Merseyside rivalry gave Clarke appetite for derby encounters

Town's Peter Clarke
Town's Peter Clarke
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AS a wide-eyed seven-year-old, Peter Clarke was fortunate enough to be at Wembley for the 1989 FA Cup final.

His beloved Liverpool were taking on Everton in English football’s showpiece occasion and the Clarke family were such devoted Reds that they all slept overnight in the back of his dad’s van.

Such devotion brought its reward with a 3-2 victory, meaning a love affair with derby football was born for a young boy who grew up to captain Huddersfield Town.

“I’ve always loved derbies,” said the Southport-born defender when speaking to the Yorkshire Post ahead of the Terriers taking on Leeds United in one of the most eagerly-awaited games of the season at the John Smith’s Stadium.

“Growing up on Merseyside, the derby was huge and I’ll always remember that Cup final. As you would expect from a Red, I have very, very fond memories of the day.

“I went down with my mum and dad, and we all slept in the back of my dad’s van. We parked up on a roadside and got our heads down. I was so excited I woke up early and once we got near Wembley, the atmosphere was incredible.

“I was only seven but had already been to a couple of Merseyside derby games. This, though, was something else and I’ve never forgotten that day.”

As a veteran of four derby encounters with Leeds, Clarke is intimately aware of just how much today’s result will mean to supporters of both clubs.

Last season, he experienced the contrasting emotions that derbies can stir as Huddersfield followed a 4-2 loss on home soil in December with a 2-1 victory at Elland Road a little under three months later.

Clarke, who is in his fifth season with Town, said: “The West Yorkshire derby is just as competitive. Maybe it doesn’t get as much press coverage as the Merseyside, Manchester or north London derbies.

“But the games are the same with both teams and supporters being desperate to win. I love derby games, which probably goes back to watching them as a kid.”

The Merseyside derby was also one fixture that Clarke was destined to play in, though not as he had once dreamed sporting the red of Liverpool.

The Town defender explains: “Joining Everton came about because I was playing for my Sunday League team and a scout came along to watch us. He asked me to go to Everton for a trial.

“I agreed, did well and was then invited to join their Centre of Excellence. Other clubs came along later and were interested. But mum and dad brought me up to be honest and loyal.

“And because Everton had been good to me, I decided to stay. They had given me my opportunity and I wanted to repay that faith.

“It meant, of course, that when I did play in a Merseyside derby it was for Everton in a 1-1 draw at Anfield. To go from watching derby matches as a lad to playing in one was great.

“Mind, there were plenty of split loyalties in my family that day. They are all Reds, so the game finishing 1-1 was probably for the best.

“It meant Liverpool didn’t lose at home to Everton and that we got something from a trip to Anfield. The best of both worlds.”

Today, of course, is all about claiming three points for Huddersfield.

A bumper crowd is expected at the John Smith’s for a fixture that, in Clarke’s previous four appearances, has been full of goals with no less than 17 being shared between the two teams.

For the Terriers, a win over Leeds would not only avenge last December’s 4-2 defeat on home soil but also ensure Mark Robins’s side bounce back from back-to-back defeats against Watford and Leicester City either side of the recent international break.

Clarke said: “We are relatively pleased with the start we have had, even though it was disappointing to lose both before and after the international break.

“One thing I will say is that both Watford and Leicester will be challenging all season. They are two good teams and if there was anything positive to take out of two defeats it is that we put in decent performances.”

Town, who will be without suspended top scorer James Vaughan against Leeds, go into today’s derby sitting mid-table in the Championship. After last season’s fraught run-in when relegation was only avoided on the final day, such a position of stability will do very nicely.

Clarke said: “The Championship is a tough league with a lot of very good teams. Every week is a massive battle and this one will be no different. Everyone is looking forward to the game.

“In terms of Leeds, we have to look at the most recent game we had against them. We won 2-1 and it turned out to be a big result for our season.

“As usual, the game was an early kick-off and our win put us something like eight points clear of the bottom three. Unfortunately, by the next time we played, we found ourselves in the bottom three.

“That is just how it was in the Championship last season. You couldn’t predict anything and when results went against us, we had to show a lot of character. The key was staying strong. Ultimately, we did that by making sure we took care of our own jobs and ignored anything else. In the end, we stayed up and that was because we blanked out everything else.

“It was vital we stayed in the Championship. It was a long road to get into this division, with two defeats in the play-offs. We then didn’t want to be one of those yo-yo teams who bounce between the two.

“By maintaining our Championship status, it brings the stability that a club needs to progress. Both on and off the field as well, which is vitally important.

“A lot of hard work has gone into getting Huddersfield Town to where we are now and every one of us is determined to keep the progress going.”

richard.sutcliffe@ypn.co.uk