Anthony (Tony) Clark
1st June 1944
Tony played one game for City reserves in the Western League in 1960/61. He represented an Exeter X1 against the French side Rennes X1 in May 1962. And in 1965 played in goal for the reserves and played in Cecil Smyth’s benefit.
In the vibrant era of the 1970s, when Yeovil fans like me were of a young and impressionable age , there emerged a certain individual from their beloved club who etched himself into their memories as a true legend. None other than Anthony 'Tony' Clark, the extraordinary goalkeeper, captured their hearts and remains a top choice, if not the definitive choice, of many of that era, as the greatest custodian to have graced Yeovil's hallowed turf. In the heart of the action at Huish, if partaking in the thrilling action of Yeovil attacks from the Queens Street End, there stood Tony down the Bruttons end commanding attention despite his relatively modest stature. Tony, may have required a keen eye to spot from a distance , but his presence between the posts was impossible to overlook. What he lacked in height, he more than made up for with his unyielding courage akin to that of a lion and his awe-inspiring gymnastic agility.
Hailing from Devon, Tony, born in July 1944, displayed an innate talent for keeping at an early age. His exceptional skills caught the attention of Exeter City, and by the time he reached sixteen, Tony had signed on amateur forms whilst working as a brake lining fitter however in the summer of 1962, he signed on as a full time professional . Initially starting off with the Exeter City Colts team , he swiftly progressed to the reserves, eagerly biding his time for an opportunity to showcase his abilities on the grand stage of St James' Park. However, that elusive moment seemed to elude him.
The closest Tony came to his dream of first team football was when fate intervened during the harsh winter of 1963. With the freezing weather taking its toll, Exeter City made the bold decision to field their first-team players in a reserve match against Bristol City Reserves in February of that year. Serendipitously, Tony found himself between the post. He delivered an impressive performance, attributing his newfound confidence to the presence of more experienced and skilled teammates who surrounded him on the field in the match. It was a style of goalkeeping that would later go on to earn him admiration from the entire Huish faithful,. However, Exeter City found themselves unconvinced by his abilities, ultimately making the tough decision to release him from the club on May 19th, 1963.
Over the course of the next seven seasons, Barnstaple Town of the Western League found themselves incredibly fortunate to have Tony guarding their net. Tony's exceptional abilities earned him widespread acclaim, with the South-West press hailing him as the undisputed best keeper in the league. However, Tony's career hit a snag during the 1967/68 season when he endured a short and unhappy stint at Minehead.
Nonetheless, Tony's stellar performances did not go unnoticed by Yeovil, who had witnessed his natural talent firsthand when their reserve team faced off against him. Recognising his potential, Yeovil wasted no time in securing Tony's services in July 1969. The shrewd move was orchestrated by the newly appointed manager, Mike Hughes, who saw the 26-year-old goalkeeper as an ideal backup option for the esteemed Ken Jones; a former Wales World Cup goalkeeper. With Clark's performances lighting up the reserves and Jones sometimes inept performances for the first team, it was only a matter of time before Clark was given his chance. It came on the 4th March 1970 in a 3-0 home victory over Hereford United. From that moment on, Tony Clark would be first choice keeper for seasons ahead.
Tony's arrival on the scene at Huish paralleled the successes of revered figures such as Housley, Clancy, and Myers. Embracing his role, he found himself surrounded by a formidable defensive quartet. The resolute Alan Herrity provided staunch support on the right , while the elegant Paul Smith showcased his skills on the left. Nestled in the heart of the backline, Len Harris brought his wealth of experience to fortify the team, often accompanied by the talent of Hughes or Petty Officer Bev Dixon.
Tony's inaugural full season proved to be an embodiment of his prowess, solidifying his position within the squad and bolstering the club's reputation as the premier non-league club in the country - despite what the FA Trophy said! The Southern League Championship title proudly adorned their achievements. Notably, Tony's mettle was tested in a captivating FA Cup 3rd Round encounter against Arsenal, where he pitted himself against the country's most prolific forwards in Kennedy and Radford.
Remarkably, Tony became the sole player to feature in every single game of that momentous 1970/71 season, attesting to his consistent contributions throughout the campaign. His ascendancy in the team was vividly reflected at the club's annual awards ceremony. In the presence of extraordinary talents like Myers, Weller, Clancy, and co, Tony earned the distinguished accolade of being named the player of the season, a testament to his remarkable impact on the field. As Tony made his way up from Exeter, he enthusiastically expressed his love for playing for the club. However, he faced a single challenge; exhaustion caused by the demanding routine of leaving work, playing matches all across the South, returning home in the early hours, and then immediately resuming his day job working for the Royal Mail.
In the realm of courage, Tony reigned supreme. His fearless approach on the field saw him hurling himself headlong, always risking injury to thwart the speeding onslaught and flying boots of opposing strikers. Endowed with razor-sharp reflexes, he possessed an uncanny ability to intercept shots and headers that appeared destined to ripple the net. However, it was also his explosive leap, reminiscent of an untamed elevator hurtling upwards, that again set him apart. With an unmatched spring in his step, he effortlessly propelled himself skyward, launching a punch to safely dispatch yet another incoming corner or cross.
Since his remarkable debut in March 1970, Tony had undeniably cemented his position as an indispensable player on the team. In a staggering sequence of 232 consecutive matches, he fearlessly defended the goal, donning his navy blue jersey and a pair of gloves that offered about as much protection as the trusty marigold washing-up gloves—Gloves that were primarily worn for their ability to keep his hands warm on chilly winter nights rather than their prowess in absorbing stinging shots. It wasn't until a particularly overzealous challenge by Weymouth's Alan Skirton during an intense FA Cup encounter at the Rec in November 1974 that Tony was finally forced out of action.
In an illustrious career spanning seven seasons at Huish, Tony Clark emerged as a stalwart goalkeeper, facing challenges and triumphs along the way. His unwavering dedication was evident, especially during the four seasons when he stood as the sole keeper for the club. However, a turning point came in 1975 when keeper Mike Franklin,also hailing from Devon like Clark, joined the team under player-manager Stan Harland. With Franklin's arrival, Clark's position gradually diminished, eventually relegating him to the reserves, where he found himself back where he had started, guarding the goal at venues such as Devizes and Ilminster in the Western League.
On February 9, 1977, in front of a fervent crowd of 2,200 spectators at Huish, Tony Clark donned his navy sweater and wafer thin gloves for the 379th and final time. Unfortunately, the match ended in a disappointing 2-1 FA Trophy replay defeat to Dagenham. It was a bittersweet moment for Clark as he bid farewell to the field that had become his second home. In the aftermath, he made the decision to request a place on the transfer list, a move that was eventually accepted by manager Stan Harland.
Despite his undeniable talent, the summer transfer window came and went without any clubs expressing interest in acquiring Clark's services. And so, with a heavy heart, Tony Clark took his leave from Huish, leaving behind a legacy of dedication and commitment that will be remembered for years to come.
While he may not have been regarded as Yeovil's best goalkeeper, there is no denying that Tony was one of the most fearless custodians ever to grace the pitch for the Glovers . Still residing down in Devon, the legendary Tony Clark is set to celebrate his 79th birthday in July. What better occasion than this to mark the beginning of a fresh season, usher in a new era, and open a new chapter in the club's storied history then sending him and his family an invitation to Huish Park as a testament to Tony's enduring legacy, a gesture that acknowledges the indelible mark he left on the club in that glorious era. It's would be an opportunity to show the veteran players that they haven't been forgotten and to express gratitude for the unforgettable memories people such as Tony gave to us 'old uns' and the exceptional abilities that they gifted to the club.