Clarke hoping for London 2012 swansong

Exclusive interview with Paralympic hopeful

THE 2012 Paralympics could prove the perfect swansong for one legend of the England blind football set-up.

David Clarke will turn 42 two days after the closing ceremony of the Paralympics bringing down the curtain on a career that has seen him represent his country 131 times and scoring a remarkable 124 goals and the Harpenden based footballer says the opportunity to play in a home Paralympics is what has kept him motivated in the twilight of his career.

“I’m done after 2012, my family have given up so much and I need to spend time with them,” he explained.

“Two days after the closing ceremony I’ll be 42 which is enough for anybody.

“For the whole team, it is just phenomenal to be doing that on home soil. I think, quite honestly, if that hadn’t had been something that was on the cards and given me something to get selected for it would be quite difficult for me to get motivated at my age, to carry on doing it considering the demands the sport now has.

“You’d be crazy not to be motivated by something as major as this and I think on March 31 when they name the team, everyone that gets named in that squad is going to be so thrilled and so driven and passionate to succeed in September it will just be absolutely phenomenal.”

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If selected, London 2012 will be Clarke’s second taste of Paralympic Games football having represented Great Britain at the Beijing games in 2008 and the England captain believes the experience garnered from that trip will stand the GB team in good stead next September.

“We finished fifth in that tournament,” explained Clarke. “I think it was a real eye opener for a lot of the players that had not been in that environment before.

“The Paralympics is just massive, the whole fabric of the event and everything around it is just enormous and from that perspective it is just an incredible thing to be part of.

“I think experiencing it for the first time it is very easy to let the event overtake you, there’s so much going on around you and everything is new, a new culture etc. From that perspective it is great that a number of players have already experienced that – not all of them because the squad has changed dramatically but there are two or three of the guys who have already experienced that environment who will hopefully be selected for London.”

The blind football squad were invited to Trafalgar Square on the September launch day for Paralympic tickets, going head-to-head with Chris Kamara, Ray Wilkins, Paul Merson and Matthew Le Tissier in a blind penalty shootout. Not only did Clarke savour the unique opportunity, he felt it was a great way of showcasing the sport to a much larger audience, which he hopes will benefit the game in the long run.

He said: “It was brilliant down in Trafalgar Square. I’ve been on this football journey for some time now and blind football has been on the edges of sport, even disabled sport.

“It’s great to see it be not just a big part of the Paralympics but, particularly as the Paralympics are in Britain and football is such a huge focus, I’m very happy it got such a huge focus at the launch. We did the penalty shootout with (Paul) Merson, Le Tiss (Matthew Le Tissier) and people like that which was really great fun and it was great to do it in such an iconic venue and bring it to the public.

“Colleagues of mine here have been declined for tickets so it looks as though a lot of the sessions are already full which will just be phenomenal; 3,500 people around a five-a-side pitch will be amazing.

“At the World Championships last year we played in front of a 1000 capacity every game and in Beijing around 1500 or 1700 but we’re going to have seen nothing like this before.”