Paul Ernest Clarke; known variously as Clicky, Clarkey, Ernest and Mario was one of the earliest products of the East Leeds junior set-up, making his senior debut as a 15 year-old in 1967; finally hanging up his boots and wringing out his gloves for the last time in 2003, after playing over 500 league and cup games. Only a three-year sabbatical at Great Preston broke his years of continuous service.
As an 18 year-old, his 26 was the highest score for East Leeds in a tense low scoring Hepworth Cup final against Rothwell in 1970; a match in which Jack Gahan took 6-27 but still ended up on the losing side.
A budding wicket keeper batsman, Paul had to wait a while for his opportunity to keep due to the presence of the peerless Terry Caine behind the timber, but when his chance came, he took some impressive diving catches to the East Leeds seamers of the 70s and 80s peaking in 1985 with a tally of 29 victims which brought him the Leeds League’s Featherstone Trophy for wicket keeping.
Only Terry Caine’s total of 523 victims betters Paul’s eventual haul of 349 catches and 72 stumpings.
As a batsman, Paul was able to play the long game, but was also capable of some violent driving, pulling and cutting; the 55 he made at home to Highbury in 1975 was a particularly thrilling example including 3 boundaries and 6 maximums in just 25 minutes.
Paul’s two centuries came in the same season, (1988) against the same opposition, (Farsley Celtic); the 104 he made batting at number three laid the foundation for the club’s highest team score of 430-9 at Throstle Nest in the first encounter whilst his second ton of 112* remains a record for a player coming in at number 6; eclipsing Jack Gahan’s 106* versus Colton in 1970.
During his East Leeds career, Paul made 6,762 runs at an average of 18.13 with 18 fifties and 2 hundreds; placing him 8th in the table of the club’s run-scorers.
As a youth, Paul’s agility and light footedness was remarkable for a big man, but as the years passed he became more adept at anticipating the arc of the ball thereby reducing the need to dive. A man of few words, Paul’s non-verbal communications were enough for any wayward bowler to know exactly where they stood; a baleful glare, accompanied by a violent expulsion of phlegm was able to convey so much more than words.
Paul worked hard around the ground and was responsible for the construction of the players’ balcony which affords a splendid view of play; perhaps we need to spare a thought for Paul the next time we take advantage of the best seat in the house.
Whilst the club had experienced little contact with Paul in recent times, his legacy is clear and his passing earlier this year from cancer came as something of a shock.
Our thoughts go out to Anne, Emma and Ryan; RIP Clarkey.