Clark versus Ling?

Posted: February 21, 2016 in Uncategorized


Back to the Leyton Orientear from March 2008

The only managers to lead the O’s to promotion in 38 years have been the subject of much message board debate of late. ‘Stripester’ runs his over critical eye over the ‘Ling or Clark?’ question

I know the club message board can be a bit of bind at times. Subjects such as Julian the cabbie’s latest African jaunt, Norbert’s filthy pictures of the local women’s volleyball tournament, people declaring that they are leaving the board ad infinitum (and are still typing three years later) and various death threats invariably leave little time to discuss things like the O’s in any real depth. But, just occasionally, there is a meaty subject to get one’s teeth into. A few weeks ago the subject of Frank Clark (always a good argument starter for me) and Martin Ling’s managerial record at the club came up for debate. Let’s break it down then.
1. Background: Both men came into the job as manager on the back of internal appointments after men they had been assistant to, got the sack. Being honest about it, the pair had little core support from Orient followers when they took over, albeit 20 years apart. Clark had been part of the era when the club really was on its collective arse, with crowds barely hitting 2,300, no money and the playing side on virtual ‘life support’. Martin Ling, despite coming into the hot seat with the club in a better all round shape (but not that much), was viewed in some quarters as damaged goods. Reason being he’d been Paul Brush’s right hand man in a side that couldn’t get out of the bottom eight place in league two for the best part of three years and had sailed a bit too close to the relegation wind for comfort. Both Frank and Martin’s appointments had the look of cheap options (although Ling excelled in his caretaker spell so much that Barry Hearn’s pledge to find a new boss from outside the club was never really put to the test despite over 70 applicants for the vacancy) but ultimately they paid off for the O’s.

2. Style; The area where the ‘pro-Clark’ lobby feel that Ling comes in behind to dear old Frankie. Many supporters feel that Clark’s teams were better to watch, especially in the period from 1987-1989 where we scored a shed load of goals and were eventually promoted. Well, there’s no denying that Clark did sign some wonderful entertainers and for a pittance too. Alan Comfort, Shaun Brooks, Lee Harvey, Terry Howard and Paul Heald all come into that category and at a time when football nationally was at its lowest standing Orient bucked the trend by actually picking up more support. The promotion run in from the 3-0 Home win over Burnley on the 3rd March 1989 to the play-off success over Wrexham three months later is still the best time in my and many other’s orient supporting careers. The forward play was electric(will the 5-0 demolition of Grimsby Town ever be surpassed in terms of pure football in the years ahead?), with Harvey, Comfort and Cooper reaching the zenith of their abilities, ably assisted by a certain Kevin Campbell in the race for division three football. Martin Ling’s tenure began in a similar vein to Clark’s, in that he began by employing a 4-4-2 formation with two wide men from the off so that within three months of inheriting a side bottom of league two we were competing for a play-off spot. Eventually, we ended up fighting for our league place but during the two following summers Martin displayed Clark-like vision in his recruitment and put together a squad that grabbed that last gasp promotion at Oxford in some style. I think people tend to forget that Ling’s side hit 5 against Rushden and diamonds with 4 more at Rochdale during that season and the 2006 version were an all together more durable and resilient outfit over a period of 46 games.
3. Compare and contrast: When it comes down to a straight choice in the ‘Who do you rate the best out of the two? Stakes, I have to say Martin Ling and this is why. You have to take the pair’s records purely on a results basis. Ling has improved our position year on year, something Clark didn’t do. More importantly, there is an air of the squad being better prepared than ever before and the players responding to the manager accordingly. Martin Ling’s tenure (for the most part) has been notable for the ‘upfront’ way he goes about the task of running the playing side and certain ruthlessness when a situation requires changing. This was evident when Gary Peters was shown the door and the pyshio a year later and a few players have incurred Ling’s displeasure only to respond with improved performances during ML’S reign. Those who don’t? Well they tend to be shown the door without too much delay.

However, it’s worth bearing in mind that (in general) the club set up in 2008 is a million miles more advanced than in Clark’s time as Orient boss. Ling doesn’t have to drive a mini bus to training, organise the food outlets or virtually administer the entire club as Frank did in the years from 1983-1993. That’s without the small matter of the playing operation at the O’s to consider. Frank didn’t have the luxury of an assistant for much of that time either and it’s interesting to note that Clark’s most successful period in charge was from 1988-1991 when Orient had Brian Eastick and then Peter Eustace, working with the squad on a daily basis. The downside of Frank Clark’s reign was relegation to division four for the first time in 1985 and three solid years of failed promotion struggles. There is no doubt that the consistent perilous financial situation that dogged the club played a major part in that relegation campaign and had a knock on effect for the seasons 85-6 and 86-7 where the team could only perform sporadically and new recruits were thin on the ground. I distinctly concluded that many of our games were, in actual fact, lost on the training pitch as our fitness and defending became a never ending cause for alarm. But for the fact Frank Clark virtually ran the club from top to toe he would have been fired somewhere along the line, as would be the case at any other club in the country. Even during the promotion clinching 1988/9 campaign a terrible start and defeat after three games v non league-Enfield had supporters chanting for his head and at one stage Frank offered to resign (anyone with the highlights of the season video would have seen the bizarre sight of Orient thrashing York City 4-0 with the sound of “Clark out” bellowing round the stadium). The signing of Kevin Campbell from Arsenal galvanised (a move that earlier in the season looked miles away as Frank declared loan signings a waste of time seeing as they had to go back to their clubs eventually) the playing side and laid the foundations for four seasons of division three football and a stability that the club had not enjoyed for the best part of a decade.

