BIG INTERVIEW: Colin Clarke

Wigan Rugby Blog caught up with Wigan Warriors Hall of Famer, Colin Clarke at the incredibly impressive offices of the Sports Office at Wigan Hall; the entrance hallway of which is adorned with the achievements of Colin; including his hall of fame entry. As a player Colin racked up 451 appearances for Wigan, Salford and Leigh as well as making earning 7 caps for Great Britain. A winner in the 1965 Challenge Cup final with Wigan as a player and then again, in 1985, as coach. Clarke, became only the 14th member of the hall of fame, an incredible achievement when over a 1000 players have played in the Cherry and White.

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Colin firmly remains firmly as a fans favourite due to his aggressive, no-nonsense approach to playing and coaching and we caught up with Colin to reflect on an incredible career, the honour of being a member of the hall of fame and to get his take on today’s game, as well as naming his Ultimate Wigan XIII.

Can you talk us through what it was like becoming a member of the Hall of Fame:

“I only found out on the night, every year the club have a heritage night and about two weeks before the game, the club informed me that I had been nominated as a candidate for the hall of fame. When they told me all the other names in the shortlist, the Offiah’s, the Botica’s – I thought, well, I won’t get too excited because some were great players.

Ironically, on the afternoon of the game, I started having trouble with my leg, so I thought – I won’t bother with the game tonight, I was struggling to walk. I rang the club and informed them that I wouldn’t be able to make it. At which point then, I didn’t know about it, but Ian Lenagan rang Andrew and said; we need your dad at the game tonight, he didn’t say that I was in the hall of fame, he just said that he really needed him to get me to the ground. So Andrew dropped Margaret and I off right outside the ground and I got the lift up to the boardroom and I thought, well this is alright, I can just watch the game from the boardroom and I won’t have to do too much walking.

Then, just before kick-off, Ian Lenagan turned to Margaret and said, we need to get Colin down to pitch side. Well, I thought there’s no way I can do that, anyway I made my way down and that was it – as I walked out onto the pitch; they announced it over the speaker that I was in the hall of fame. And for someone like me, who grew up as a kid wanting to play for Wigan, wanting to coach Wigan, to end up in the hall of fame, with the likes of the Billy Boston’s, the Eric Ashton’s, the Jim Sullivan’s – it took a long while to sink in. It was only really when I got home I realised the enormity of what it is really – it was a fantastic feeling for me and my family”.

Any current players in the Wigan set up that you could imagine in 20.30 years time, becoming members of the hall of fame?

“I think, if he carries on and plays all of his career at Wigan, Michael McIllorum has got a chance. Because, he’s the type of player I love, he’s a tough player – I would have loved to see him play back with the old type of scrums. In those days, you could intimidate people or at least try to and he would not be intimidated because he is one tough cookie! I would love to have seen him in a contested scrum situation.”

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What would you pick out as the highlights of your career?

“I think probably the beginning of my career, when I was a young kid, I grew up near Poolstock near to where Billy Boston lived. As a kid, we used to idolise Billy, just seeing Billy in an everyday situation and to finish up playing in the same team as him was an absolute brilliant occasion for me.

As well as that, playing wise, playing in the 1965 Challenge Cup Final and coaching in the 1985 Challenge Cup Final. What I like, personally about my career was playing in the 1965 Final, which at the time was dubbed the best final ever and then to coach in the final, 20 years on, in 1985 which was then dubbed the best ever final. To be involved in those two games, 20 years apart and with Wigan not winning the cup between those finals was really special for me.”

How did you find making the transition from player to coach?

“The remarkable thing is, I never once applied for a coaching position. I was at a sportsman’s dinner at Bolton Wanderers when John Stringer, who was the secretary at Leigh got talking to me. I was coming to end of my playing career and he asked what I was planning on doing next, anyway, he said Leigh were looking for a player-coach for our second team; he said do you fancy it? So I said yeah, why not. From being player-coach of the A team, I progressed to being Alex Murphy’s assistant and then when Murph left they promoted me to coach – so again I didn’t apply.

Then at Wigan, I was out the game for a few months and I got approached by Wigan asking me if I would be Murph’s assistant but with control of the second team; I said yeah, I fancy that; if I wanted to be a coach anywhere it was at Wigan – that was another job I didn’t apply for! Finally, after Murph left the club, I was approached by Maurice to see whether I could work with Alan McInnes as a joint head coach – I said yes straight away, Alan is a great person, always will be. So again, I got asked to be coach and didn’t even apply for any of the jobs!

Thoughts on the game today and the current Wigan side?

“I love the game today, I go to all Wigan home games. I love the game, apart from the uncontested scrums. I just get embarrassed about them, the thought of a centre going into the second row or a young stand-off going to hooker is beggars belief. So apart from that side of the game, I love it. The players nowadays are so fit, so strong, they’re amazing athletes today.

“In an all fit situation Wigan will be a really really good side but this season I think, its took the RFL 21 years to get what they wanted which is, a more equal league. When you realise there’s only four teams won the Grand Final in 21 years it’s been a bit lob sided. So, I think for the first time now we have a situation with Castleford and Salford at the top of the league, the RFL have been desperate for that situation. So to now have a situation when virtually any team can turn up and beat any other team is interesting.

I think, looking at the Wigan side, you’ve got to love John Bateman, I think everyone admires John Bateman. I like watching him play, I am a big Joe Burgess and George Williams fan; the current state of the Wigan club is very healthy. At the moment, the kids they’ve brought in have done very well, Marshall, Davies and Forsyth – they’ve not looked out of place to me.”

Colin Clarke’s Ultimate Wigan XIII

Fullback: George Fairbairn

Wing: Billy Boston

Centre: Gene Miles

Centre: Eric Ashton

Wing: Martin Offiah

Stand Off: Shaun Edwards

Scrum Half: Andy Gregory

Prop: Brian McTigue

Hooker: Martin Dermott

Prop: Andy Platt

Second Row: Bill Ashurst

Second Row: Phil Clarke

Loose Forward: Ellery Hanley

A big thank you to Colin Clarke for taking the time to answer our questions and providing a great insight into a remarkable career and a well-deserved member of Wigan’s Hall of Fame.

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