PETER CLARKE may have been a proud Evertonian in his boyhood years but it is the famous words of a revered Reds legend from across Stanley Park that are currently ringing true for him at present.
The list of memorable quotes from the iconic figure that was the late Bill Shankly are as long as your arm with the one recited the most directly speaking about the context of the game in the grand scheme of things – namely living and dying.
The Scot’s utterances may have been a touch tongue-in-cheek, but it fundamentally showed that football was of monumental importance above all else to Shankly, who left Huddersfield Town in the late Fifties to start his remarkable Anfield revolution.
Shankly’s mission was nothing less than to establish Liverpool at the top of the footballing tree, with his old club’s present-day quest not quite as grand but just as all-consuming.
Namely maintaining their cherished second-tier status which they fought so slavishly to attain and which was finally ecstatically achieved in oh-so-dramatic circumstances last May at Wembley – which brought an end to a near 10-year crusade for chairman Dean Hoyle and everyone associated with the blue and white.
It was captain Clarke who joyously led the Town players up the steps at the home of football to herald the club’s cathartic moment in the League One play-off final at Yorkshire rivals Sheffield United’s expense.
And he is the first to acknowledge that clinching survival this year would feel every bit as sweet as that Spring Saturday afternoon in north-west London.
Clarke, who leads out Town today for the first leg of a huge double date with destiny on the soil of two Championship relegation rivals, starting at Molineux, told the Yorkshire Post: “Making sure we stay in this division is massive after what it is has taken to get here.
“I know someone famously said: ‘Football is not a matter of life and death, it is more important than that,’ and I do not think he was too far wrong.
“This is a massive challenge and I am sure it will meant just as much to everyone to stay in this division as ultimately it did last season to get here.
“Over the last few years, we have made massive strides off the pitch and on it and it has been a real battle to get to where we want to.
“Now we are here, we have got to fight tooth and nail to make sure we retain our status. We are well aware there have been some frustrating times and difficult periods this season.
“As a group and club, from the supporters through to the players, staff and everyone involved now, we have got to stick together and all pull in the same direction – and hopefully we will all be happy and relieved at the beginning of May in having done the job required.”
Labelled as a ‘warrior’ by Town chief Mark Robins earlier this week, the redoubtable Clarke is conscious that Town – with five games left to save their Championship skins – must display their battling qualities and resolve and character above all else in what will effectively amount to footballing ‘wars’ against fellow strugglers Wolves, Blackburn, Millwall, Bristol City and Barnsley.
The spoils will go to the side which holds its nerve most successfully amid the welter of pressure, with the games likely not to be ones for the purists.
Playing high-octane games at the end of seasons is nothing new to Clarke and many of his Town colleagues, well schooled in definitive matches at the business end of campaigns after chasing automatic promotion for several years from League One and he is hoping that can give them some kind of edge – starting at Molineux.
“Certainly, over the past three seasons, we have had pressurised games at the end of the season to get to where we are now. In the games we have left, we also appreciate there’s pressure on other teams as well. Hopefully, the sort of games we have played before will stand us in good stead.
“We have got to relish and embrace the situation because if you do not, you could get lost in it all. If we do that, we will give ourselves a really good chance. Of the games we have got – starting with Wolves and Blackburn – they are double-edged. If we win, it does a whole world of good, but also really damage the chances of the teams we are playing against.
“There were massive expectations on Wolves and Blackburn to be challenging at the other end of the division. It has not quite happened for them and we must go there and frustrate them and with that, their crowd will hopefully get a lot more restless and put them under a bit more pressure as well.
“Yes, you want to play pretty football and have lots of nice entertainment on show. But ultimately, between now and May 4, it’s about results and if it means we are a bit ugly, so be it, if everyone is happy with the eventual outcome.
“If we can put in the performances we did against the likes of Leeds and Middlesbrough, we can be on the right end of results.”