A Talented 'Baggies' centre-forward who was Princes End born
We received a letter bearing a Herne Bay, Kent, postmark, written by that great former West Bromwich Albion centre-forward, Ike Clarke, whose name will conjure vivid memories for Black Country soccer fans. Ike spent a decade with the Albion, before being transferred to Portsmouth, in November 1947, after the war years had taken a chunk out of his career.
Ike's excellence as a player was underlined by a comment to us from Bert Williams - "Believe me, Ike Clarke was a great player." That remark, coming from a goalkeeper, concerning a centre-forward from the era when physical contact was still part and parcel of the game, must rank as the highest accolade possible - especially when delivered by as fine a goalkeeper and sportsmen as ever pulled on a shirt.....
My sister-in-law sends me the Bugle every month and I spend one complete evening reading it over and over, and I must admit I spend the next few days remembering all the good things of my early life in the Midlands.
My soccer coach at Princes End Joint School, Mr Aston, when he made me wear a soft shoe on my right foot so that I would kick the ball more often with my left foot, also his call to me, "Balance, Ike, balance, without balance you'll never be a good player."
Our sports teacher at the Tipton central School, we called him "Froggy" (he was the French teacher), how we loved to charge into him and if possible knock him over, and his throaty laugh when he got a little of his own back, also his advice, "If you are going to do something in sport, try and do it well." I remember some of the pals of that era. Charlie Wagstaff, Tom Shuker, Howard Whale, George Worker, how he could run, Jim Baker, Eli Andrews, Jack Yearsley, Alf Nicklin and young Jim Nicklin. After school we played on the Old Hole with Jack Harrison. We had to play with Jack, because apart from being a good player he also owned the case ball, as we called it. Jack Harrison was a brother of Harry Harrison. Oh happy days! I could go on for a long time, well why not?
My sincere thanks to Walter or "Mr Toll End" Wesley, as he was known. He took me all the way to the Wolves for training and on more than one occasion, he paid my bus fare to make sure I got there. My meeting with Major Buckley in his office and him saying to me,
"Sorry Clarke we have at least a thousand for trial before you," and then just two weeks later after he had seen me play in a Birmingham v Scotland match, he asked me to sign and I had to politely tell him I had signed for the Albion. My ten years with the Albion, most of the time partner to that great winger Bill Elliott. My first game for the Albion and the old gentleman who came to me in the dressing room and said "Now Clarke remember look what you are going to do with the ball before you get it" and how I smiled and thought he was a daft old boy, only to find, some eleven years later, at a coaching course the same thing which was now called the "Quick look." The telegram from my old team captain of Toll End. Harry Hill, which I still have in my scrapbook.
I see a picture of some workmen and I remember my time at W.G. Allen's and my foreman Bill Powell. What a great man and what a good soccer player he was, thanks Bill!
Then there was Bill Gripton, who without doubt, could have been an England player, but for the war, and Harry Phibbs, Harry Millington, Tom the Welder and hot forgetting Dudley the other foreman.
The time I took my younger brother Jim for a trial at the Albion and before the game was over Mr Everiss was waiting on the touchline for Jim, with contract forms. But Jim turned him down saying "I want to be a tool maker" and I don't think Jim ever played soccer again. What a waste because he was built like Duncan Edwards and I'm sure he would have been a great success.
I left the Midlands in 1947 but every week without fail my father-in-law sent me the local Argus and Sporting Star. He passed away two years ago, but my sister-in-law carried the cause on and, of course, has added the Bugle. I pass the Bugle on to a local hotel. The landlady is from Blackheath, and I believe she then lets it go around her family.
Keep up the good work and thanks a lot...yours faithfully..Ike Clarke.