A SMALL man with a big heart bounced into the media suite after a stunning debut. Two of the shortest legs in football ready to reflect on one of its tallest stories.
Trevor Clarke: game-changer, scorer of the winning goal, Man of the Match.
He was bubbling, buzzing, bursting with happiness. The young Irishman had every reason to smile.
“It’s mad,” he said. “Unbelievable.”
The pint-sized 21-year-old had just brought a nightmare beginning to his Rotherham United career to an end. He’d suffered a knee injury on the July day his signing from Shamrock Rovers was announced, but now he was back.
‘Tricky Trev’ had come off the bench for the second half of the EFL Trophy clash against Doncaster Rovers on October 8 to set up a goal, earn a penalty and gloriously fire home a 77th-minute winner.
“I did not have a clue I’d play,” he said. “I got a text to say I was in the squad but I just thought I’d get the matchday feeling back with the lads.
“Then Freddie (Ladapo) got injured. I was just kicking a ball around at half-time on the pitch and was told: ‘Get ready, you’re on in five minutes.’
“My goal, it happened so quick. Carlton (Morris) got on the ball and I ran forward hoping he’d pick up his head and find me. I just took a touch, smacked it and hoped it would go in.”
The left-back had shone on the left wing and was still on full beam in the AESSEAL New York Stadium press room that Tuesday night. Full of wide-eyed innocence, he unconsciously had everybody warming to him.
The only people not totally sharing his joy were his nan and aunty.
Clarke, after that awful first-day experience when he was stretchered out of a practice match and needed gas and air before being lifted into an ambulance, is finding a home in Rotherham.
“He’s ridiculously popular in the dressing room,” manager Paul Warne said. “He’s a very likeable lad. For him to score and be involved as much as he was in the Donny game is really good for him.
“Coming over from Ireland and being injured on day one killed him. But in a weird way it’s sort of helped him. It’s given a young lad in a new country more time to settle. He can see how hard we train. He’s done more weights than he ever has before.”
“I’ve put on three ‘kay gee’ in muscle,” concurred Clarke, who went on to make his League One bow in last Saturday’s triumph at Blackpool; only, in the lovely, dense Dublin brogue his boss still has trouble understanding, he pronounced it ‘tree’.
“The injury wasn’t a good start,” he added. “You want to get going straightaway. It set me back a little bit, but it gave me time to settle in, mature as a player and know what the manager wants and expects.
“In a way, it helped me out in sitting back and looking at the way things were done. But it was frustrating coming to the games. Watching from the stand, you think you could have done this and that.
Clarke scores against Doncaster Rovers
“The lads have been great. Every day they were coming in and picking me up. When I was low, there was always somebody there to help me out. I was never on my own.
“When you are injured, it is a dark place and you are just looking at the lads training. But every single one of them, and all the coaching staff, have been unbelievable.”
With his slick hair and razor-sharp parting, the former Middlesbrough trainee looks like a throwback to the 1950s and possesses the old-fashioned decency of that earlier, gentler age.
“I’d like to say thanks to the physios who had everything planned out for me for two months,” he made a point of saying. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have been on the pitch.”
He’d arrived to answer questions following his Doncaster exploits clutching a framed image of the front-page of the matchday programme, his reward for being voted the game’s best player.
Fellow youngster Jake Cooper was the player featured in the frame but in all other respects Tricky Trevor was the evening’s cover boy.
He was thrilled. Trilled even. He was also in trouble.
Nan Rita and Aunty Vanessa had been over from Ireland paying him a visit and had wanted to stay for the match, but he’d waved them off to the airport only two hours before kick-off because he was certain his involvement would be confined to the dugout.
The player wasn’t looking forward to his telling-off the next time he logged on for a family group chat.
Amid his grins, amid the media’s grins, someone else was also smiling.
“He’s very Rotherham-esque,” said Warne, a manager who embraces tenacity as much as he does talent.
“As we walked back up the tunnel after the game, I was laughing with my staff and saying: ‘Trev’s right up our street, isn’t he?’ He gives everything. If you put him in Sunday-League football, he’d still run around.
“That’s how he’s been in training. The day before the match, when we did the first team v the others, he was with the others. He was a bit of a thorn in the first team’s side. That’s always a good judge of a player’s attitude.
“Some might go through the motions and think ‘Ugh, I’m not in the team’ but he’s not like that. He’s thinking: ‘Well, I want to get in the team. I just want to run around and enjoy my life.’ If you can have 11 lads like that, you’ve got half a chance.”
