Hendon Green & Gold 12 - Simon Clarke

Greensnet Editor
Fri 20 Jun 2014, 07:00

The latest in the series focuses on another favourite Hendon servant, Simon Clarke.

Few players with 350 appearances have come as close as Simon Clarke did to be out of Hendon before his tally had reached 30. Simon joined the Greens after leaving Kettering Town, then a Conference club, having played three times for West Ham United in the old Second Division (now the Championship). Manager Mick Browne played him in midfield, sometimes on the left, sometimes in the middle, but he was a square peg in a round hole and his intricate control came to nought with his team-mates unable to support him. Throughout 1995-96, Simon was forced into unfamiliar midfield roles and was transfer listed by Mick Browne, then Neil Price, with no takers. Nonetheless, he appeared in all but four matches.

Simon scored 16 goals in his Hendon career, the most important of which came on 15 April 1997 when the Greens were in a desperate battle against relegation. Trailing 1–0 against Aylesbury at Buckingham Road, and lucky still to be in the game, Hendon fought back to equalise, then, in the dying minutes, Simon drilled a shot into the net to give the Greens three vital points. His consistency in a struggling team earned Simon the first of his two Supporters' Association Player-of-the-Year awards, not bad for a player who had been available for transfer early in the season.

Actually, subsequent managers Frank Murphy and Dave Anderson later made him available, so Simon had the unusual experience of being transfer-listed by four different managers at the same club. When Steve Smart was injured in the 1997-98 FA Cup first qualifying round match against Fisher Athletic at Claremont Road, Simon came off the bench and played at left-back. For most of his remaining time at Hendon, the number three shirt was his. He was the only Hendon player to appear in all eight FA Cup competition proper ties in the 1990s, and played his part in the glorious night at Brisbane Road on 25 November 1997 when Gary, Freddie and Junior combined to knock-out Leyton Orient.

Having played in more advanced roles, Simon thrived in Frank Murphy's attacking style and without neglecting his basic defensive duties; he was a dangerous player down the left hand side - often with Junior just in front of him. Another string to Simon's bow was his talent as an emergency goalkeeper; on a number of occasions he had to step into the breach. Goalkeeping was in his blood and a cousin, Mel Capleton, played in the Football League for a number of years. The pair played against each other for the first time in a Full Members Cup tie at Park Lane, Canvey Island. On a rare foray forward, Simon accidentally kicked Capleton, who responded with, "Do you always kick your cousin." Simon looked around, somewhat shocked, as he hadn't noticed he was playing against a family member.

At the end of the season, Hendon won the Full Members Cup with a superb second half show against Basingstoke at Chesham's ground. Twelve months later, after an arduous campaign, the Greens retained the trophy, albeit in more functional style against Worthing at Gander Green Lane, Sutton. There was also Middlesex Senior Cup success.

The 2000-01 season was thoroughly unsatisfactory, mainly due to the bad weather and damage to the Claremont Road pitch. The Greens failed to complete their Ryman League schedule. Simon was the only player to start at least 30 League and 10 cup games, ending on 44 appearances, and he started six of the seven matches played in the final 12 days.

Things were somewhat different under Dave Anderson, but one that didn't change was Simon's level of performance. He collected his second supporters' Player-of-the-Year award, this despite the pressure of long commutes from his Essex base and also took home a Middlesex Senior Cup winners' medal, though only as an unused substitute. He also found himself wearing a number of different shirts, all too often those in the teens, but he saw time at right-back and in the middle of defence.

At the end of the season, the travel became too much for Simon and he left the Club. His love of the club was clear as when Hendon played at Bishops Stortford the following season, he drove to the game, just so he could catch-up with supporters, officials and former team-mates and to return the Supporters Association trophy. Simon came back to Hendon in October 2005, playing for Maldon Town, but he had left the Jam-Makers by the time of the return fixture in April - though the other Simon Clark did play for them at Park Avenue.

Born: 23 September 1971
Joined Hendon: Summer 1995
Left Hendon: Summer 2002
Appearances: 351 (339 starts + 12 as substitute)
Goals: 16
Supporters' Association Player of the Year: 1996-97 and 2001-02.
Medals won: Full Members Cup: 1996-97, 1998-99, Middlesex Senior Cup: 1998-99, 2001-02

(David Ballheimer)