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Clark wears the dancing shoes after first final win

'Dancing in December" is how Bobby Clark, the former Aberdeen goalkeeper, describes reaching the final rounds of American college soccer's season-ending national championship.

Bobby Clark led Notre Dame to  a first national crown
Bobby Clark led Notre Dame to a first national crown

Clark and his Notre Dame men's team were the last ones shuffling their feet when the music stopped last Sunday evening. A 2-1 win over Maryland represented the prestigious school's first national crown and a first championship for the sagacious Scot after 27 years in the collegiate ranks.

Notre Dame boasts a reputation for academic excellence and its student athletes must meet a high performance level in the classroom and on the field. That shrinks the player pool available to Clark yet his background as a coach at Aberdeen, combined with his teaching qualifications, have allowed him to transform the Fighting Irish into a perennial college powerhouse. "The one thing we can guarantee is the opportunity to get some of the best education in America," says Clark. "That's our selling point."

Clark's reputation for developing youngsters is legendary. Notre Dame have had more players selected in Major League Soccer's annual SuperDraft since 2008 than any other university. Matt Besler, the American defender, and Nigerian forward Bright Dike are the most recent of Clark's graduates to make an impact for their national teams. "You get a lot of satisfaction out of that," Clark says. "But you see so many of them going on to become doctors, lawyers, teachers and that gives you the same satisfaction."

Teacher training did not feature in Clark's career trajectory when he started out playing for Queen's Park in the early 1960s. He had begun an engineering degree at Glasgow University before deciding that the workload was too strenuous. But his coach for the Scotland youth team, Roy Small, was also a lecturer at Glasgow's Jordanhill College of Education. A clutch of his team-mates, including Andy Roxburgh, the future Scotland manager, were among the students training to become physical education teachers.

Eddie Turnbull, the former Queen's Park manager, coaxed Clark to Pittodrie in 1965 when he was midway through his degree. His parents insisted on a contract clause allowing the young goalkeeper to teach at Aberdeen schools in the afternoons. Taking classes kept Clark grounded throughout a career during which he won each of Scotland's three major trophies, earned 17 Scotland caps and set a world record of 1155 minutes without conceding a goal.

Clark could have taken a full-time teaching job but Billy McNeill and Alex Ferguson encouraged him to help with establishing Aberdeen's youth programme instead. Neil Simpson, Neale Cooper, John Hewitt and David Robertson were soon to make their mark on the Scottish game after receiving the wisdom of Clark's tuition and life lessons.

"You get guys for four years in college so they better like you and they better feel that they're developing as people and players," says Clark's youngest son Jamie, who coaches the Seattle-based University of Washington men's team. "That's what my father does so well. He's got honesty and a loyalty to his players and he wants to see them do well in life."

The road to becoming a national champion in the United States has been a long one, encompassing lost finals both as a player - with Aberdeen in 1967 in the short-lived United Soccer Association league - and manager. Dartmouth College was Clark's initial destination when he arrived in the USA in 1985. He joined Stanford in 1996 after a two-year stint overseeing New Zealand's international and youth teams. Overtures from MLS clubs arrived around two years later. But he spurned all professional approaches until Notre Dame tempted him to move in 2001.

The Scot, who turned 68 in September, has three years remaining on his current contract. There will come a time when he trades his dancing shoes for his slippers, but it might not happen soon. "My wife asks me that question often," Clark says. "I'm not thinking about it, but one day it will just hit me."

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