Centurions mourn former hooker Derek Clarke

Former Leigh hooker Derek Clarke
Former Leigh hooker Derek Clarke

FORMER Leigh hooker Derek Clarke has died of pneumonia aged 73.

Derek was a tough and respected hooker in the era of competitive scrimmaging in a particularly uncompromising period of the game in the 1960s and early 1970s. He was a master of his dark craft in that unglamorous position, usually guaranteeing his side a majority of possession at a time when it was commonplace to have between 30 and 40 scrums in a game.

A native of Widnes, his first professional club was Swinton and he became the Lions’ regular hooker during the 1960s after making his first-team bow in January 1962. He played 13 times as the Lions won the First Division championship in his second season in 1962-63 and was a regular in the following campaign when they repeated the feat.

In cup finals he suffered the agony of defeat on three occasions (Western Division Championship 1964, Lancashire Cup 1964 and Floodlit Trophy 1966) before tasting success as the Lions defeated Leigh 11-2 in the 1969 Lancashire Cup Final at Central Park.

In September 1970 Derek was transferred to Salford for a fee of £7,000 and he joined Leigh for a £3,000 fee in October 1972, earning Heritage Number 808 after his debut against Dewsbury. Two months later he was a member of the Leigh side that defeated Widnes 5-0 in the BBC2 Floodlit Trophy final at Central Park, former Australian beach sprint champion Graeme Lawson scoring the game’s only try.

Derek was a member of the Leigh side that reached the semi-final of the Challenge Cup in 1974, losing a controversial game 21-14 to Featherstone Rovers at Headingley after securing the notable scalps of Widnes and St Helens in earlier rounds. But at the end of that season he was forced to retire from the game due to a neck injury. He made 51 appearances for Leigh, scoring four tries.

He worked as a scaffolder until he was 70, living in Billinge and later Warrington.

Former Leigh player and coach Kevin Ashcroft, who had many a battle with Derek in the hooking role while playing against him for Dewsbury, Rochdale, Leigh and Warrington was sorry to hear of the passing of his old adversary.

“Derek was a member of the hookers’ union, that’s for sure,” Kevin said. “He was one hard man and he gave as good as he got on a rugby field. That’s the way it was in those days- you did whatever you could to win the ball from the scrum as possession was king and good hookers were worth their weight in gold.

“You always knew when you played against him that you had to have eyes in the back of your head. He knew every trick in the book, most of them illegal and you knew if you were grounded he’d likely as not stamp on you without even thinking about it. Mind you he never complained when you did the same to him.

“We had many a battle and once we got sent-off in a game at Swinton and carried on fighting behind the stand at Station Road. And when we played against one another the next time we carried on where we left off. That’s the way it was, if you were a hooker in that period of the game you weren’t selected for your looks.”