BRIAN DOOGAN reports on a revival at Ewood Bridge

JIMMY Clarke checked his itinerary for the day.

He took one look at the jobs lined up for him and realised he'd never be back in time to start the match.

So he did what any man who takes his football seriously would.

He walked out of the yard, through the gates and went back to bed.

Didn't even clock out.

Next morning, a letter arrived in the post that left his wife, Trisha, in tears.

Jimmy was suspended from delivery duties at TNT for the remainder of the week and faced a management hearing on the following Monday.

He would receive a final warning but today, after 18 years altogether, is still driving for the company.

Priorities, since this incident, may have changed for Clarke (he now fits football around work as opposed to vice versa).

But a commitment to non-league remains high on the pecking order.

Assistant manager to Steve Parry at Haslingden, Clarke doubles up as a centre forward proficient enough to have scored nine goals this season, five in the league and four in Cup games. His contribution has been instrumental to Haslingden's rise up the North West Counties' League Second Division table (they currently lie second) as well as a 15-game unbeaten streak that was ended by Tetley Walker at Long Lane last week.

Clarke admits to being surprised by their tremendous start but not at all surprised by the players' resolve to return quickly to winning ways.

"They all want to play for Haslingden Football Club," said Clarke, whose son Doni, 15, has signed schoolboy forms for Huddersfield Town while daughter Dionne, 10, plays football and netball for Balladen County Primary in Rawtenstall.

"Not one asked, 'How much money are we going to get?'

"Everyone is on around about the same.

"But they've all got Haslingden at heart and that's important.

"Although we had a long unbeaten run, we only played well in fits and starts.

"We've been down in quite a few games and have had to fight back.

"We're a really fit side. "I didn't think we'd done enough pre-season but the lads have repsonded really well.

"An example was the FA Vase match against St Helens where we were 2-0 down after 20 minutes, came back to level it at 3-3 and then dominated the whole of extra time.

"Our game is playing short, sharp, fast football.

"We have a new system where we have two wing backs, two men marking and a sweeper with three in the midfield and it's worked well.

"We got a little too clever against Tetley Walker last weekend and we made one mistake against Glossop on Tuesday night and got punished.

"But we are confident about the return leg next Tuesday night - it's not lost at all."

Times have changed since Clarke's first stint at Ewood Bridge in 1981-82 when the club played in the West Lancs League where teams supplied their own linesmen and referees. Haslingden have now seriously raised their aspirations and Clarke makes no bones about Haslingden's ambition to gain promotion to Division One of the North West Counties' League this season.

"Our priority is promotion which we achieved when I was last here in '93 but did not go up because the ground failed to meet the required standard," said Clarke.

"Now with the help of Brian Horsburgh and the entire club pulling together, we have got a ground that's acceptable.

"We would also like to achieve a good run in the FA Vase because the prize at the end of that, appearing at Wembley, is every footballer's dream."

And, we're sure that TNT would give him leave for that!

Clarke reports a full squad for tomorrow's League Challenge Cup first round game against Holker Old Boys at Ewood Bridge.

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