Newcastle United legend's unseen work before Geordie stars made it big under Eddie Howe

Lee Clark is both a man of yesterday and today at Newcastle United having built a sturdy bridge between success and wannabe. As United gird themselves for an assault on the summer transfer market to reinvigorate their drive for glory the inevitable comparisons surface once again.

The first aim is to reach the heights of The Entertainers who were exactly that with their exhilarating front foot football which powered them to a Premier League runners-up finish and within a whisker of their first top flight title since Hughie Gallacher in 1927. They stand alone as the most successful Newcastle team of the modern era.

What is not widely recognised however is the strong link between a young Entertainer of the nineties and the current obsessive chase for glamour and glory. Clark has remained a staunch United fan who backs Eddie Howe's vision with conviction and supports the Toon from a box at St James Park next to that which houses Jacob Murphy's family.

However the bond runs much deeper than being like most Geordies supporting his club from cradle to grave. He has actually played a significant part in the development of three current United stars.

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Clark, a midfield dynamo throughout Kevin Keegan's epic reign at Newcastle, has managed Sean Longstaff, Dan Burn and Jacob Murphy. He took all three of them on loan during their formative years.... players like himself, two Geordies and the other a life long fan through his Geordie mother.

Lee had a wanderlust as a manager and signed them at three different clubs _ he had Longstaff at Kilmarnock in the Scottish Premier League, Burn at Birmingham City, and Murphy at Blackpool. Each took a significant step towards their current stature under his guidance.

Burn was the first to join Clark from his parent club Fulham at the beginning of the 20143-14 season The big fella went on to play 24 games for Birmingham in the Championship, not an insignificant total.

Murphy quickly followed at Lee's next club Blackpool in 2014 making nine appearances and scoring twice, on his debut against Fulham and in another draw with Bolton.

Finally Longstaff went over the border to Killie along with two other United kids Freddie Woodman and Callum Roberts in 2017, a transfer brought about by strong family connections. Clark and Alan Thompson were both reared at Wallsend Boys Club becoming firm friends and burst onto the big time scene with United in the days of Ossie Ardiles. They used to go down in their spare time to watch Whitley Warriors ice hockey because Alan's uncle David Longstaff, the dad of Shaun, was their star player.

Kilmarnock's Sean Longstaff
Kilmarnock's Sean Longstaff -Credit:Sandy Ferguson

Hence Sean ended up in top flight Scottish football where he played 17 times honing his skills and scored three goals.

"I'm a great believer in Eddie Howe and what Newcastle are trying to do," Clark told me. "It has been nice to watch Sean, Big Dan and Jacob in a side which plays good football. They have contributed to a big two seasons with a fourth top finish and Champions League football this last campaign.

"I got to know the Longstaff family through Tommo while I had followed Burn's progress from his Darlington days and come across the Murphy twins Jacob and Josh when my side played Norwich in the FA Youth Cup. I knew of their North East connections. They are all good lads and if I played a very small part in their development then I am more than pleased. Especially as the toon are now benefitting!"

Clark is to some extent one of the forgotten men of the Entertainers, the local lad lost in a glut of glamour signings Kevin Keegan made to push United to the cusp of permanent greatness. However he played 265 matches for the club scoring 28 goals over two periods which is quite a record. Whenever people talk of the Magpies blowing a 12-point lead and allowing Manchester United to power over them to the title more often than not Tino Asprilla emerges as the scapegoat. However a lot of those talking from the inside at the time pinpoint a different hugely contributing factor _ David Batty brought in to replace Lee in the midfield bolthole. Results dropped off dramatically.

Lee of course has split loyalties these days. While his heart remains steadfastly black and white Liverpool is now another emotion puller through his son. Bobby Clark is one of the bright young jewels in the Anfield crown having spectacularly burst upon the scene in the season just ended. He played in the Carabao Cup win victory over Chelsea at Wembley and a few weeks later scored his first goal in a Europa League victory over Sparta Prague becoming the youngest player to notch for the Reds in Europe breaking the previous record of Trent Alexander Arnold set in 2017.

Way back when Bobby was a boy he was on the books of Birmingham during his dad's time as manager though amazingly Lee insists he had nothing to do with his recruitment.

"A scout told my wife he wanted to sign Bobby for Birmingham and she said: 'Do you know who his dad is? He's your manager!'" laughed Lee.

Upon returning to Tyneside Bobby signed for Newcastle who later transferred him to Liverpool for £1.5m without him ever having the chance to play first team football. Lee still harbours the dream of son following dad one fine day.

Clark was at Anfield on the final day of the season at the weekend for an emotional goodbye to Jurgen Klopp who is as loved on Merseyside as Keegan is on Tyneside. Bobby was unfortunately unable to play one last time for a manager who has promoted him so successfully because of injury but at 19 the future looks wall to wall sunshine.