By Martin Bull
The BRFPA have been honoured to have Billy Clark as our first ever President, and in September 2018, at our first AGM, we were delighted that Billy was happy to continue in his special role.
Billy is involved in all the BRFPA events, has swung several clubs at our Golf Day’s, and is also our figurehead and ambassador: a fine example of loyalty and determination.
Billy is one of the few Rovers players in the modern era to have qualified for a testimonial, having spent just over a decade at Rovers. It seems fitting that fresh faced Billy and his fashionable curly mop joined us and made his debut 31 years ago, in mid October 1987.
As players came and went who could have known that Billy would loyally stay and stay and stay, amassing 295 senior appearances overall, and netting 17 goals, including an unusually large tally of seven in the 1994/95 season. That season also resulted in his first march out onto the grass at Wembley, for the Play-Off Final, after having missed the 1990 Leyland DAF Final through injury.
Although history often unfairly remembers him as ‘The Judge’ because of the enormity of time he spent sitting on the bench, his later years with Rovers saw him as a first choice centre back alongside Rovers’ record signing Andy Tillson, and his earlier years could have been very different if it wasn’t for injuries and the emergence of Steve Yates.
Billy was never dropped or injured in that first season, missing just three games between his loan spell and permanent signing, and he also started the 1988/89 season as first choice, appearing alongside Geoff Twentyman for 10 of the first 12 league games.
But Yates usurped him as the partner of choice and it wasn’t until the four post-season play-off games that Billy received his next starts, courtesy of Gerry Francis punishing Twentyman for defying orders not to attend his brother’s wedding.
Billy repaid the faith in him by scoring the vital first goal at Craven Cottage in the semi-final second leg. With the Pirates now 2-0 up on aggregate and Fulham needing to chase the game the relaxed Rovers team romped to a 4-0 win.
With injury scuttling the entire 1989/90 Champions season, and the formidable Yates / Twentyman partnership continuing into the higher division, Billy held the unenviable record of not starting a League game between October 1988 and March 1991.
The dramatic scene of his return, in front of 22,000 at Ashton Gate, was hardly a setting for the fainthearted (or your first ever game in the second tier of football!), but it was a measure of the man that Billy easily slotted back into the team and went on to clock up 61 more games in what is now called the Championship.
After life at Rovers Bill stayed local, with, amongst others, stints at Exeter City, Newport County, Forest Green Rovers and Weston-Super-Mare.
In 2007 Billy returned to Rovers for almost two years as an Under-18 coach before becoming the Academy Coach for our old friends at Twerton Park. Bill’s footballing life had come full circle and he remains at Bath City today, yet another example of a player who came to our loveable area, put down roots and has never left us.