Mick Clark RIP
It is with deep sadness that the club has today learned of the death this morning of former Leeds captain and Great Britain international Mick Clark, aged 78, after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease.
There was widespread surprise when Leeds signed twenty-five-year-old Mick Clark for £2,000 in 1963, but his arrival coincided with that of revolutionary coaching guru, Roy Francis, and his career, like so many others, was eventually transformed.
Moved to prop and given the responsibility of the captaincy, the former Dewsbury, Huddersfield and Salford forward exerted a massive, calming influence on the exuberant, up-and-coming local youngsters around him as Leeds became the outstanding force in the game.
His adaptation to the front-row berth was a revelation, with his ability to slip the ball to eager support players his finest asset, as Francis encouraged expansive attack. The experiment began in a big home win over Keighley in October 1964, with Clark moving almost permanently to the number eight shirt two months later as Halifax were vanquished at Headingley. The increased involvement at first receiver suited him and, allied to a rare sidestep and surprising turn of pace – groomed from his earlier days in the second-row – he became a constant and inspiring line breaker.
With accumulating confidence his defence, which many had thought suspect, became a real force, enabling him to save as many tries as he created. The captaincy coincided with a phenomenal season for him in 1967-68: he made his county bow, Test debut against the French in Paris (and for the return at Bradford), Leeds topped the table for the second year, retained the Yorkshire League and sensationally triumphed at Wembley. No sooner had Clark raised the Challenge Cup than he was on the flight to the Antipodes for the World Cup, playing in all three group matches, surprisingly under the stewardship of his vice-captain at Headingley, Bev Risman.
The success continued at the start of the following year as he lifted the Yorkshire Cup against Castleford at Odsal – avenging defeat in the same competition soon after his arrival in 1964. Almost immediately, he relinquished the captain's armband but hit a purple patch at the end of the season, scoring a try in four consecutive league fixtures as Leeds finished top of the standings for the third time in a row. He played a prominent role in the Championship play-offs, inspiring a semi-final comeback against Salford at Headingley, injury curtailing his effect in the decider as Castleford were dramatically downed at Odsal.
His final match in early October 1969 was one of typical bravery and craft, as he helped tame a much-vaunted St Helens pack to inspire a 13-7 home victory. After registering just over 200 appearances in blue and amber, he controversially left to become player-coach at Keighley.
It was remarkable after all his success that actually when he first arrived many on the terraces at Headingley were left underwhelmed. The undeniable truth of the matter was that 25-year-old Mick Clark created not the slightest impact in his first season at Headingley, making only seven appearances out of a possible thirty-one, and that at a time when any forward really worth his salt could have walked into the team, wrote Ken Dalby in his book ‘Nothing but the Best’.
Whether by chance or design, it matters not which, on 12th December he was switched to field-side prop for the visit of Halifax and never looked back, the transformation being hard to credit. Could this really be the same man? Whereas previously he had been content to bow to circumstance, now he was constantly endeavouring to shape events, cultivating an unsuspected sidestep, and breaking clear at alarming pace for a front-row forward, with Mick Shoebottom & Co quick to profit as they hared up in support.
So it was, that in the space of twelve months the second-row misfit became a veritable powerhouse of inspiration, whose solid scrummaging, brave running, imaginative distribution and punishing first-time tackling played no small part in the Loiners' renaissance of 1965-66. Indeed, when it came to the 'crunch games' he grew in stature, notably in the thrilling triumph over Hull in the 2nd Round of the R.L. Cup. Yet surely the one abiding memory of that campaign will be of his soul-stirring defiance in defeat in the Fartown Semi-Final, with Wigan, the winners by 7 points to 2, mightily relieved to hear the final whistle.
Fast becoming as good as any No 8 in the League, but still without a single representative honour to his credit, Mick pressed on regardless throughout 1966-67, exercising massive authority in both the tight and the loose as Headingley basked in the resurgent glory of the League Leaders and Yorkshire League Champions.
Came 1967-68, came recognition at last, and more, much much more…the Club captaincy…a debut for Yorkshire against Cumberland at Wheldon Road, followed by the Roses match at Naughton Park…a couple of Tests versus France, the one in Paris, the other at Odsal.. .a long-overdue Semi-Final rout of Wigan by 25 points to 4 at Station Road…the trauma of a last-kick reprieve in a bizarre Wembley Final, and a winner' s medal to prove it… League Leaders and Yorkshire League Champions for the second year running… finally, the flight Down Under, along with Bev Risman, John Atkinson and 'Mick' Shoebottom, and selection for all three matches in the World Cup.
And so to 1968-69, with the Loiners quickly into their stride, yet no sooner had he raised the Yorkshire Cup aloft at Belle Vue in mid-October than he was relinquishing the captaincy to Barry Seabourne, on account of loss of form. Not that it was apparent as he pointed the way to victory on numerous occasions, and never more crucially than in the closing minutes of that gripping Championship Semi-Final encounter with Salford at Headingley, when he cut loose to paly on the winning try with a devastating midfield burst. Sidelined by injury for the second half of the Odsal Final against Castleford, what agony he must have suffered with the rest of the bench in that dramatic climax to another incredibly successful season: League Champions; League Leaders; Yorkshire Cup winners; Yorkshire Champions! Captain or no, he’d played his part nobly. Here’s to ’69-70.
On behalf of everyone connected with the club we would like to send our deepest sympathies to his son and two daughters and his grandchildren at this sad time. The Rhinos team will wear black armbands next Friday for our televised game against Warrington Wolves in memory of our former captain.