When my friend asked if I was coming to have a pint with a guy called Boatsy I declined; “I don’t mix with hooligan’s mate” were the very words I uttered! There you have it, shameful prejudice on my part which conjured up the biblical term “He without sin cast the first stone!”
So, when I read the recent barrage of negative comments directed towards Gary Clarke (Boatsy), on the Nottingham Post Twitter feed I saw shades of my former self in there somewhere. The Post published an article about Gary’s past exploits as a football hooligan, and the reaction was inflammatory to say the least. My comment at the top of this article is no worse than what was uttered by the public on that thread. However; eighteen months down the line I realise that I couldn’t have been more wrong if I tried.
If any of you have read my blogs/articles you will notice that they are solely based on Nottingham Forest football club and the teams beneath its umbrella, not this one though. I felt empowered to fire up my laptop as soon as I read the reaction to the Post article because I saw my own misgivings on that very feed. Am I defending Gary Clarke? Yes, I am and if you read on I shall tell you why.
I was finally introduced to Gary whilst snooping around for a story at the City Ground, after a brief chat at the bar I began to wonder if I’d gotten this guy wrong. I was then introduced to his father Ron, who is the author of one of the best Nottingham Forest publications around “The Early Days of Nottingham Forest”. Ron Clarke is the consummate gentleman and I was blown away by his knowledge and etiquette, the very same qualities that I’ve witnessed in Gary over the past year or so. Since that fateful day I’ve spent many an evening in the company of both men but one in particular that confirmed my faith in Gary especially.
Last summer I hopped back over to Ireland for the tenth anniversary of the Munster Forest Supporters Club, where Gary was present along with his father and his own son. Former Forest players Brendan Maloney and Colin Barrett were in attendance along with some of County Kerry’s finest GAA legends. Unfortunately for the few English that made the journey, their national team were taking on Russia in the European Championships as the event commenced. I said to Gary, ”you can sneak into the bar and catch the England game you know”, to which he replied “I’d never be that disrespectful to these guys” (his Irish friends at Munster Forest). Well before last orders were finally called, he and his family had retired to their rooms in order to hit the local tourist trail in the morning. As I rose delicately from my four-hour sleep, the Clarke’s were already taking in The Ring of Kerry and appreciating the beauty of the emerald isle.
Sure enough, you can be deceived by anybody who’s trying to tell you that they’ve changed but they can only keep up a charade for so long. Ask any actor/actress; your true colours will show in good time. Which is indicative of Gary’s friendship (not association) with filmmaker Jonny Owen. The Welshman provided Forest with the only landmark celebration of its 150th season, something that the owner failed to replicate in any way. Think about this friendship; would Mr Owen and his supremely talented partner Vicky McClure risk advances in their own professions by fraternising with a head banger? Again, the answer is no and the reason is simple; they are broad minded enough to appreciate change and reconciliation when it’s genuine. Don’t take my word for it but I implore you to read Jonny Owen’s take on the recent deformation of Mr Clarkes Character. “When I first moved to Nottingham I didn’t know anyone but was introduced through a mutual friend to Gary Clarke. It was the luckiest thing that could have happened to me as he literally took me under his wing and became a close lifelong friend. His connections meant that when I began working on the film, I Believe in Miracles, my life was so much easier and I had the trust of everyone, and that’s simply because of Gary. I knew about his past but I’m from the South Wales Valleys, an old tough industrial area. What happened at the football in the 70s and 80s happened. They were different times. Gary has learned from them and come out the other side as a family man who is much loved in his home town. It is no exaggeration on my part to say that without him I couldn’t have made the film. And that’s the truth!” I think that says it all but I will embellish further on the cinematic side of things with a final question. Robert Downey Jr has a well-documented history of substance abuse, so if you were one of the people berating Mr Clarke for his past, will you now refuse to watch the Iron Man movies?
I have absolutely nothing to gain by penning this piece in support of Gary’s character but I’m sure the odd cynic will imply that it will attract more readers. It may well lose me some support but I can live with that, if it means telling the truth and standing up for what you believe in. Trust me, there are a couple of former terrace tearaway’s that I wouldn’t give the time of day to; because they haven’t changed one little bit. When I read a comment stating that Mr Clarke only goes to Germany because he’s banned from English football, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The truth is once again a very different kettle of fish, for starters, Gary is not banned from any ground in Britain. The connection with Germany stems from a chance meeting with some Cologne supporters whilst on holiday, supporters whom I met briefly on their frequent trips to Nottingham. Whenever they all get together the only punch worth talking about usually has plenty of rum in it.
I could go on all night but the indelible proof for any doubters was Forest’s recent trip to Derby County. I found myself traveling and attending the game with Gary “Boatsy” Clarke as well as Gearoid and Paul Lynch from Ireland. If ever there was an opportunity to revert to one’s old ways, then this was the day. I was astonished to see how disappointed Mr Clarke was with some young lads at the back of the bus as they banged on the windows as the coach neared the I PRO stadium. “They’re asking for trouble, and that’s the last thing we want” he said as he went on to tell me how easy it would have been for Derby fans to storm the coach due to the lack of Police presence. I sat right next to him and his young son for the whole game and not once did the pair of them take their eyes of the pitch, it was then that I realised Gary was only there for the football and he really had well and truly moved on.
Make of this blog what you will, I said earlier that I’ll attract the odd doubter for getting involved. But I also said that I can live with that because I detest injustice in any walk of life. I saw myself in those harmful and inaccurate comments towards Gary Clarke, so even I’ve moved on I guess. Whether it’s hooliganism or prejudice; if you’re unable to look back then you’re obviously still there!
By Steve Corry