Interviews with people who have worked with and followed new Reds boss Darrell Clarke.

Bobby Hassell recalls a talented goal-scoring midfielder at Mansfield

Darrell Clarke came through the youth system at his hometown club Mansfield Town, then played 174 games between 1996 and 2001 for the then fourth tier club before leaving for Hartlepool United.

The Stags’ academy was prolific in that era with future Reds Bobby Hassell and Liam Lawrence coming through a few years after Clarke.

Hassell, now academy manager at Oakwell, said: “I was quite close with Daz when I broke through and spent a lot of time with him.

“He was a great player – a two-footed midfielder who scored goals. He was a bit like Jacob Butterfield in that sense.

“Daz probably underachieved.

“He probably lacked the athleticism to go to the higher levels.

“He also liked a joke and a beer which might have curtailed him going up the divisions.

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“Our group that came through underneath maybe knocked him out of the team and brought an end to his career at Mansfield.

“But obviously he did really well elsewhere.

“He’s not changed at all from the Darrell I met when I was about 15.”

Hassell thinks Barnsley appointing Clarke will be a ‘perfect fit.’

“I spoke to him when he was approached and he was asking me about Barnsley. I told him it’s the same as Mansfield.

“A former mining town. They like honesty, transparency and integrity. Daz has all of that so I think it would be a perfect fit.

“I think the fans will need to be patient with him and the team because there will be a rebuild.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that there will be a lot of changes at the club this summer.

“But I think he will be a success.”

How ‘man of the people’ bounced back from Gas relegation with two consecutive promotions

Having made his name as a coach with non-league Salisbury, winning two promotions, Clarke spent more than five years with Bristol Rovers.

He won two more promotions, having been relegated into the National League within weeks of taking over as manager. He established them in mid-table in League One for two seasons before leaving in December 2018.

Geoff Twentyman, a former Rovers player and BBC Bristol sports presenter, said: “He was distraught about being the manager when the Gas dropped into the Conference.

“The following Friday, my phone-in was dedicated to the Rovers’ demise.

“The chairman ‘wasn’t available’ to come in so they sent in Darrell to face my cross examination and to take calls from the fans.

“He was awesome.

“His passion for the club and the fans was powerful.

“He promised a return to the Football League or, at the very least, a group of players who would give everything to the cause.

“The fans loved him for his honesty, his passion and they were 100 per cent behind him.

“He lifted the spirits considerably.

“His words on that Friday night were not a hollow promise. Clarke delivered a squad that cared, and a talented group who secured back-to-back promotions.

“My enduring memory of him is from May 17, 2015 at Wembley Stadium.

“Lee Mansell had just scored the winning penalty to ensure Bristol Rovers returned to the Football League. The entire non-playing staff and players sprinted towards Mansell. Clarke ran on his own, as fast as he could, to the Rovers fans at the opposite end of the stadium.

“It sums DC up, he’s a man of the people. He cares deeply about the fans. He knows it’s their football club and he’s merely the custodian.

“I dealt with 23 Rovers managers in my time at BBC Radio Bristol. DC was my favourite.“

‘He doesn’t stand by and let games drift’ – a Port Vale perspective

After less than two years at Walsall, including the Covid-19 lockdown which curtailed his only full season, Clarke moved across League Two and the Midlands to Port Vale in February 2021.

Like at Barnsley last week, he was a surprise appointment after not featuring in press reports or bookmakers’ odds.

In another similarity to the Reds’ current situation, Vale released all their out of contract senior players and conducted a major rebuild of the squad in Clarke’s first summer.

Mike Baggaley, who covers Port Vale for the Stoke Sentinel, said: “Vale supporters will be wishing Darrell Clarke all the best at Barnsley.

“He remains a popular figure just over a year on after losing his job at Vale Park following a poor run of results.

“Clarke and Micky Adams are the only managers to have led the Vale to a promotion since the club’s greatest boss, John Rudge, left in 1999.

“His appointment proved to be an inspired one as he turned the club around.

“He inherited a side that was struggling in League Two, and they struggled a bit more when he didn’t win any of his first seven games.

“But they then won eight out of the next nine to finish comfortably in mid-table and give us a taste of what was to come the following season.

“Working with director of football David Flitcroft, they put together a side with the winning mix of hard graft and flair to take the club up through the play-offs.

“They started the following season well in League One but results nosedived after Christmas and Clarke lost his job with four games to go.

“He doesn’t stand by and let games drift, he’s proactive on the touchline with substitutions and tactical changes. And he’s not a manager happy to rest on his laurels, so much so that he was often easier to interview after a defeat than he was after a win.”

‘The best man-manager I’ve ever worked with’ – former Barnsley and Cheltenham coach Adam Murray

When Darrell Clarke moved to Cheltenham last September, he brought in Adam Murray as first team coach. The Robins had not scored in their first ten games, taking only one point.

Murray stayed for four months before moving to non-league Eastbourne Borough as manager.

“Darrell is the best-man manager I’ve ever worked with” said Murray, who was Valerian Ismael’s assistant at Barnsley, West Brom and Besiktas.

“I took a lot from him, the way he deals with players and people.

“The situation when we went in was unheard-of. Everyone was following Cheltenham every week wondering if they were going to finally score.

“We knew they had half-decent players but they weren’t firing and confidence was a big issue. He pulled the group together and got everyone on the same page. The squad would have run through brick walls for him.

“We went after everybody we played and ended up beating teams up. We were going into games thinking we were never going to get beat.

“But they lost big players in January through them leaving or injuries.

“If that hadn’t happened, they would have stayed up comfortably.

“He deserves the opportunity. He’s done the groundwork and been successful.

“When I found out he was going in at Barnsley, I thought, for what the fans and club demand, he was a perfect fit.

“Everything he stands for is very aligned with what club the wants. He’s very hard-working and passionate.”

Murray did most of the day-to-day work with the players on the training ground at Cheltenham, which is now expected to be Martin Devaney’s role at Barnsley.

“I got on with all the stuff on the grass.

“I imagine that will be the same with Martin.

“Darrell likes other people to feel part of the process.

“He has ideas of the way he wants to play and will deliver that when needed. They work because he’s won a lot of promotions. He trusts people around him to deliver those ideas.”

Murray says Clarke is skilled in analysing opposition.

“He takes every game as an isolated project.

“If he feels there is a certain way to hurt a certain opponent, he will be adaptable.

“He’s not scared to throw the dice if he has to. He’s very brave and not scared to take risks with sections or tactical moves.

“He wants his team to be on the front foot and aggressive.”