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CRAIG BURLEY: Steve Clarke used to get so riled by Scotland snubs



  • Former Chelsea team-mate Burley offers a rare glimpse into the personality of the notoriously unexcitable Scotland manager ahead of Euro 2024
  • Burley says Clarke was criminally underappreciated by a succession of Scotland bosses and deserved far more than his paltry total of six caps
  • The disarming honesty of the Saltcoats native is his biggest strength and is a key ingredient in how he has steered the Scots to successive Euros qualifications 
  • Burley recalls his own major finals memories, which included a World Cup opener against Brazil, a goal against Norway and a red card against Morocco 

CRAIG BURLEY sits, sipping a pint and minding his own business. But the swell of Scottish voices seems to be building up, appropriately enough for a pub in Leeds called The Head of Steam.

Having flown in from his adopted home in the USA to play some golf with his pals, he’s about to make the return trip but suspects he’s been spotted and knows there are questions coming his way.

‘They were asking stuff about (former Celtic manager) Wim Jansen and what was Henrik (Larsson) like, but I had a feeling they were warming up for a bigger question and, to be fair, I’ve heard it a few times before,’ said Burley.

‘They were wondering, as they put it, maybe not word for word, if Stevie Clarke was really that freaking miserable.’

Those Scottish football fans who had recognised former Celtic and Scotland midfielder Burley knew he’d previously been a team-mate at Chelsea of the man who, 30 years on, has guided the national team to a second successive Euros.

He continues: ‘Is Clarkie miserable? No, not really. He can come over that way at times but that’s not him.

Clarke’s dull demeanour betrays his dry sense of humour and razor-sharp wit, says Burley
Clarke would urge Burley to pass on messages expressing his dismay over a lack of call-ups
Clarke enjoyed an 11-year spell at Chelsea and clocked up a remarkable 421 appearances

‘He’s always been really guarded with the media and he’s always been really dry with his humour and his persona. Back in the day you could go and have a pint and a laugh with him.

‘When I played for Celtic, he came up to Glasgow to see me. He was still playing for Chelsea and he left me in no doubt that we were having a night out.

‘We had a drink or two and chewed the fat. So he’s not really the person he’s perceived to be or the one he portrays to the public. I don’t think he has ever been super comfortable in front of the microphones and cameras.’

The Scotland gaffer does, though, speak his mind. The two Ayrshiremen, Burley from Cumnock and Clarke hailing from Saltcoats, were together at Chelsea for four years and have straight-talking in common. Burley recalls an occasion when Clarke squared up to sectarianism.

‘Remember the rant he went on when he had that issue about the calling of names and all the questions he’d had about which school he’d gone to?’ asked Burley.

‘He said he was so glad his kids had been brought up in London and not in the West of Scotland and they couldn’t understand what it was all about.

There has been plenty for Clarke to smile about with the Euro 2024 finals on the horizon

‘That’s how he is. We’re well into the 21st Century and people are still shouting about the schools kids went to as if that makes any difference. And he said he reckoned the problem was never going away.

‘That’s honesty. It will still rub people up the wrong way but they are the problem. He’ll say that and he’s being truthful.

‘I’m very much the same with my three kids and it’s not all bad in the west of Scotland. But I think when he calls stuff like that out, he’s in the small minority of managers who get involved in the subject.

‘Clarkie gets to a point where enough’s enough and there have been some incidents that, for him, have crossed the line.

‘He’s honest and I think he’s like that with the players. He’ll give them enough rope to make the odd mistake but if they’re not pulling their weight and there’s someone else out there, he’ll make that decision. I think that’s one of the reasons he’s been able to get as much out of this squad of players as he has.

‘I don’t want to drop him in the s***, and I’m sure they made up over it, but he used to get p***** off with Wee Broonie (Craig Brown) when he didn’t pick him for Scotland. He would send a message with me to pass on when the squad met up for a game and the message couldn’t possibly be repeated. But he had a point. Even though Jackie McNamara was on the fringes and I was playing wing-back, Clarkie was the best right-sided player that Scotland had at that time. There was no doubt about that.

Clarke was criminally underused by Scotland despite his sustained English top-flight success

‘I don’t think people realise how solid a player he was. He was one of the quickest around even though it maybe didn’t appear that way. If he was playing now in this Scotland set-up, he would be a superstar.

‘We played in the same Chelsea team from 1993-94 until I left for Celtic in the summer of 1997. He was the one when I left — he was quite close to Ruud (Gullit), the gaffer at the time, and eventually went with him to Newcastle — who said to me that if I’d signed a new contract with Chelsea, I’d have played in the 1997 FA Cup final rather than getting dropped.

‘When I first got in the team he was right-back and I was right side of the midfield diamond Glenn Hoddle was playing at the time, quite narrow. My job was to give it a bit of width. But obviously, Clarkie being Clarkie, very fast, could get up and down that touchline all day.

‘I’d started scoring a few goals, cutting in from the right and shooting with my left foot.

