Bradford City’s Billy Clarke on his FA Cup ‘goal’ and resurgence
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.
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.
“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.
“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.”
GLORY STRIKE: Billy Clarke, left, hits a shot that deflects off John O’Shea into the back of the Sunderland net