Walsall's fortunes come before family life for boss Darrell Clarke

The world of football management can be a complex one in the midst of the most straight forward of games.

Darrell Clarke
Darrell Clarke

As Dutch legend Johan Cruyff once said: “Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.”

It is true. The art of management has been tried by many and truly succeeded by few.

Walsall fans can no doubt list off some names that they love and others they dare to remember, but what many people forget – journalists alike – is just how hard the job is.

The smallest of mistakes can have big consequences. Supporters, understandably, demand answers and thus the wheel continues to turn. Managers come and managers go.

What is not often seen is the reality behind the scenes.

Saddlers boss Darrell Clarke began life at Walsall by living away from his family in Southampton and sharing a Lichfield flat with assistant Brian Dutton.

The 42-year-old returns home whenever possible but it is often a flying visit with the demands of his job in the Black Country constantly on his mind.

Despite the coronavirus outbreak and the challenges that has put on families up and down the country, Clarke continues to live close-by for his day-to-day job, moving to Kenilworth in the summer with Dutton.

"My wife is back in Southampton and when I get a day off and after games on a Saturday I go and see my wife, but the majority of the week I'm in Kenilworth," Clarke said.

"It's about 35, 40 minutes from the training ground, 25 minutes from the stadium, so it's perfect.

"When I was managing Bristol Rovers I commuted every day from Southampton which is an hour and 45 minutes.

"I wanted to make sure that I limited my time in the car now.

"Family life is put second to my job – I think the fans would expect that.

"It works well, I've known Brian for many years.

"Brian is a lot more of a thinker, I'm more of an impulsive sort of guy and it works well."

Whatever you think of Clarke, that is commendable.

Former assistant manager Marcus Stewart left the club in May to spend more time with his family as he travelled from Bristol every day. It cannot be easy to make those sacrifices and Stewart made the right call for him.

But Clarke has shown a level of commitment to the job that must be recognised.

However, it should not come as much of a shock given his background.

Born in Mansfield and coming through the ranks as a young footballer, the game has been Clarke's life for as long as he can remember.

Stood in the wooden terraces at Field Mill watching the Stags, he grew up with the sport and made it his livelihood – hence his dedication to it now.

"One thing I've never been able to do is switch it off, even when I'm with my family," Clarke added.

"That's win, lose or draw. It becomes pretty intense when the games are as loaded as they are.

"I try and get the balance right to try and switch off but you move on so quickly. After a game I watch it back a couple times, to make improvements and show clips to the players.

"Then straight away we're moving on to the next game where there's another team that give more strengths and weaknesses. We then try and put that all into a training session.

"The last four months of last season the training ground was flooded, we were training at Lilleshall and the 4G at the stadium.

"We're getting to the stage now, with that much rain, that I still haven't got a full pitch to work on at the training ground, which is never good.

"But I love my job, it's great and I love working for this football club.

"I do miss the fans being there, even if things aren't going well I still miss them.

"Football is for the fans and we need to get that happening sooner rather than later but I certainly can't see it happening very soon with the way things are going.

"I just have to win football games as a manager, that always remains my focus and to adapt to the circumstances."

In an uncertain pandemic-ruled world, the Walsall fans have been playing their part.

As the club's board guide them through a difficult financial period, where hard decisions have had to be made, the supporters have helped by raising money and buying iFollow passes.

For Clarke, that togetherness is key as they hope for a brighter future.

"It's a strange world at the moment so we don't get to see many people," he said.

"With regard to fans I haven't seen a lot of them recently but our fans are a very passionate group and the expectations are very high, which is how it should be in football.

"I really enjoy coming in every single day, the pressure is a privilege and there's no one more determined than me to bring success to the club.

"We're all working hard to do that, albeit in challenging times.

"There's been quite a few redundancies at the football club, staff are on pay cuts, players are on deferrals but you wouldn't notice there were that many problems.

"A lot of it gets brushed under the carpets but we're all trying to do our bit and our best for the football club. That's what fans want to see because they're doing a fantastic part as well."

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