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Footballers' Lives with Mark Clarke: 'I relished physical battles too much and nearly quit the game but now I'm proud to captain Belfast Celtic'


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Wedding bells: Mark Clarke with mum Michelle, wife Olivia, son Mark junior, sister Leah and dad Joe

Wedding bells: Mark Clarke with mum Michelle, wife Olivia, son Mark junior, sister Leah and dad Joe

Perfect combination: Mark Clarke and wife Olivia

Perfect combination: Mark Clarke and wife Olivia

Chase is on: Mark Clarke takes on Coleraine during his Cliftonville days

Chase is on: Mark Clarke takes on Coleraine during his Cliftonville days

Old comrades: Mark Clarke with Marcus Kane

Old comrades: Mark Clarke with Marcus Kane

Net gains: Mark Clarke celebrates scoring during his Glentoran spell

Net gains: Mark Clarke celebrates scoring during his Glentoran spell

Wedding bells: Mark Clarke with mum Michelle, wife Olivia, son Mark junior, sister Leah and dad Joe

Ex-Cliftonville and Glens ace Mark Clarke on leaving Solitude, Irish Cup glory, being persuaded to continue playing and his big Ibiza wedding.

Q. How did your passion for football develop?

A. I started off at Newhill in west Belfast up until I was about 15 and then joined Lisburn Youth and Grosvenor before returning to Newhill. I spent some time with Crusaders Under-18s before moving to Cliftonville and things took off from then. I had a few games for the reserves and then got a first-team call-up.

Q. What were Cliftonville like around that time?

A. The Reds were a good side. George McMullan, Fra Murphy, Ciaran Donaghy, Barry Johnston, Ryan Catney, Declan O'Hara and the Scannell brothers Chris and Ronan were there, some fantastic players and a few legends as well. It was a brilliant changing room to walk into but in the early days I was young and shy. Myself and Liam Boyce came up from the reserves together so that made it a bit easier and helped us settle.

Q. I suppose you aren't surprised to see how Liam's career has progressed?

A. I'm not surprised, I always knew Liam was a special player. He's a class act and I'm delighted for him. He's had setbacks and injuries but he's shown great determination and desire. Liam is the best player I have played with.

Q. So how did you progress at Cliftonville?

A. I worked hard but had to be patient. I wasn't thrown into the first team straight away. Eddie Patterson was manager and when he called on me I managed to do a job and keep my place.

Q. What was the best moment of your career?

A. The Irish Cup win with Glentoran in 2013 was the highlight, that was a good weekend, running around east Belfast full of Cup cheer! I had left Cliftonville that summer and they suddenly found themselves going for a treble. We managed to stop them and it was nice to get silverware. Jim O'Hanlon came on for me in the second half and made a brilliant impact. I think we had more energy as the game went on.

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Old comrades: Mark Clarke with Marcus Kane

Old comrades: Mark Clarke with Marcus Kane

Old comrades: Mark Clarke with Marcus Kane

Q. Was it hard for you to leave Cliftonville?

A. It was, because I had been there from 2008 to 2013 - five years. In my final year under Tommy Breslin I didn't play much so when Eddie got the Glens job he encouraged me to go to The Oval. It was hard to watch the Reds win the league and League Cup but thankfully I was able to get my hands on the Irish Cup. Playing against my old club, it made the victory a little bit sweeter. You get a little banter from fans but I'm fortunate in that supporters have been great with me and they haven't given me much stick.

Q. A number of Glentoran players moved on after the Cup final win, what happened to you?

A. I had picked up too many yellow and red cards and the club thought I would benefit from a new challenge. I went on loan to Ards and then left the Glens.

Q. What was your worst moment on the pitch?

A. I relished the physical side of the game but picked up a few bans. I got an eight-game suspension following a headbutt on Michael Gault during a Boxing Day game. I think Gaulty has got me sent off a few times! All is forgiven and we are friends now. They are passionate games and of course you regret these things but I've mellowed out now I'm older. I was probably a marked man with players out to get me and referees knew my record. Another time I was dropped for a County Antrim Shield final while at Cliftonville at The Oval and I was gutted.

