Hall of Shame #34: Leon Clarke
Isn’t it about time that we banished former Swindon Town striker Leon Clarke into the STFC Hall of Shame..?
After a loan deal to bring Leon Clarke to the County Ground was reported to have been abandoned due to the striker’s wage demands, Clarke was spotted speaking to then Town boss Paolo Di Canio after Swindon had been beaten at Dagenham and Redbridge.
Though Di Canio was desperate to sign a big targetman, with Queens Park Rangers in the middle of a takeover deal, progress was slow. That was until the following Friday, when, after their takeover was completed, it was announced that Clarke’s contract at Loftus Road had been cancelled by mutual consent. Within hours, he was confirmed as a Swindon player, signing a two-year contract.
The signing came in time for our new No.9 to make his eagerly anticipated debut two days later. Clarke was thrust straight into the team for the A420 derby against Oxford United and although he provided the physical presence up front that Di Canio was after, Town slipped to a 2-1 defeat.
Yet only nine days later, Leon Clarke was to make his final appearance for the club.
After starting in a Carling Cup victory at Bristol City and a defeat at Shrewsbury – both games in which Clarke was substituted due to a lack of match fitness – Clarke played the full 90 minutes as Southampton knocke Town out of the Carling Cup in the Second Round.
But as he left the pitch, the new Town striker was seen arguing with fitness coach Claudio Donatelli. As Di Canio approached him with a consolatory arm, Clarke pushed the Town boss away as he continued to protest about the training regime. When the pair eventually got into the tunnel, Sky television cameras – there to provide VT for the forthcoming weekend televised fixture with Rotherham United – captured pictures of an altercation in which it appeared that punches were thrown. Clarke made his way back onto the pitch, where under the floodlights he spent 15 minutes continuing his tantrum, sulking to chairman Jeremy Wray before leaving the ground in full-kit.
The whole event enabled the national and international media to press the ‘Di Canio’s gone mental’ button they’d long expected to unleash. The focus was on Di Canio, not Clarke as the instigator, leading to accusations of the manager ‘assaulting’, ‘fighting’ or ‘attacking’ his striker.
After the chairman backed his manager, and TV footage proved Di Canio’s side of the argument, the Town boss was quick to state that the petulant Clarke had played his last game for Swindon. Paolo revealed that the striker had told his agent that he had wanted to leave two days before the game. And though he had seen Clarke’s attitude first hand since he had signed, he had looked past it in an attempt to integrate him into the squad.
This whole debacle highlights the abject failure of both Di Canio and Clarke to make any attempt to carry out any research before signing the deal. Not dissimilar to several of the Italian’s other signings, many of whom await their induction into the Hall of Shame, the alarm bells were clear for Di Canio that Clarke’s troublesome past would likely lead to a conflict. Equally, if Leon Clarke hoped the Italian had matured beyond his self-obsessed and disciplined personality as a player, he was soon proven wrong.
After penning a diary of the events leading up to his departure from Swindon, Clarke agreed a 93-day spell at League One Chesterfield. Clarke then released a statement to the press apologising to Swindon’s fans, players and directors, but denying Di Canio’s version of the events.
Clarke scored nine goals in 14 league games with the relegation-threatened Spierites, attracting the interest of promotion chasing Charlton, for whom he signed in January 2012 in a player-exchange that saw Paul Benson move to the County Ground.
Incredibly, his stay at The Valley didn’t last long either – making just seven appearances before moving on again for a loan spell at Crawley, Scunthorpe and Coventry – where the deal was made permanent – before a return to Wolves, a loan to Wigan and he currently resides at Gigg Lane Bury after signing a 3-year contract in June 2015. There’s one certainty for journeyman Clarke, he won’t be playing three seasons for The Shakers…
Leon Clarke image @swindonvintage via Instagram