Blackpool, says Britain’s brainiest footballer Clarke Carlisle, 33, chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, was his first love. The affection still runs deep some 10 clubs on.
And the Squires Gate training ground? There’s a guffaw of laughter. But at least the school of hard knocks is great preparation for a Bloomfield Road pitch still in need of a pick-me- up too.
“Blackpool had the worst training ground,” Clarke admits. “It made the rest seem sheer luxury. Great experience though.”
And he wouldn’t have known better. Not then. Not as a lad starting out in football and the great game of life.
Clarke came here as a youngster, living in digs and trying to make his way in football when other lads of his age would be in the queue for the Big Dipper or grazing on chips on the Golden Mile.
He’s back on Monday (September 16) at 7pm at Blackpool Football Club to talk about his new autobiography You Don’t Know Me But ...A Footballer’s Life, published in hardback and e-book by Simon and Schuster on Thursday at £16.99. It’s been organised by Kirkham-based Silverdell Books, the £16.99 price includes a signed copy of the book.
This is not some ghosted self published self aggrandisement exercise but the real deal. If not THE Real deal: £85m for Real Madrid to sign Gareth Bale? One of us goes off on a bit of a rant about real world values - and it isn’t Clarke.
“You’re not comparing eggs with eggs,” he counters. “The Mortensens, Matthews, Finneys and Armfields were playing in a different world where the working class revenue stream barely covered the cost of putting a match day on.
“They were world class players. But today it’s a multi-billion pound industry worldwide and conforms to the laws of supply and demand so there are guys at the top end for £85m, which is a world record but it’s not like they’re two a penny.
“It’s what the player is worth to their clubs.”
Just three leagues below the vast majority of transfers are free transfers, loan transfers, players out of contract.
“We’re not talking multi-million pound deals for everyone - but people don’t baulk at good actors getting 20 million dollars for a film.”
As a player, Clarke thought fast on his feet. As a match pundit he’s formidable. Now he’s joined ITV, the world of European and world football at his feet from the comparative comfort of a studio. He’s doing documentaries too. What sort? “We’re still discussing.”
Clarke presented Football’s Suicide Secret on BBC 3 last month. He says it was a epiphany. “It made me realise what I put my family through.”
Clarke was 21 and playing for QPR when his “irrational mind made me think suicide was a rational action.” He had suffered a major injury in a tackle, doctors fearing he would never walk unaided again. Clarke convinced himself that without football he was worthless.
He sat on a park bench near his then home in Acton and took a load of pills with a can of booze. His girlfriend got him into hospital to be stomach pumped. It saved his life.
Clarke locked the incident away for 10 years. He talked of his battles with booze – including while playing for QPR under manager Ian Holloway. But never the suicide bid. Not until this year.
“It took me two-three months to write that chapter. Speaks for itself really.”
He unravelled upon revisiting the scene for the documentary. “I capitulated then. It all just flowed out of me. It was immensely emotional and incredibly cathartic. I had to immerse myself in my thought processes at the time or I wouldn’t have been able to write about it effectively or convey the emotions.”
His wife Gemma helped him, his touchstone, proof reader, and reminder that words can hurt as well as heal.
“So it’s not quite warts and all,” he admits. “I was mindful that what might go over the heads of my two youngest kids now might come back to hurt them in school or later life. And I have a 14 year old daughter. And a wife I want to keep...
“For all the counselling and sessions in 10 years I had never de-constructed why I attempted suicide. It was incredibly tough. It may bring criticism but others will be going through what I went through and we can work together for a common goal exponentially.”
Now at peace with himself the most pressing priority, ahead of his Blackpool signing next Monday, is a break with Gemma and their two children in Rhodes. “It’s my ONE week’s holiday of the year,” he declares.
Clarke speaks as he writes, with an easy eloquence born of intellect and understanding not just of the man he was but the man he’s become.
Britain’s brainiest footballer (as he was dubbed after winning Countdown) left school in Leyland with 10 A grade GCSEs.
“When I started out at Blackpool I’d come straight from school. I’d finished my exams, moved into digs and was thrown into the big wide world of Blackpool. It was utterly phenomenal.
“Being a YTS player back in the day was nothing like an academy player today. It was a steep learning curve. Big Sam Allardyce had just left. But I had the best teachers. Alan Crawford and Mike “Ginger” Davies. I’ve got really fond memories of these guys. They were incredibly tough and harsh but taught the younger players so much.
“It gave me an understanding of what it was like to step up through the teams and an appreciation of the opportunities I had been given. Blackpool’s still a great team, my first love for all the teams I’ve played for since.
“Paul Ince (named the Championship’s manager of the month) is a good man. I’ve done some punditry with Paul – it was when all the trouble kicked off in Bosnia which was terrible.”
Clarke laughs off the brainiest footballer tag. “Footballers aren’t seen as having two brain cells to rub together. “There are many incredibly talented and intellectual players. The full spectrum’s there.”
Now he just wants his book to hit the shelves. “Doubtless you’ll see me and mine in the supermarkets and book shops shuffling the books round so mine’s on top.
“My family have been really supportive but I’d like to know what others think.
“I wrote about a lot of things my family didn’t know. My dad thought it really revealing and brutally honest - and that’s high praise from him. I now feel glad to be alive, privileged to be where I am, and feel the most overwhelming love for my family and what I have and where I am.
“I was very conscious of putting things in print which may have an effect on my children, my wife, and family.
“It’s over the head of my two youngest - aged five and three but not my 14 year old daughter.
“Footballers need to be exemplars of behaviour. Your parents are your very first role models in life, the ones who teach you the fundamentals of respect, love, hygiene, and manners.”
Which brings us to the barracking by parents which forced a young local referee off the field earlier this summer at an Under-10s match - just days after a referee had suspended a game in the same competition after a youngster did a flying kick on another player.
“It’s out of order,” says Clarke. “Kids copy behaviours. The vast majority are learned behaviours from the people they see and love dearly on a daily basis.
“If parents are effectively mobbing a young referee it takes all the enjoyment of the game away from the rest.
“Football isn’t life or death. It’s about kids playing, enjoying healthy leisure time, socialising, kicking obesity into touch, getting away from computer and telly screens.
“We find that with our own children. My son wants to play on the ipad and Wii.
“We restrict his use but we also accept that we live in a modern technological age and technology will be crucial to his school and working life.
“But if you want energetic fit and healthy children - get them out and about ... just don’t try living vicariously through your kids.”