David Clarke, who announced his retirement from the sport after his ParalympicsGB team finished competing at London 2012, will be the Football Association’s “guest of honour” at the final between Manchester City and Wigan on 11 May, as the FA celebrates its 150th anniversary.
Clarke, whose international career saw him score 128 goals in 144 appearances, said it was a “remarkable honour”, particularly considering the history of the cup final and the people who had previously presented the cup at the new Wembley Stadium, such as football legends Jimmy Armfield and the late Sir Bobby Robson, former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and the Duke of Cambridge.
He said: “To be given that opportunity, among such greats like that – it’s just amazing.”
Although he also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the FA in February, Clarke insists that the invitation was really a reflection of the organisation’s commitment to disability football.
He said: “I think it is a real statement about what the FA think about disability football, and that football is for all. The honour goes to me but really it is a wider reflection.”
He said he was “staggered” when he was asked by David Bernstein, chair of the FA, to be the guest of honour.
“The fact that a governing body with such a history in such an important year has chosen a disabled footballer to present the FA Cup is huge for football as a whole in terms of the inclusivity of football for all and everything around that.”
He said it demonstrated the FA’s determination to bring disabled people into the game.
Although Clarke himself was born in Wigan, he’s a Liverpool fan, and will not be supporting either side on the day.
Bernstein said the decision to ask him to be guest of honour was due to his “unbelievable” playing record, and “the way he has carried himself and represented disability football”, while he said it would also be “a great boost to disability football”.
He added: “His record is unique with over 100 goals and appearances but we wanted to recognise Dave personally as he is a great representative of disability football.
“There’s over 115,000 people playing a form of disability football in England and it’s the seventh largest participation sport in the country so I’m absolutely delighted that Dave is our guest of honour because it is thoroughly deserved and I’ll be very proud to sit next to him on the day.”
Clarke, a senior partner with Clydesdale Bank, is still involved in the game through coaching a local mainstream under-sevens team, Harpenden Colts, and also trains once a week with his old football coach.
2 May 2013