I can be a miserable old so-and-so sometimes, writing at my despair with the human race, but sometimes, just sometimes, something happens when you think: well, maybe we’re all right after all. As the great popular beat combo outfit Toto astutely noted on their last long player, “It’s the little things in life that matter.” And so it was on BBC2 last night.
It’s FA Cup time and the featured live game was Eastleigh v Swindon Town and performing between the sticks for the home side was former Bristol Rovers net minder Ryan Clarke. Nothing special about that, you might add. There are lots of teams who feature on TV with ex Rovers players, but this was very different. Just a couple of weeks ago Ryan lost his much-loved dad Ernie.
The BBC rose to the occasion quite beautifully and this game, a million miles away from the obsessive greed of the Premier League, hummed from beginning to end. Ryan’s dad’s passing was mentioned in respectful terms during the game but better still at the end of the game, Dan Walker invited Clarkey to the post match interviews to explain the passing of his father as told by his T shirt which he wore beneath his goalkeeping shirt.
Clarkey kept it all together which was very brave of him since I didn’t, a large piece of grit entering my eyes long before the interview was over. He knew, better than anyone, that he had lost his biggest fan.
I did not know Ernie very well, although I did see him from time to time and he was a lovely man. He travelled everywhere to see his boy play and there will be a huge gap in the terraces every week in the Conference now he has died.
That Clarkey played so soon after his terrible loss spoke volumes for him. His mind was bound to be full of emotion and the sense of loss, so massive credit to him to a fine performance which included a blinding save made with such speed that the officials could not see that the ball was very close to crossing the line. TV cameras suggested the ball had crossed the line, but I am pretty sure that Ernie was in there somewhere, helping his son nudge the ball back into play. It was arguably the save of a lifetime immediately after the end of the lifetime of someone very special.
Did Clarkey do the right thing playing so soon after his dad’s death? Ask yourself: what do you think Ernie would have wanted? He lived for his boy and would, I suspect, have been desperate for him to perform in a sport in which he has excelled so much. Anyway, whatever we think doesn’t matter. It’s a father/son thing.
In an era where football has all but eaten itself, with preening, posing managers and shady overseas owners taking all the headlines, I thank Ryan Clarke and his father Ernie for reminding us what the game is supposed to be about. As my old friend former Southampton midfielder Tommy Widdrington said last night, the football family will mourn with Ryan and celebrate with him the life of a wonderful dad.
A light went out when Ernie died but Ryan’s still shines brightly and I thank him for opening his heart and revealing the loving heart that still beats in football.