971 as a Morton player, he was among the Celtic goalscorers, netting an own goal in the 3-1 defeat.

    Working as a player, coach and kit controller, John has now spent seven decades at the club. It is a remarkable, almost lifelong, association and one that Clark treasures. “I was a Celtic supporter, a Celtic player, it’s been my life,” he said in a matchday programme interview. “I get a lot of satisfaction when I think that I started my working life with Celtic and I’ll finish it with them. I’ve really enjoyed my life, when I look back I couldn’t ask for any more. I’ve been a really lucky guy. “

    He played a total of 140 consecutive matches between April 1965 and September 1967. He did not miss a single match during that two-year period – the most successful period in the club’s history - playing in every friendly match for the club, including the North American Tour that preceded the clean sweep season of 1966/67, the head-to-head with Manchester United and the great Alfredo Di Stefano’s testimonial. The run also included four internationals with Scotland and continued until September 27, 1967, when he was rested for the League Cup quarter-final against Ayr United. John was back in the team for a league win over Stirling Albion three days later.

    John’s final game for Celtic came on May 1, 1971 when Jock Stein gathered the Lisbon Lions together to take a final bow in front of 35,000 at Celtic Park. The late, great Ronnie Simpson couldn’t play due to his shoulder injury but he took to the pitch for the pre-match warm-up. Bertie Auld and Stevie Chalmers also played their final Celtic game that day as the Bhoys beat Clyde 6-1.

    At the Celtic Player of the Year Awards in May 2004, which had been voted for by over 50,000 Celtic fans, Martin O’Neill presented John Clark with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his services to Celtic.

    Happy Birthday John and Hail, Hail.

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