WHENEVER Swindon Town hire a new manager, as they are sometimes inclined to do, the immediate reaction of the avid fan formerly known as Dave Clark is not to agonise over what players the boss is likely to sign up or wonder whether he will go for a different formation or switch tactics.
No, his first thought is: “Better ring the tattooist.” Dave – whose legal name is Swindon Town Dave – has the moniker of every Robins’ manager since the year of his birth in 1961 tattooed over his body.
While the ink is still drying on the new manager’s contract another form of ink is usually being applied to a vacant corner of flesh somewhere on Dave at the Swindon studio of his tattooist pal Frank.
“I don’t hang about sometimes,” he says. “I get it done the very next day.”
The names of 26 STFC managers – including Danny Williams and Andy King, who have had the job twice – adorn Dave’s lightly-framed physique.
Some of them, such as Paul Hart, Colin Todd, Kevin MacDonald and Roy Evans, who only stayed at the club a few months and whose contributions were perhaps less than dynamic, may well be surprised to learn they have been commemorated in such imperishable fashion.
But Royal Mail worker Dave, 52, remains unabashed.
“It’s just something I’ve done – something to show commitment to the club I love,” he insists.
His passion hit a crescendo during the triumphant season of 1985/86 when Lou Macari dramatically led Town back into the Third Division, winning the Fourth with a Football League record of 102 points.
Dave was among the 2,000 noisy Town fans who headed down the M1 to cram into Mansfield’s modest premises for the 1-1 draw that bagged the title.
Such was his joy that it prompted Dave to mark the occasion in ink at a time when tattoos were not, as they are nowadays, part and parcel of popular culture.
“It’s still my favourite I think,” says Dave displaying his ‘Lou Macari is God’ tat around the old ‘ST’ crest on his left arm.
This was joined, over the years, by numerous examples of electric needlework acknowledging Town milestones, including occasional promotions and the thrilling 4-3 victory over Leicester to achievement Premiership status in 1993.
Then he went for the big one and had a monster version of the diamond shaped green and red crest that served as the club’s badge at the time forever emblazoned in ink across his back.
“It cost me £200,” he recalls.
A few years later Swindon Town FC, with scant regard for Dave’s anatomy, changed their crest to a more traditional one showing a robin and a train along with the town’s motto ‘Salubritas et Industria' (healthy and industrious).
Dave’s response was to swiftly acquire a permanent copy on his torso and now he now boasts three different Swindon Town crests (on his arm, back and chest.) At some stage he also decided to “get the set” and had the names of all the other managers since his birth indelibly stamped.
As Town have a habit of switching chief coaches on a fairly regular basis – just over one every two years since Dave was born – it is comforting to know that he can still make room for a few more.
Despite some questionable performances from a few Swindon managers Dave, who has spent around £1,000 on Town tats, doesn’t regret any of them.
With the possible exception of one, that is. The only inscription that rankles reads ‘Andy King.’ Nine years ago Dave was interviewed on the telly at the Swindon training ground about his name change (see panel.) The TV people asked King, Town’s manager at the time, what he thought of such a singular and extravagant act of dedication and his response was less than endearing to Dave.
“He said something sarcastic, which annoyed me.” Clearly, it still does.
“I thought he was really arrogant and out-of-order. So in a way I resent having Andy King’s name tattooed on my back… but there you go.”
Meanwhile, Dave is showing myself and photographer Alex Skennerton some of his other Town related tattoos. One of them looks very familiar.
“That appeared in the Advertiser a few years ago. I thought ‘that’s nice – I’ll have that’,” he says, pointing to our ‘Swindon and Proud’ logo that is now immortalised on Dave’s left pectoral.
Despite his somewhat abrupt and rapid departure last year, another of Dave’s favourites is on his right arm, ‘Di Canio STFC Div 2 Champions 2012’ following Paolo’s headline-packed 18 months at the County Ground.
Rolling up his tracksuit bottoms, just above his Swindon Town slippers, Dave reveals another Town-themed emblem on his right calf. It is an image of the ace of clubs next to the initials ‘STFC.’ “That’s what we are,” beams Dave, “Ace of Clubs.”
Havingspent the best part of four hours on the coach we are stretching our legs and eager for a drop of alcoholic beverage.
Somebody says “They’ve got a nice little bar at the ground” so we toddle off to Victoria Park, home of Hartlepool United, and queue up to enter The Corner Flag.
In front of me, paying his 50p admission, is Dave Clark wearing customary Swindon Town shirt.
But he doesn’t sign himself in as Dave Clark.
He signs himself Swindon Town Dave.
“Great idea,” I say to my son, who is standing in front of me. “You can be Swindon Town Conor.”
“No” says Dave, turning around abruptly, “that really is my name.”
Suddenly Dave is whipping something out of his pocket – it is a letter saying that he has changed his name by deed poll.
The missive contains official confirmation of this fact; it arrived the day before the arduous trip to Hartlepool in April, 2005.
Being a journalist who thinks he knows a story when he sees one, I corner Dave in The Corner Flag and, over several passable pints of northern beer, he tells me all about it.
“I’d been thinking about it for ages,” says the ardent Town fan who eight years earlier named his son from a previous relationship, Robin (the club’s nickname.) After much deliberation he finally took the plunge and, using his employers’ solicitors, paid £50 for the identity change to Swindon Town Dave in deference to the club he loves.
“I’m really pleased with my new name. It’s great. But it feels a bit weird at the moment. I love the sound of it but I haven’t really got used to it yet,” he says at the time.
Having already taken a bit of a ribbing from his mates he adds: “I love the club and Swindon Town Dave will always be my name.”
The resultant publicity saw Dave interviewed on regional TV while the story made it into the pages of several national newspapers.
Today he is largely known around town as Swindon Town Dave. And if anyone doubts him then he has the passport to prove it.
These are the 26 Town managers – or 28 if you count two spells by Danny Williams and Andy King – since Dave was born:
- Bert Head (1956-1965)
- Danny Williams (1965-1969)
- Fred Ford (1969-1971)
- Dave Mackay (1971-1972)
- Les Allen (1972-1974)
- Danny Williams (1974-1978)
- Bobby Smith (1978-1980)
- John Trollope (1980-1983)
- Ken Beamish (1983-1984)
- Lou Macari (1984-1989)
- Ossie Ardiles (1989-1991)
- Glenn Hoddle (1991-1993)
- John Gorman (1993-1994)
- Steve McMahon (1994-1998)
- Jimmy Quinn (1998-2000)
- Colin Todd (2000)
- Andy King (2000-2001)
- Roy Evans (2001)
- Andy King (2001-2005)
- Iffy Onuora (2005-2006)
- Dennis Wise (2006)
- Paul Sturrock (2006-2007)
- Maurice Malpas (2008)
- Danny Wilson (2008-2011)
- Paul Hart (2011)
- Paolo Di Canio (201-2013)
- Kevin MacDonald (2013)
- Mark Cooper (2013/14...)