William Clarke was the honour of being the first ever goalkeeper for Ballymena, but only lasted two games between the sticks for the Braidmen.
Clarke’s background was mostly in army football before a switch into the Intermediate League with Willowfield towards the end of the 1926/1927 season as the East Belfast club narrowly missed out on the Intermediate League First Division title to Crusaders. Following an impressive display against Belfast Celtic in the Belfast Charity Cup in May, he was placed on the club’s retained list for the following season.
In August 1927, he signed for Ards United and impressed in goal during the 1927/1928 campaign with the recently promoted County Down side in the top-tier of Intermediate football.
His performances for Ards United made him the scouts and selectors from the newly formed Ballymena club’s first signings in June 1928 ahead of their debut season. He started the first two outings for the new look club in August, losing 3-0 to Belfast Celtic in front of 7,000 fans at the Showgrounds and then three days later at Larne when Ballymena earned their first league point in a 2-2 draw at the Legion Grounds.
Despite five goals conceded, the press reports did not highlight the custodian at fault for any of the five goals conceded in the first two games, but nonetheless Clarke was swiftly replaced by one-time Ireland international John Gough in September 1928 and failed to regain his place for the remainder of the 1928/1929 season which included the ‘Ballymena Babes’ stunning league champions Belfast Celtic to win the Irish Cup at the first attempt.
Clarke was not retained at the end of the season and moved back to Willowfield and made his second debut for the club in August 1929. During that the 1929/1930 campaign, William picked up his first medal as Willowfield lifted the R. Clements Lyttle Cup on Easter Tuesday 1930 as the East Belfast men beat Broadway United 4-1 for the first time in their history.
Clarke failed to resurface in Irish football the following season as his next moves remain unknown after leaving Willowfield, but he will always have the distinction of being the first goalkeeper to represent the town of Ballymena in senior Irish League football.