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Chase is on: Mark Clarke takes on Coleraine during his Cliftonville days

Chase is on: Mark Clarke takes on Coleraine during his Cliftonville days

Chase is on: Mark Clarke takes on Coleraine during his Cliftonville days

Q. How did you get the move to Belfast Celtic?

A. Last year I was playing for St James' Swifts and I was thinking of not playing again but Stephen (McAlorum) rang me and asked me to join the team. It was a no brainer as he's a good friend and former team-mate. We hadn't been together in football since the Irish Cup victory so it was always going to be a nice reunion. We've always had a great friendship and he was groomsman at my wedding.

Q. The name change from Sport and Leisure to Belfast Celtic was controversial, what did you make of that?

A. The name was changed before Maccers got the job. I don't understand the reason behind the change but I like it, it's something fresh and different. We are doing well this season but the management team of Stephen and Paddy Kelly will attract more players and we can strengthen the team. I've really enjoyed my football and I haven't been able to say that for four years. I'm proud to be Belfast Celtic captain and I don't want to let the boys down. Emmett Templeton, who used to play for Cliftonville, Gary Warwick, Darren Stuart and Brendan Shannon are with us. It's a very different team than Sport and Leisure.

Q. Is there anything you would have done differently in your career?

A. My disciplinary record has got better as I've got older but it wasn't great. Since I was a kid I was always very competitive. I relished the physical side of the game but it has changed now. You can hardly touch a player. When I first broke into the Cliftonville side, tackles were common but now it's dying away. I've moved back to centre-half which means less running about and staying out of trouble.

Q. Can you tell us about your wedding?

A. I was married to Olivia in June, in Ibiza. We were away for two weeks and our honeymoon started on Boxing Day, we went to Australia for three weeks. That was a really nice trip, it's a different world out there.

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Perfect combination: Mark Clarke and wife Olivia

Perfect combination: Mark Clarke and wife Olivia

Perfect combination: Mark Clarke and wife Olivia

I have a 10-year-old son, Mark junior. He's a tough football player, a defender who plays for Cliftonville. As long as he's enjoying his football I'm happy, he has potential and is playing in good teams. Sometimes he comes along to watch me play. Thankfully, I've mellowed out!

Q. Has Olivia been a big support?

A. She keeps me on a tight rope! My family have been very supportive. I wouldn't be playing football if it wasn't for my dad Joe's encouragement, he's the main reason I've stuck at it. He never missed a match and although he's busy with work he still likes to watch me play. Mum Michelle attended the big games. I live a quiet and happy life now. Jim O'Hanlon and Francis McCaffrey also attended the wedding, we had a great time with friends and family. The wedding in Ibiza made sense because we met there four years before the date we married. Olivia is from the Shore Road area and we love going to Ibiza and taking in the beautiful sights as you drive around it. We've great memories from the wedding but time goes by so quickly. I was nervous about speaking at it but it all went well. Our photos ended up in an Ibiza bridal book!

Q. You're still only 30-years-old and happy at Belfast Celtic, but do you feel you could still play in the Premiership or Championship?

A. I think I could as long as I stay fit. I do watch games and think I could manage it. The question is which club would give me a chance? I've already played for a few! It would have to be as a centre-half possibly. I think that suits my game but in my younger years I ended up in midfield. You never lose that competitive edge and the fire in the belly.

Q. You worked with Tommy Breslin at Cliftonville. How upset were you at his passing?

A. I was upset, Tommy was an absolute gentleman - one of the best men we have seen in the Irish League. His record speaks for itself but he was also great company, he knew how to enjoy himself while challenging others to improve. Tommy was a top manager and good laugh.

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Net gains: Mark Clarke celebrates scoring during his Glentoran spell

Net gains: Mark Clarke celebrates scoring during his Glentoran spell

Net gains: Mark Clarke celebrates scoring during his Glentoran spell

Q. What are your goals, football-wise?

A. I'd like to lift Belfast Celtic as high as I can. I think the potential is there. We have played Premier Intermediate sides and I firmly believe we can hold our own in that league.

Q. How close were you to quitting football?

A. I was going to stop last year after St James' but the Celtic move is a fresh start, just what I needed. I've thought about quitting a few times but I've managed to talk myself out of it. I've been fortunate in that I've made many friends in the game. Even a few enemies became friends! No one is my friend on the pitch and it should be that way, but it's just a competitive 90 minutes. I'm still involved in football so the journey continues!

Snapshot

Date of birth: August 23, 1989.

Place of birth: Belfast.

Previous clubs: Cliftonville, Glentoran, Ards (loan), Warrenpoint Town, Carrick Rangers, St. James' Swifts.

Current position: Belfast Celtic captain

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