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Lee Clark Player of the Month

last updated Wednesday 11th April 2001, 9:44 AM
Lee Clark
Lee Clark is Evening Standard
Player of the Month

Last summer Lee Clark's agent was aggressively fending off questions about the Fulham midfielder's future. His friend Paul Bracewell had lost his job as manager at Craven Cottage and Clark's family had returned to his native North East after failing to settle in the South.

The midfielder was linked with several clubs nearer to his northern roots and he looked a forlorn figure as he promoted sportswear products at Wembley and refused to discuss the club who paid his wages.

But Fulham managed to hold on to Clark and today the former Newcastle and Sunderland player needs little encouragement to talk about Jean Tigana's team.

He has flourished under the Frenchman's management and been one of the key forces behind the team's runaway success in Division One.

Clark has performed consistently well all season and his continued impressive form in March, when he scored twice as Fulham won three times and drew once, has earned him Standard Sport's Player of the Month award and a magnum of Moet & Chandon champagne and a bronze statuette.

"The way things have gone, it could not have been better. It has been a fantastic season so far," said the 28-year-old.

"It is very exciting for us because there is a lot to look forward to. The team is doing brilliant and my form are not too bad so I am quite happy.

We have got seven games left and if we can do the business in them it would make the environment even better to be in.

"We have got to achieve what we aimed for at the start and that is to get promotion and then the Championship."

There is little chance of Fulham failing to win the League - they go into their match at second-placed Blackburn tonight 13 points clear with seven games to play.

But eight months ago Clark had little idea how enjoyable the coming season was going to be and was more worried about the whereabouts of wife Lorraine, son Jak, aged five, and daughter Claudia, three.

"In an ideal world something would have happened in the summer which would have meant I was closer to my family," he said. "I was disappointed when Bracewell left because he brought me here, then there was my wife and children moving back to the North East and it all seemed to happen at once.

"It created this image that I was desperate to get away but nothing had happened at the football club for anyone to think I was unhappy."

Clark is a Geordie and would clearly have relished a move back home. But his attitude today to finding a happy life off-the-pitch is a measure of how much he is enjoying himself at Fulham.

"I still go up to the North East because my family are important to me. If I can go up after a game for a day or two I will but I don't let it affect my football," Clark said.

"They know how important football is to me too and do not expect me to be up and down the motorway all the time. It is a difficult balance which I have to try to resolve and we are looking at ways for the family to come back down and try to settle."

Clark is already beginning to look to the future and intends to study for coaching qualifications in preparation for a career in management.

He is one of Tigana's regular post-match spokesmen and tries to protect and advise Fulham's talented 20-year-old midfielder Sean Davis.

"There are so many pitfalls for young players and you need to keep them right mentally," Clark added.

His paternal instinct derives not only from his role as a father but from mistakes he has made, notably two years ago when he infuriated Sunderland fans while still a player at the club. Clark, a lifelong Newcastle fan, was pictured wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan 'Sad Mackem Bastards' (a reference to Sunderland fans) and was transfered to Fulham after the outcry that followed. Now reaching his sporting peak, Clark is hungry to add to the First Division Championship medals he won with Newcastle and Sunderland.

He still harbours international ambitions and believes he will play in Europe with Fulham.

"It is within our grasp because the chairman's backing means we can match any other club on the continent in terms of wages and transfer fees and with the manager we have got, we can attract some of the biggest names around."

Camera-shy Tigana, applauding Clark's award from his training ground office window, must be hoping one of those names is Mrs Clark.

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Source Evening Standard by Leo Spall

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