In the recent history of Bristol Rovers football club, it would be fair to say there have been more managerial flops than successes, cast your mind back to the brief reign of Scottish tactician Mark McGhee (recently on the end of a thumping 7-2 defeat at his current club Motherwell) and that tells you all you need to know about our luck pre-Darrell Clarke. It would be no exaggeration to say that Clarke has cemented himself as a Bristol Rovers icon within just three years at the club in which, he has masterminded two promotions and achieved countless other accolades. Just how has he made his way into Rovers folklore in just a few years? Ten of the reasons can be found here.
1) He says it as it is
Brutal honesty after defeats has become somewhat of a trademark for our charismatic young manager and we love him all the more for it. Instead of papering over the cracks with excuse after excuse, Clarke takes time to pick apart the errors (be it team selection or individual mistakes) and gives his frank opinions on what he or his players could have done better. This confidence in his own managerial ability means that the fans often commend him after a bad defeat for his truthful approach, and more often than not the team bounces back with a positive result. The belief Clarke fills his players with is unmistakable.
2) He’s passionate about the club
From his very first season at the club as assistant to John Ward, Darrell Clarke’s passion and affiliation towards the club were clear. Given the mammoth task of keeping Rovers in the football league, Clarke was thrown in at the deep end and was given just a handful of games to save The Pirates from relegation. Regardless of who you support, the harrowing scenes at the full-time whistle of that fateful game against his hometown club Mansfield were an upsetting sight – a tearful Clarke represented a broken man. Fast forward one year and our beloved gaffer was sprinting down the Wembley touchline having propelled us back into the football league at the first time of asking. Devastation to elation within just 365 days.
3) He knows where his loyalties lie
The tongue in cheek humour of our manager is another one of his endearing qualities that make him such a fan favourite, and a few eyebrows were well and truly raised when he asked how city rivals Bristol City had fared in his post-match interview. Upon hearing of their defeat he uttered the timeless quote “4-2? Happy days” enraging one half of the city and delighting the other. As with any successful manager in modern football, it isn’t long before other clubs come knocking at your door, and this was the exactly the case when Leeds United approached Clarke for his services in the summer. Whereas a lot of ambitious managers (and players) would savour a move to a club in a higher league because of prestige and financial incentive, Darrel had no qualms in rejecting Leeds and more recently Norwich City with the assurance that he’s not finished with Bristol Rovers just yet. Impressive commitment.
4) He has a sense of humour
Taking into account the previous comments about the red side of the City, there’s no doubt that our gaffer has a cracking sense of humour, and prior to the conference play-off final he was caught on film perhaps prematurely chanting “We are going up” to a legion of supporters in the packed out Queen Victoria pub. A disgruntled Grimsby newspaper decided to run a story on Clarke’s antics leading to somewhat of a “told you so” moment following up Rovers penalty heroics. In a similarly filmed video, Clarke could be seen stood aloft a table clearly having had a few too many and in a clear jab at the Grimsby Telegraph newspaper he loudly announced “Grimsby Telegraph? You can print that b*stard!”. Cheeky, yet class.
5) His relationship with the ownership
When the Jordanian Al-Qadi family took over Bristol Rovers in the early months of 2016, much mystery and scepticism surrounded the new ownership. Would they splash the cash straight away? Would they sack Darrell and bring in their own choice of manager? Fortunately, all fears were dispelled when it was announced the new board would stand by our beloved gaffer, and what followed in the next year was an influx of hungry, young players and the emergence of the “Evolution not revolution” policy – a tagline that has been the driving force in leading us near the summit of League 1.
6) He recognises talent
Past managerial flops at the club have opted to sign older, more experienced and ultimately less ambitious players. Part of our club’s decline into the conference was having too many individuals playing for themselves with a lack of squad togetherness. Fortunately, Clarke had a major overhaul in the summer of 2014 and he hasn’t looked back since. With notable signings such as Stuart Sinclair, Matt Taylor and Daniel Leadbitter, as well as more recently the acquisitions of Billy Bodin and loanees Joe Lumley and Ryan Sweeney, it would be difficult to pick out even a handful of DC’s signings who have failed to impress. Factor in the fact that the majority of his signings have been promising youngsters and you have a manager that’s committed to the long term success of the squad.
7) He’s a hit with the ladies
With his boyish good looks and bags of charisma, Clarke has found himself as an unlikely hit with female Gasheads since his arrival three years ago. Unfortunately for his admirers, Clarke is happily married having tied the knot some months after our Wembley triumph in 2015. But look on the bright side girls, he’s recently signed a long-term contract at the club so you won’t be losing your eye candy any time soon!
8) He’s extremely successful
The achievement of a potential three back to back promotions speaks for itself, but factor in the disarray the club was experiencing when Clarke took over and you have a fairy-tale beginning to Clarke’s managerial career with Rovers as he guided our club out of arguably some of the worst years in recent memory. The young manager must surely go down as one of the most successful in the club’s history despite his brief tenure and if he was to achieve the unthinkable (but infinitely possible) three back to back promotions he would no doubt become one of Rovers most iconic managers for such a brilliant feat. For now, Clarke can rest assured that he has found a place in the hearts of Gasheads both old and young for giving us our club back.
9) THAT look
Following the bitter departure of former star striker Matt Taylor, there was a feeling of disbelief around the club. Why had we let him go? And furthermore why had we let him go to THEM? With no sort of club statement to speak of and much speculation on social media about the transfer process, the club decided to upload a video interview with our manager some two days later onto the official YouTube channel. In the 10 minute chat our gaffer eluded to something that he couldn’t quite bring himself to tell the interviewers with an all-knowing look. Catch the exchange at 5:34 in the video below.
10) He continues striving for success
Clarke continues striving for success and will stop at nothing until he sees the club playing in the second tier of English football. It would be hard to praise the man any more than he has been already by the many people in our brilliant fan base but the honesty and loyalty of the man is commendable and he presents a template any young manager should follow when making their way into the managerial side of the beautiful game. Taking into account what the man has achieved in his brief stint as manager of the club already it’s impossible to predict what the future may hold for Bristol Rovers football club, but rest assured with Clarke at the helm and a squad of young, ambitious players don’t be surprised to see Darrell add another promotion or two to his already impressive resume
Feature Image Credit: Chris Clements on wikipedia