Tricky was still musing on what had just happened. “I did what I did and scored a goal,” he said. “It’s mad.
“I am delighted to be in this group. They are a great bunch of lads. I was a bit nervous coming over because I didn’t know anybody. The manager and lads made it easier from the first day.”
The word, ‘mad’, cropped up often on a balmy, barmy autumn night.
Meanwhile, the youngster is part of a Millers enclave in Wickersley where a bunch of new boys are living in apartments in the same block and cooking up some team bonding.
“There’s me, Matt Olosunde, Freddie Ladapo, Jake Hastie and Adam Thompson,” he said. “I’ve brought a couple of lads into my flat and done a little bit of food and had a feed.
“It is always good to have them there when you are on your own. We have our little group chat to see if we want to do anything at night. Anything at all that helps you settle in quicker is good.”
Nearly three months after his arrival, he’s an established member of the Roundwood gang and much less likely to fall for the dressing-room japes that saw Tricky tricked during his first fortnight in South Yorkshire.
Warne was conducting a press conference with a gaggle of journalists on the verandah at the training ground and it took him a few seconds to work out what was going on when Clarke suddenly emerged and stood patiently by his shoulder.
“They’ve sent you out to be interviewed, haven’t they?” the boss eventually twigged. “They’re bad people, Trev. Go back in there and tell them all to f**k off.”
After the Doncaster clash, Twitter responses flew in from across the Irish Sea at much the same speed the defender flies into a tackle. His progress is being closely monitored by fans who appreciated his exploits in the green shirt of Shamrock.
‘Well done,’ they said, and they all had the same information to impart about their old favourite: he’s hard, fast and aggressive.
Clarke’s elation was still lighting up the media suite. “It’s my first goal in English football,” he said. “I cannot believe it.
“When I played at Rovers, I played at left-back. But then a winger got injured and I played left wing, right wing and scored a couple of goals. I am well capable of scoring a goal.”
Millers 3 Rovers 2 wasn’t his only victory.
“The lads think he is hilarious,” Warne said. “If you win over the changing room, you’re three-quarters of the way there.
“I haven’t got a clue what he’s saying but I laugh anyway! He’s a funny kid.”
Everyone, it seems, loves Tricky Trev.
Even Nan Rita and Aunty Vanessa.
ECHOES OF LITTLE HURSTY
MANAGER Paul Warne is likening Trevor Clarke to Rotherham United legend Paul Hurst after the new boy’s sudden impact with the Millers.
Clarke, a July signing from Shamrock Rovers, had to wait until earlier this month to make his debut after suffering a knee injury on his first day as an official Rotherham player.
After watching the defender score the winning goal in an EFL Trophy game against Doncaster Rovers and contribute to a League One victory over Blackpool, Warne can see echoes of Hurst in the all-action 21-year-old.
“Trev will be a fans’ favourite if he keeps running around like little Hursty,” the boss said.
Hurst was a long-serving left-back with Rotherham and made more than 500 appearances for the club.
Clarke is also a full-back yet appeared in a more advanced role against Rovers and the Seasiders.
“We signed him as an attacking left-back really but he can play up one,” Warne said. “He gives me more flexibility.
“I’m not saying he’s a winger in the old-fashioned ‘nutmegs and stepovers, get down the byline and whip one in’ kind of way, but he can definitely do a job there.
“As can Matt Olosunde. With those two and Julien (Lamy), Chieo (Chiedozie Ogbene) and Jake (Hastie), it feels like I’ve now got five options out wide, which I’ve been desperate for.”
SCOTT BEHIND CLARKE CAPTURE
PERSISTENCE paid off for Rotherham United head of recruitment Rob Scott when the Millers signed Trevor Clarke in the summer.
Scott had spotted something in the young Shamrock Rovers left-back and refused to let the subject drop with manager Paul Warne (below).
“He just kept banging the drum,” Warne said. “I watched Trevor’s highlights and I could see what Rob liked about him. Rob has seen a lot more of him than me, so I can take no credit for Trev.”
Rotherham paid an undisclosed fee, believed to be less than £100,000, to bring the 21-year-old to England.
“Rob and I argue about most players really,” Warne said. “‘Argue’ isn’t the right word. We discuss. I don’t like to get anyone in the building unless I’m 100 per cent sure.”
Warne and Scott were Millers teammates in their playing days and Scott went on to make his mark in the talent-identification departments at Brentford and Watford before returning to Rotherham in April.
“I wanted Rob at the club because he gets how we work,” Warne said. “He knows what I’m like with characters and people and how obsessive I am.”
These articles first appeared in last week's Advertiser