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NI footie star of Sixties laments what money has done to the beautiful game

Ivan Little

Published 13/01/2017

Norman Clarke (centre) during his second spell with home town club Ballymena United
Norman Clarke (centre) during his second spell with home town club Ballymena United
Norman Clarke

An Ex-Northern Ireland football star has written to a national newspaper to contrast the multimillion-pound earnings of modern Premier League players with his weekly take-home pay in the Sixties of £27 - less than Wayne Rooney earns in a minute.

Ballymena-born Norman Clarke, whose career with Sunderland was cut short by injury at the age of 21, expressed bewilderment that managers could pay upwards of £45,000 for watches while his timepiece cost him less than £30.

The former Ballymena United left winger, who is still fondly remembered as one of his hometown club's finest players, also voiced concern over the ticket prices fans were expected to pay to see games in England.

His letter to the Daily Mail was published under the headline, 'When football was a game of the people'.

Clarke wrote: "Fifty-four years ago I'd have been more likely to tackle the north face of the Eiger than pay £60-£75 to watch a top-flight football match."

He said that in the Sixties a Sunderland season ticket could be purchased for just over £7, while it cost three shillings (15p) to stand in the unreserved enclosure for a game.

The 74-year-old, who now lives in Hounslow in London, kicked off his career in the Irish League with the Braidmen in 1958 and represented Northern Ireland at youth and under-23 level before being transferred to Wearside for £6,000.

In his letter, Clarke wrote of making his debut for Sunderland in a 3-1 win in a north-east derby against Middlesbrough at the age of 20 in August 1962, four days before he played in a 1-0 victory over Charlton Athletic.

"My basic wage was £20 a week, plus £5 extra when playing in the first team," he said.

"The bonus system, determined by the Football League, was £4 for a win and £2 for a draw," he added, explaining that his gross earnings for his first week were £38 minus income tax, which meant that his wage packet contained just over £27.

Clarke said that he lived in lodgings with four other single players who paid £3.50 a week for their keep.

He added his manager, Alan Brown, was reputed to be one of the highest-paid bosses in England at the time, with a salary of £3,000. Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho is said to earn £15m a year.

Clarke, who wrote autobiography The Ballymena Boy in 1997, said current Sunderland manager David Moyes, whose mother was from Portrush, also seemed to be living in a very different world. The Ballymena man said it was revealed this month that Moyes' watch - a Patek Philippe - cost £30,000, and that was not the most expensive timepiece owned by a Premier League boss.

He described himself in his letter as one of Prime Minister Theresa May's JAMs, which is short for people who are just about managing.

"I jog along as one of the JAMs, my only extravagance being my £29.99 Accurist wristwatch," he said.

Clarke, who once played alongside the legendary Brian Clough at Roker Park, was just three days short of his 22nd birthday when he sustained a cruciate ligament injury that he knew signalled the end of his full-time career.

He returned home to Northern Ireland and was able to play for another two-and-a-half years in the less demanding environs of the Irish League with Ballymena United, the team he had supported as a boy.

In a recent interview for a Ballymena website, he said he went back to England because he found it impossible to get a job to supplement his earnings as a part-time footballer.

Clarke worked for an electronics firm in Sunderland before moving to London, where he acted as a scout for many years for Liverpool FC.

Belfast Telegraph

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