BILLY’S BOOTS

Brad­ford City’s Billy Clarke on his FA Cup ‘goal’ and resur­gence

The Football League Paper - - NEWS -

BILLY Clarke doesn’t care what the du­bi­ous goals panel thinks. He doesn’t care if his shot was head­ing for Hal­i­fax. Af­ter fir­ing League One Brad­ford into the quar­ter-fi­nals of the FA Cup, no­body is go­ing to snatch away his mo­ment of glory.

“Yeah, I’m hav­ing it,” says the Ir­ish striker, whose de­flected opener in the Ban­tams’ 2-0 win over Sun­der­land has of­fi­cially been cred­ited as a John O’Shea own goal.

“I watched Pre­ston play Man United the fol­low­ing night and Scott Laird’s shot was hit­ting the cor­ner flag. He kept his, so I’m keep­ing mine.

“It’s not of­ten you score against a Pre­mier League side so no­body is tak­ing it away.”

Clarke knows that bet­ter than most. Af­ter all, this is not the first time he has been robbed of a star­ring role against top-flight op­po­si­tion.

Back in 2010, the 27-year-old was the ris­ing star of Ian Holloway’s swash­buck­ling Black­pool side, play­ing 21 times be­fore the Seasiders beat Cardiff 3-2 at Wem­b­ley to seal a fairy­tale pro­mo­tion to the Pre­mier League.

Rup­ture

Then, just two min­utes into Black­pool’s first friendly of the sum­mer against Tiver­ton Town, Clarke landed awk­wardly and rup­tured his cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment. The ini­tial prog­no­sis was four months. He even­tu­ally missed a year, by which time the Seasiders were back in the sec­ond tier.

Since then the Pre­mier League dream has only slipped fur­ther out of reach, with a loan spell at Sh­effield United fol­lowed by two years at Craw­ley be­fore this sum­mer’s switch to Brad­ford. Does Clarke ever al­low him­self to won­der what might have been?

“Of course,” he says, in the singsong brogue of the West Cork coast. “But not much. If I think about it too much I’ll be con­stantly down in the dumps.

“I know Ollie was keen on me that sum­mer. And we were an at­tack­ing team at Black­pool so I would have got my fair share of runouts. I’d have played.”

And scored? “Who knows?” he adds. “We were so of­fen­sive. I al­ways re­mem­ber our bench for that play-off fi­nal against Cardiff.

“We had one goal­keeper, one de­fender and the other five were all strik­ers. He was just so in­tent on scor­ing and ev­ery­thing was geared to­wards goals.

“For the last 10-11 games of that sea­son, we just outscored teams. It didn’t mat­ter how many they got, we be­lieved we’d get more. That was our men­tal­ity and noth­ing could shake it.

Great

“I was 21-22 at the time and I en­joyed ev­ery sec­ond of it. Some man­agers fix­ate on de­fen­sive shape but oth­ers let the at­tack­ing play­ers act on in­stinct. Ollie was like that and it’s stood me in good stead ever since.

“Don’t get me wrong. I do won­der what might have been. But to have got here now, to be play­ing for a great club like Brad­ford and 90 min­utes away from an FA Cup

semi fi­nal... I’m not go­ing to get de­pressed about it.”

That90 min­utes will be con­tested against Read­ing at Val­ley Pa­rade. Af­ter that re­mark­able 4-2 come­back against Chelsea at Stam­ford Bridge and last week­end’s rel­a­tive stroll to victory against Sun­der­land, the Roy­als ar­guably rep­re­sent the eas­i­est pos­si­ble draw.

"I see why peo­ple might think that," says Clarke. “But to be fair, there was ex­pec­ta­tion even be­fore the Sun­der­land game due to what hap­pened at Chelsea.

"Peo­ple were think­ing ‘Well if they ca do that at Stam­ford Bridge, why should Sun­der­land pose a prob­lem?’

"But let’s keep it in per­spec­tive. Not long ago, Read­ing were in the Pre­mier League. We are still the un­der­dogs.

“Per­son­ally, I didn’t care who we got – I just wanted a home draw. I saw first-hand the ef­fect a full house at Val­ley Pa­rade had on Sun­der­land, even though their fans gave as good as they got.

“And the state of our pitch has been well doc­u­mented in the past few weeks – it is in ter­ri­ble con­di­tion.

“But let’s be hon­est – that did help us and it will help us against any­one who comes to our place.

In­cred­i­ble

“We’ve got a big chance against a Cham­pi­onship team and for a League One side to be say­ing that af­ter the teams we’ve come up against is in­cred­i­ble.”

And while Clarke never got his chance to com­pete against the Pre­mier League big boys, he be­lieves Brad­ford’s cup ex­ploits show they have got the tal­ent to mix it with the best.

“What this run has done is high­light to ev­ery­one what good play­ers we have here,” says Clarke, whose side went into the week­end sev­enth in League One.

“If you beat Chelsea 1-0, peo­ple could eas­ily think ‘Yeah, they just parked the bus and nicked a goal’. To put four past them, then win com­fort­ably against Sun­der­land, shows that you’ve got qual­ity.

“We were play­ing off against John O’Shea and Wes Brown, guys who have got Cham­pi­ons League medals. That gives you a good idea of how good this team is.

“When you look at this club, it’s all here. The fan­base, the sta­dium, the play­ers. We’ve got the foun­da­tions of a Cham­pi­onship club. Now we’ve just got to make it hap­pen.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

GLORY STRIKE: Billy Clarke, left, hits a shot that de­flects off John O’Shea into the back of the Sun­der­land net

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