Matthew Clarke programme article

Posted : 3rd August 2021

Linfield full-back Matthew Clarke is commonly referred to as a trusted option by manager David Healy and that shows when you look at the list of Linfield’s all-time European appearances. The Artigarvan native overtook Peter Thompson to move up to third when he made his 27th European appearance away to Zalgiris Vilnius in Lithuania last month. Now he sits on 30 appearances and is eyeing up Noel Bailie MBE who is in second with 36 appearances, and says it’s a nice honour to be up there.

“I always seem to have been selected for the European games for whatever reason. I am proud that as a Tyrone lad I am in the top three all-time European appearances for the biggest club in the country. It’s a proud honour for me and my family. I have only turned 27 this year, so I am hoping many more are still to come, and maybe I can creep up to take Noel Bailie’s spot in the coming years. It’s not something I ever set out to do, but it’s nice to get recognition. As a player you want to play in every game that you’re fit and available for and I would love to make appearances 31 and 32 against Fola Esch. That would put me closer to Noel, but the main thing is that the team is winning and we’re progressing – that’s the focus.

“We’ve had some great moments in Europe and for me one of the highlights was scoring against Sutjeska at Windsor Park two years ago. It was a special moment because it put the tie out of their reach and I hadn’t long lost my father at the time, and we had a massive crowd that night. The crowd was unbelievable that night, singing and getting right behind us from start to finish. To pop up and score in Europe for Linfield was amazing and it’s something I would like to do again. I want to add more goals to my game and it’s something the manager is always pushing me for.”

With over 250 appearances under his belt, Matthew is an experienced player and after Linfield losing some long-serving experienced players in the summer and with a fresh look to the squad now, he says he’s more than happy to carry the mantle and to try and help the new faces adapt to life at Linfield.

“We have lost some experienced players but we still have plenty of experience in the team. The likes of myself, Niall Quinn, Kirk Millar, Jimmy Callacher, Stephen Fallon… lots of us have in and around 300 appearances each. A number of us have been together here for around eight years now. For me personally, having been fortunate to be here eight years at a club like Linfield is a massive honour. We have a lot of new signings and young players new into the squad, so it’s important that us experienced players show them what is required to play for Linfield – the ethos of the club and the discipline required to play here, and the desire to win because that’s what is demanded of you and the winning machine can never stop.”

The Blues head into tonight’s 3rd Round Qualifier full of confidence after a superb 4-0 aggregate win over Borac Banja Luka. The former Rangers FC Youth player set up Jamie Mulgrew’s goal in the 4-0 home win and described it as a dream performance from the whole team.

“To beat Borac Banja Luka 4-0 was a dream performance. For a team from Northern Ireland to win 4-0 in Europe is a fantastic feat. From one-to-eleven, first minute to last, the performance was unbelievable and no less than we deserved. We did the hard yards to put ourselves in a great position going to Bosnia. Against Zalgiris Vilnius, both home and away we gave away soft goals and that’s something the likes of myself, Jimmy Callacher, Niall Quinn and Michael Newberry don’t like to do. We built our success in previous years on keeping it tight at the back, fuelled by a desire to keep clean sheets. It was frustrating giving away cheap goals because it’s not something we are used to doing. Thankfully, we were able to tighten up home and away against Borac Banja Luka. The four goals at home were all quality goals too, including nice passages of play. That’s what our forwards are capable of doing with belief and confidence.

“The manager has said we need goals from everywhere and that includes midfielders chipping in, so it was great to see our captain Jamie Mulgrew scoring against Borac Banja Luka. He doesn’t score too many and I like to remind him of that! It was a nice finish with how he passed it in. If the likes of Mulgrew, Cammy Palmer, Stephen Fallon, Chris Shields and Kyle McClean when he comes back, can all chip in with goals, it’ll help us and there’s no reason why they can’t because they are all quality players.

“Last week was another memorable European night in Bosnia in probably the warmest conditions I have ever played in. The lads were super to a man and we all dug in with a battling performance to see us through.”

Looking ahead to tonight’s game – the first against Luxembourg opposition since the sixties – the 27 year-old says the fans can play their part.

“We expect another tough task against Fola, the champions of Luxembourg but it’s one we are really looking forward to. I know there will be many getting back against Fola Esch for the first time since the pandemic started, so hopefully we can create another good atmosphere, because for only 1,000 all spaced out at Windsor for the Banja Luka game, I thought it was a fantastic atmosphere and we fed off that.”

All the very best to Matthew and the rest of the team and staff for what we all hope will be another great and memorable European night under the lights at Windsor Park.
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