NOEL Arthur Clarke, one of the greatest forwards Tasmanian football has produced, died peacefully at Glenview Nursing Home, Glenorchy on August 7. Appointed coach of New Norfolk in the TFL in 1958, Clarke led the Eagles to their first grand-final appearance in 1959 when the team was no match for the Hobart Tigers coached by Mal Pascoe, losing by 47 points on the rain-affected North Hobart Oval.
Originally from Campbell Town, Clarke’s football career started as an 18 year-old with North Launceston in 1949. He enjoyed immediate success, playing in NTFA premierships in 1949 and 1950 as well as a state premiership flag in 1950.
Clarke’s ability quickly came to the notice of VFL talent scouts and after a clearance wrangle, he joined the Melbourne Demons in 1951. He went on to play 77 games with Melbourne from 1951-55, kicking 155 goals.
He topped Melbourne’s goal-kicking with 49 goals in 1952 and finished third on the VFL goals table with 51 majors in 1954.
In 1955, Clarke was a member of the Demons premiership win over Collingwood, this being the start of the Norm Smith era at Melbourne. Clarke experienced a number of injuries during the 1955 season and was sensationally recalled for the grand final at the expense of fellow Tasmanian Athol Webb who in turn coached the New Norfolk Eagles in 1960 and 1961. Clarke kicked three goals in the Demons’ premiership win.
Despite his success at VFL level, Clarke returned to Tasmania in 1956, joining North Hobart in the then TANFL.
In the 1956 and 1957 seasons, he produced outstanding form, collecting a TANFL goal-kicking award, two North Hobart goal-kicking awards, a premiership in 1957 plus representation at the 1956 National Carnival in Perth, Western Australia, performing superbly to finish second with 14 majors in the carnival goalkicking table.
Clarke was then appointed coach of the New Norfolk Eagles to replace Rex Garwood in 1958. He sustained a serious knee injury mid-way through the season but still managed to steer New Norfolk to be minor premiers at the end of the home and away season, before losing the second semi-final to Glenorchy and the preliminary final to Sandy Bay.
The following year in 1959, Clarke practically played most of the season on “one leg”, with the club finishing in fourth position but going on to beat Sandy Bay in the first semi-final and North Hobart in the preliminary final.
The grand-final against Hobart was sadly an anti-climax and the club had to wait until 1968 to achieve its first premiership under then coach Trevor Leo.
With the appointment of Athol Webb in 1960, Clarke returned to North Hobart, finishing his career in 1962 and managing to top the TFL goalkicking list for the second time by kicking 66 goals in 1961. Noel Clarke’s playing career spanned 14 seasons, more than 200 senior games and 450 goals with the four different clubs he was associated with.
The legacy he left in Tasmanian football is such that he was named in the greatest teams of no less than three clubs: North Launceston, North Hobart and New Norfolk. On a personal note, Clarke was my first senior coach in 1959 and is still fondly remembered for his outstanding left foot kicking skills and charming nature.
KERRY BOWERMAN, OAM
Main photo: Captain/coach Noel Clarke at the head of the 1959 Eagles team, with Lyn Harris, Kevin Tomkinson, Kerry Bowerman, Rex Garwood, Don Hume, Viv Eiszele, Leon Ackerley, Max Smith, Kevin Latham, Paul Plunkett, Leo Smythe, Graham Hanlon, Bill Giles, Rusty Davies, Ivo Brown, Tony Walch, Max Moles and Basil Claridge.