United pains that bring Sky man Dave down to earth

BY PHIL ROSTRON TAKING on board all the reversals of the past couple of years strikes an unhappy chord with the most remote of Leeds United fans. But when you are a diehard supporter, having to relay blow-by-blow accounts of unsavoury developments to the nation is a real sickener.

That, though, is the daily task which confronts Ilkley-born Sky Sports News presenter Dave Clark, a lifelong United follower and sufferer.

"It's a hard life being a Leeds fan,'' says Dave who, along with the rest of the crew, is celebrating five years of the round-the-clock channel that is seen in millions of homes, pubs, clubs and hotel rooms up and down the land.

"They're never out of the public gaze for one reason or another and last week's events were typical of the downbeat scenario in which the club has become embroiled in recent months.

"Why would you even think about sacking the manager when there is no apparent Plan B? Any newcomer would have been inheriting the same football club with the same players and the same amount of debt. And I don't know many miracle workers in the game.

"But I do know one bloke who had a damn good go at being one. Quite how that amount of debt was allowed to be run up by Peter Ridsdale is beyond belief. You've delivered a Champions League semi-final and a UEFA Cup semi-final but what else have you done?

"There's not a trophy in sight and it's cost 80m.

"But woe betide anybody who upsets the true football fan, whichever his club and one of the great benefits of my job is that I am able to take people to task in live interviews when it is appropriate.

"I, therefore, enjoyed presenting Ridsdale with a series of searching, hard-hitting questions which visibly had him squirming.''

It took some time for Clark, 37, to be bitten by the United bug, for his first visit to Elland Road left him with some unhappy memories.

bruised

"It was a cup tie against Ipswich in March, 1975. I may be 6ft 4in now but I was a little chap then and could barely see a thing in a crowd of 50,000. Not only that, I was getting bumped, bruised and crushed and the noise frightened me.

"But I was soon back and lived through those second division days. For some reason, a winger called Mark Gavin, who only played about 16 games for the club, was my idol and I was devastated when he departed for pastures new. Still, there were John Sheridan's skills to admire and Tommy Wright burst onto the scene with about nine goals in four games.

"I loved the atmosphere then and you couldn't keep me away.

"Being based in London these days makes it difficult, if not impossible, to watch all the matches, but I see all the capital encounters and I'm up for half a dozen or so home games. My mum's still a member of Ilkley Golf Club, so that's another incentive to come back north when I can.''

Clark's role, though, is more global and he fondly recalls some of the highlights since Sky Sports News was launched as Europe's first dedicated 24-hour sports news channel in 1998.

He says: "I think breaking news during the World Cup would stand out as a highlight for me, especially the Roy Keane story.

"Because of the time difference and the new satellite technology that our reporters were using we were the first to have the story.

"Sports fans want breaking news about their teams as soon as it happens, day or night and it was a story that allowed Sky Sports News to come into its own.

"To me, the prospect of moving to TV presenting after nine years of radio was exciting but extremely daunting. But we'd seen the concept of a sports news channel work in the USA and because it was new here we would be able to make our own mark on the channel.''

A little local difficulty once presented itself for Clark when an earlier broadcasting job with Capital Radio brought him to Elland Road to cover a match against Charlton Athletic.

He recalls: "Charlton scored and bearing in mind my audience that afternoon I had to go through the motions of pretending that I was ecstatic about the goal and go on at great length about its beautiful crafting and dynamic finish.

"I had just finished this little passage when what seemed like a hundred Leeds fans turned on me, hissing and jeering and calling me fit to burn.

"I turned down the microphone and pleaded that it was only a pretence – I really was a Leeds fan, honest. Sometimes life can be really tough!

"Nowadays I live within five miles of Chelsea's ground and I derive great satisfaction from dressing up my nine-month-old little boy in his Leeds United kit and a bib which identifies him as the best little dribbler in Leeds and then going out there among the swanky Kensington set.''

Besides the downsides Clark's broadcasting life has its advantages and one of those, he readily concedes, is the time he has spent alongside the lovely Kirsty Gallacher in the studio.

"So there I am, sitting next to a girl they fancy from Land's End to John o'Groats and wearing an expensive suit paid for by the company. Some guys have all the luck!

"I hope some of it rubs off on the club I adore over the coming months. They're going to need it.''

PHIL ROSTRON