A Different Week – Burnley Defender Clarke Carlisle Tackles Issues Of The Day On Question Time

Inviting a professional footballer to appear on Question Time might seem like a rather cruel joke, but then Burnley centre-back Clarke Carlisle is not your stereotypical footballer. Less than twenty-four hours after the news that Stoke City’s Jermaine Pennant allegedly ‘forgot’ about a £98,000 Porsche he had left outside a Spanish train station, the Clarets’ vice-captain was, last night, lining up alongside David Dimbleby and Alastair Campbell on the highbrow political debate show, answering questions and voicing his opinions on a range of topics, including the recent budget cuts and the on-going inquest into the war in Iraq. Not that Carlisle is a stranger to appearing on the small screen. Verbose and articulate, as well as making appearances as a pundit on both Sky and the BBC , in 2002 he was crowned ‘Britain’s Brainiest Footballer’ after winning a televised game show of the same name. More recently he has appeared on Countdown , hosted by Jeff Stelling, winning two games before being knocked out. With ten A-grade GCSE’s and two A-levels to his name, Carlisle is very far removed from the imperceptive stereotype usually associated with his fellow professionals. He is also a devout Christian, dedicated family man and a tireless charity worker, and has recently been appointed the new Chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association.

However, as impressive as these achievements are, it can sometimes overshadow the fact that he is also a very fine centre-half, who has dragged not just his career but even his own life out of the depths. After being spotted by Blackpool as a youngster, Carlisle made nearly 100 appearances for the Seasiders before earning a £250,000 transfer to Queens Park Rangers, then managed by current Tangerines boss Ian Holloway. Yet his time in the capital was a difficult one and despite some good initial performances, earning him three England U-21 caps, his season was cut short when he sustained a serious posterior cruciate ligament injury, which put him out of action for a year and at one point looked like prematurely ending his career. It didn’t and Carlisle returned to first team action at the start of the 2002/2003 season, but only to see Rangers lose out to Cardiff in the Second Division play-off final. It was during the following season that Carlisle reached the lowest point of his career and his life, developing an alcohol addiction that he managed to hide for a number of months before being discovered drunk by Holloway on the way to an away fixture. After a month-long stay at the famous Sporting Chance Clinic, Carlisle returned to the Hoops a new man, helping them to a second place finish and promotion to the newly renamed Championship.

After a season-long spell at Leeds, Carlisle moved to Watford for £100,000, but injuries again wrecked his season and he missed the Hornets’ play-off final victory over his former employers and the first eight months of the Premier League campaign that followed. He returned in time for their FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United, but despite being named man of the match, Watford lost 4-1 and were also relegated after just one season back in the top flight. That summer, Burnley paid £200,000 for the defender and in two seasons time he helped them into the play-offs, picking up another MOTM award as Sheffield United were defeated 1-0 in the final to return the Clarets to the top flight for the first time in 33 years and giving himself a well-deserved second chance at the highest level.

Carlisle has never shied away from candidly discussing his past problems. His determination to overcome and willingness to openly speak about his on and off-field tribulations made him the obvious choice to replace the outgoing Chris Powell as Chairman of the PFA, where he has also been on the management committee. Instrumental in the Kick it Out Campaign, he also regularly visits local schools (he has expressed an interest in teaching once his playing days are over) to speak to the students about promoting inclusion and equality in the game. Aidy Boothroyd once said of Carlisle; ‘If his football ability matched his personality, he would be captain of England!’ Whilst this is the ultimate in backhanded compliments, it does at least go some way to demonstrating the high regard with which he is held in football. He is the thinking man’s star and in a modern game often derided as lacking in intelligence and moral fibre, in a sport that produces few who can be seen as genuine role models, Clarke Carlisle truly is one of a kind.

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