Matthew Clarke programme article

Posted : 27th December 2021

Although still only coming into his prime years at 27 years old, left full-back Matthew Clarke is now one of the most experienced players in the Linfield squad and he’s certainly no stranger to today’s fixture. Speaking to ‘Look at Linfield’, Clarke recalls his first Boxing Day derby, back in 2013 when Linfield won through goals from Andy Waterworth and Aaron Burns.

“I can remember my first Boxing Day derby. I was 19 and we won the game 2-1 at The Oval. There was a huge crowd there that day and all my family were there amongst it. It was a great occasion. I remember always hearing about the Boxing Day derby and it certainly didn’t disappoint to experience it at such a young age!”

The fixture didn’t happen last year for the first time since it became tradition, as all sport was suspended over the festive period in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid. As Linfield supporters can relate to, it left Christmas looking a bit different for many of us. Now, the Castlederg man says the Blues can’t wait to get going again and want to make up for the past two years.

“The Christmas period was a bit strange last year without the Boxing Day fixtures. I missed the festive fixtures, although it was nice having the time off to spend with family and loved ones, as I don’t think we have ever had a Christmas period off and I don’t think we will ever have that again during our playing days.

“The defeat two years ago was horrible at their place. That day was one of my worst feelings in football. We know how much this game means to our fans throughout the country and I can assure them all that we will be ready to do battle.

“Fixtures come thick and fast over the festive period and it’s something you just get used to. We’ve had six days after Ballymena to prepare for the derby fixture, which has been ideal preparation time. We recovered well and hopefully, the work we’ve done ahead of this game can be the platform for us to go out and get the result we all want.”

Described as the most competitive and highest standard the Irish League has been for decades, the title race is wide open and Linfield are in the mix. Given numerous changes on and off the pitch following last season’s double-winning season, the former Rangers youth player believes it’s been a decent start to the season, although he hasn't been totally satisfied.

“I think we have started the season well. We’ve been disappointed with a lot of the draws we’ve had, as I think in the majority of them, we were capable of turning them into victories. Given the changes in the summer with lots of players moving on and new players coming in, along with the change to Full Time training, there was always going to be a transitional period but I feel we have managed that quite well. It’s obviously nice getting up in the morning and going in and getting your work done on the pitch, rather than having to rush home from work in the evenings to go straight out the door again to head to training.

“I feel I have made a decent start to the season personally. I think it comes down to being happy off the pitch as well. But it’s not about me or any individual – as long as we’re winning games of football and continue to be successful, that’s all that counts!”

In closing, we asked Matthew about the man often beside him at left centre half – Sam Roscoe – and the man in front of him – Ahmed Salam – as the relationship with them is important, and he was complimentary about the two summer signings.

“Both Ahmed Salam and Sam Roscoe have settled in well. The two lads have been in the Full-Time environment before, so it’s not been a big transition for them. Both of them go about their business in the right way and are both valuable members of our squad.”

Best wishes to Matthew and the team for today’s huge match and let’s hope David Healy’s men can make it a happy and successful blue Christmas
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