From coalmine to Crystal Palace Football Club legend for George Clarke

IF a football fan is asked to name a Crystal Palace legend they will no doubt point to former England striker and club legend Andy Johnson.

The former Palace star scored 74 goals in 140 games during a sizzling spell which saw the South London side promoted to the Premier League.

But more than 80 years ago it was a tricky left-winger from Bolsover who was hitting the headlines for the Eagles as they progressed from Division Three South into Division Two.

Talented George Clarke, who was born in 1900, worked his way out of the coalmines to join Mansfield Town, where he made 59 appearances over two seasons in the Midland League.

His pace and trickery down the left flank soon caught the eye of Aston Villa, who paid £350 for his services in December 1922.

But Clarke failed to make the breakthough and made just one performance at Villa as the brilliant form of international winger Arthur Dorrell kept him out of the side.

Former Villa boss George Goodman, now in charge at Selhurst Park, knew what a talent George was and quickly snapped up the goal-getting winger in July 1925.

And it proved to be an inspired signing with George going on to form an excellent partnership with Percy Cherrett and then Peter Simpson, who bagged many of his goals following excellent build-up play by the tricky Clarke.

George went on to play 299 times for Palace and scored 106 goals during a memorable career for the club between 1925 and 1933 .

Clarke, who played club standard cricket during the summer months to supplement his football wage, was top scorer for the Eagles with 22 goals during the 1927-28 season.

Following his illustrious career for Palace, George has feaured in many nostalgia articles for the club’s programmes, newspaper articles and also featured during a special exhibition in Croydon to celebrate the club’s 100th birthday.

And it is a career which George’s daughter Betty Ball is understandably proud of.

Said Betty: “I am so proud of my dad for all his achievements in football. Since Palace celebrated their 100th year, my dad has received excellent coverage and really been in the limelight, it is just a shame he was not alive to see it all.

“My dad made a real name for himself at Crystal Palace and I still get emotional today when we go to Selhurst Park and feel the warmth that people held my dad in. It is always a pleasure to go back down to Crystal Palace.

“When I was growing up I always knew that he had been a footballer but I never saw him play because I was too young. I regret not ever having seen dad play, but will always be very proud of him.

“It was a totally different sport in those days. My dad played football for the love of the game and not the money. He was a classic example of a local boy doing great and going on to better things and to make a name for himself.

“As a family we are very proud of him, especially my grandson who always tells everyone who my dad used to play for. I often look back on the old newspaper cuttings, programme and pictures of my dad and think back to what a great player he was and what he achieved.

“There has been many great players who have played for Palace down the years and it is a great feeling knowing that one of them was my dad.”

George, who has since had a Croydon street named in his honour, went on to play for QPR after he left Palace, before going on to work for the Croydon Electricity Board.

Clarke, who scored his first goal for the club in the 2-0 win over Brentford on 3rd October 1925, was described as a dangerous player, with real craft, pace and a lethal shot.

Betty and her husband Denis will be guest of honour at the club during a special celebration of the club’s former manager’s and players before the Championship clash with Cardiff City on 28th April.

Pictured: George Clarke with Peter Simpson during his time at Crystal Palace.