As a player, Lee Clark left Sunderland under a cloud of his own making. That cloud has followed on the rare occasions the manager has again crossed the Black Cats’ path.
It had been a boyhood dream for Clark to play for Newcastle. He had been born and bred in Wallsend, just a few miles east of the city centre. Those ambitions were eventually realised. He debuted for the Magpies in 1990, going on to become an integral member of Kevin Keegan’s promotion-winning 1993 team. Clark played several Premier League seasons for the Toon until David Batty’s arrival from Leeds ensured exiled him from the starting XI.
Sunderland are the Magpies’ local and bitter rivals. Given Clark’s lifelong attachment to St James Park, his move Tyneside was a surprise. He helped the club secure promotion to the Premier League in 1999, during his two-year stint.
Shortly afterwards, however, the Geordie was photographed supporting Newcastle against Manchester United in the FA Cup final. He was wearing an unflattering tee shirt, emblazoned with the words “Sad Mackem B***ds.
Sunderland fans would never forgive him. Surely, he was also the subject of a few choice words from then manager Peter Reid. Clark later admitted he could never have worn a Sunderland shirt in a derby match against Newcastle. If a conscious act, this was no way to avoid the possibility, however.
Clark never played for Sunderland again. He was quickly transferred to Fulham. On returning to the Stadium of Light during his second spell with Newcastle, he received a hostile reception. The Magpies claimed a 4-1 victory, hitting all their goals after Clark was subbed off. In the subsequent meeting. Newcastle again failed to score while he was on the pitch.
If he thought the football gods had overlooked his cheeky behaviour, he was wrong.
During his subsequent managerial career, Clark didn’t face any Sunderland team until Birmingham hosted Gus Poyet’s side in a then Capital One League Cup tie in August, 2014. Away supporters with long memories must have enjoyed watching their team claim a comfortable 3-0 victory. Clark’s misery was compounded by the Black Cats scoring all three goals in the last fifteen minutes.
After tenures with Blackpool and Kilmarnock, Clark was unveiled at Bury, earlier this year. His leadership helped the team narrowly avoid relegation from League One. Following a busy summer in the transfer market that included signing former Everton striker, Jermaine Beckford, from Preston, the Shakers were drawn to play Sunderland at Gigg Lane in the newly christened Carabao Cup’s opening round.
Clark again suffered defeat at the Black Cats’ claws. Revenge being sweet, the visitors sealed a 1-0 win through George Honeyman. Bury wasn’t helped by an early injury to captain Stephen Dawson. The home side registered just one shot on goal. Darron Gibson, who has had his own loyalty issues with Stadium of Light supporters, featured positively, possibly earning the redemption Clark never did.
As it was in his post-Sunderland Newcastle career, neither club Lee Clark managed against them has scored. If you believe in that sort of thing, it seems obvious he’s been jinxed by his choice to wear the infamous SMB tee shirt. To be sure, Sunderland fans will never let him live it down.