4. Similarities: There are quite a few in relation to the two protagonists though. Both Ling and Clark have stand out records when it comes to recruiting players with a limited budget at their disposal. Ling, for that matter, finds himself immersed in a world where agents and players call the shots and the climate is ever changing. Back in the eighties Clark had to deal with only the managers and chairmen (although you could argue that the in the Richard Cadette/ Barry Silkman transfer to Southend United back in 1985 he received an early taste of what was to come post Bosman) and you could see his visible disdain for the way transfers were heading in that respect during his final days at Nottingham Forest. On field, Ling has a penchant for wide players, as did Frank, but in the modern game their roles differ to the out and out attack play of Comfort or Kevin Godfrey. A player like Melligan is now judged on his defensive work when we are not in possession of the ball (although you can’t say that Alex Ferguson signed Christiano Ronaldo on account of his tracking back) almost as much as his (in)ability to get a cross in or beat an opponent to the by-line. I think that Ling is also more adaptable with his tactics, where as Clark would spent most of his time with a 4-4-2 come what may, even though Orient ended up being overrun on many occasions during those cold, grey afternoons before global warming arrived. To my mind, Ling and Smith (and we are back to the importance of having a good assistant again) have instilled a bit of resilience in the players that take the field and Ling is not afraid to gamble when the situation demands.
Both men are aware of the need for discipline on field too and it is noticeable that Orient’s record of 13 red cards in ML’s first season in charge hasn’t been equalled by the combined card count of the past three years. Clark was always trying to protect the image of this club (he did clump Billy Manuel of Brentford in the tunnel after the infamous 4-2 encounter which is to be applauded). Although you did wonder about his motives when his Majesty Peter Kitchen was fined a week’s wages for not wearing shin pads during his first game in charge against Bradford City in August 1983 and having to miss a game with injury after being ‘topped’ by Terry Yorath. I suppose Frank is what is known as ‘Old school’ and perhaps this is why his style of management hasn’t been required by a league club for a decade. Ling does deviate from Clark in as much that he will take a risk on a player with a suspect temperament and get something resembling a consistent performance out of him. Gary Alexander is a prime example of this and the signings of Thornton and Boyd could be classed in the same bracket. Mind you, Frankie did sign Stan Collymore (he tried to get him for the O’s but the £100,000 was too much for the dear old O’s back in 1990, but more or less what we paid for Andy Sayer!) and there is a connection in the way both Clark and Ling know how important it is to work with quality footballers whenever they can.

5. Life after the O’s: When Frank Clark left the club in the summer of 1993 it was prelude to two years of complete implosion that almost killed the club off for good. I think we missed FC more for his administration skills as his football nous and the complete ineptitude of the board shone through within months as the Rwandan crisis dealt the club’s financial saviour, Tony Wood, a knockout blow. There is a lot to be said for stability and those Clark/wood years from 1986-93 resulted in an improved standard of football, promotion and a doubling of our attendance figures. It would be thirteen long years before such times were to be repeated at the club again.

As for Martin Ling, interesting days for him lay ahead. In no time at all he finds himself as manager of this club for close on 5 years and at a bit of a turning point. Just how far can he take the squad on his current budget and on attendances of under 6,000 for the most part? The team has over achieved by maintaining a top seven placing all season, but the fact that we didn’t make a single signing of significance during the transfer window speaks volumes in my opinion. It’s questionable as to whether Orient can get by on loanees and youngsters to keep our squad competitive? There was a rumour that Swindon Town were sniffing around Ling after that club was taken over and if Ling conjures up a play-off spot, or even, the unthinkable promotion then Martin has to decide whether he wants to take on championship opposition on virtually no budget or to listen (or tout himself for better job opportunities- despite a good relationship with Hearn) to offers from elsewhere.
To sum up, those harking back to the Clark era as preferable to the present are in danger of breathing in the sweet scent of nostalgia and deluding themselves in the process. For every 8-0 demolition of Rochdale (a compulsory three points until the 90’s) there were two disgraceful capitulations at Halifax and points thrown away on the bleak slopes of the Abbey stadium et all. In short, Clark’s teams could play some decent football but it wasn’t suited to the surroundings of division four on a consistent basis. Ling’s teams tend to be better coached and more equipped for a 46 match campaign. One thing does intrigue me though. If you pitted the 2006 and 1989 promotion teams against each other in a one off game, who would be victorious? Can anybody rig up that scenario on championship Manager 2008?



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