‘Clarkie would overlap a lot and I used to use him as a decoy, hoping a couple of defenders would be dragged out of position. Every time I didn’t score — which was a lot, obviously — or every time I scuffed the shot, I would get an absolute mouthful from him as he was running back. But we had that relationship. I always knew he was on my outside.

‘And he had a great sense of humour. There was one time (Gianfranco) Zola was given man of the match and Clarkie turned to me and said: “Hey, Zola wasn’t man of the match today son, you were. Remember that”.

Burley was a stalwart in midfield for Chelsea and used to link up well with Clarke on the right

‘Another time, I’d a particularly poor game at Stamford Bridge and he looked over at me and said: “Get yourself home, draw the curtains so your room’s dark, take a couple of paracetamol and go to your bed”. And that was him telling me I’d had a shocker.

‘That was a younger Clarkie. I’m sure he doesn’t speak to the Scotland players that way — but maybe he does.’

Burley gets lots of questions about Clarke but his goal against Norway in Bordeaux 26 years ago is another topic which gets brought up on an almost daily basis. He is, of course, the last player to score for Scotland at a World Cup finals.

‘I was thinking the other day,’ he added. ‘What would you rather do? Run out at Hampden or Wembley for a cup final, which I’ve been lucky enough to do, or play again in a major international tournament? And I think it’s the latter.

‘I think it is my one big regret that I didn’t play in more of them. Not because I was the cause of it. It’s a regret because we never achieved it.

‘I think about that for the current Scotland squad. They’ve not been to a World Cup yet and that’s the pinnacle. The European Championship is great but the World Cup has to be the aim. That’s the level you want to get to. People rave about the Champions League and I get it. But you get to a place like France, Germany, Brazil for these World Cups. Wow. I remember being at Euro ’96 and then France ’98 and maybe we all got a bit complacent about making it to these big events. And before you knew it, we’d missed out on the next one and the one after. And your career is over or winding down. You think: “I’m not gonna be able to sample that feeling again”. A lot of really good players missed a lot of tournaments.

Burley shows fine technique to latch on to David Weir’s long ball and score a memorable goal

‘I was out in the back garden in Cumnock in the summer of 1982, kicking the ball against the old garage at the back of the house in the midst of watching Scotland at the World Cup. At half-time I’m out there and I’m (Graeme) Souness or I’m Davie Narey and you’ve been watching it on TV and thinking: “That’s got to be me”. Then, when you get the chance to do it, it’s really something.

‘I think that’s the important thing for the current team. You have to embrace the occasion and the moment and the gravity of it, particularly getting in among a serious football nation.

‘Germany’s such an iconic country when you think of the amazing success they’ve had in football. The stadiums are incredible, the atmosphere will be fantastic.

‘Anyway, you were asking about the goal in Bordeaux which came after a decent performance against Brazil, although we lost 2-1. We played pretty well against Norway. They scored just after half-time and we needed to get a goal, so the third group game would mean something.

‘I was moved from right wing-back into the middle of the park and Davie Weir played this amazing ball forward. It bounced nicely for me and I’d a decision to make.

‘The Norwegian keeper Frode Grodas was my big mate. He was at Chelsea with me. He committed himself and that made my mind up. I clipped it over him but it was only when I could see behind the big guy that I knew for sure it had gone in.

Burley prods the ball past goalkeeper Frode Grodas as defender Dan Eggen watches helplessly
Scotland fans go wild after Burley’s goal secured that rarest of birds, a World Cup victory

‘The Scotland fans were crammed into the corner along from that goal, so I didn’t have far to go. There’s that iconic photo of them jumping on me and my toothless smile. You can’t beat that, scoring the goal that kept Scotland alive at the World Cup. Twenty-six years on, people are still talking to me about it.’

Another talking point was Burley’s sending-off in the third group game against Morocco and there was no hiding place, having had his hair bleached beforehand.

‘I remember Alex Miller, who was on the coaching staff, taking one look at me and saying: ‘You’d better f****** play well big man with a hairdo like that”. And I didn’t,’ said Burley. ‘I think we underestimated the Moroccans. If we’d beaten them we’d have become the first Scotland team to get out of the group at a major finals. It’s incredible we’ve never done it.

‘Things were going badly and I think I swiped out at the boy (for the red card). I won’t say I don’t regret it but it is what it is. You make stupid decisions and I took a lot of heat for it.

‘Maybe I shouldn’t have done the blond thing, maybe we got carried away. We’d had a decent result against Norway. Maybe I shouldn’t have done all that and it was unprofessional, looking back.

A bleached-blond Burley can’t believe his luck the referee flashes a red card against Morocco

‘I always say to people, jokingly, if you’re going to play in a World Cup, you’ve got to open it against Brazil, you’ve got to score a goal and, if you want the hat-trick, you get yourself sent off.

‘The only thing you know, when you’re Scottish, is you’re getting three games and then you’re coming home.

‘That’s a line that needs rewritten. Maybe Clarkie can be the man to do it.’

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