'Fire Starters' is a series of in-depth feature articles on some of our top prospects in 2022, exploring their performance in 2022, their preparation for the draft, and their aspirations for the future, written by Nathan Sepe, Dylan Bolch, and Jonty Ralphsmith.
He’s the livewire who “loves to bring the energy and kick lots of goals”.
And if he isn’t already, Charlie Clarke is about to become Port Melbourne royalty.
“The Port Melbourne community means a lot to me, it’s a tight-knit community, almost like a country town, I guess. There are relationships between generations, and everyone knows everyone, especially at the footy club,” said Clarke.
Clarke grew up in housing commission and says that his upbringing has played a huge part in the person he is today.
“I lived in a housing commission from the age of six until about 13. We’d always be playing footy out the front, soccer, cricket, all those sorts of things.
“We’d just have heaps of fun, living there played a big part in my footy success so far, we would just always be active and sporty, those days playing out the front certainly helped me to get where I am now.”
It’s clear how much the Port Melbourne community means to Clarke.
He fondly remembers the times playing on the street with his mates and says the footy club is the heartbeat of the community.
The Clarke name is etched in Port Melbourne history already, with his father, Jason, a club legend.
Clarke was fortunate enough to have played an intraclub with Jason and in the seniors with cousin, Mitch, who have both been key figures in his life.
Mitch is also a gifted footballer, having come through the Sandringham Dragons pathways too during his junior years and Charlie concedes that Mitch was “better than me at this age”.
“Mitch has been a good role model for me, it was unreal playing senior footy with him and kicking goals together.
“Dad’s probably been the main one. He’s very tough on me, very critical, which is good, he’s quite strict but it holds me in good stead.
“He’s always making sure I’m training and doing all the extras I can. Without him I’d probably be a bit mischievous.”
At the end of Year 9, Clarke moved to a TAFE school, Harvester Technical College, which he attended until the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Melburnians were sent into lockdown.
He was offered a carpentry apprenticeship in August 2020 and thrived in the “hands-on environment”.
“Sitting in a classroom, I’d get a bit bored. I just wanted to be active and now I’m always active when I’m working, it’s always pretty physical and demanding, sometimes it’s a bit hard but I love that.”
And Clarke believes his work ethic and time management skills that he’s formed whilst working on the tools will hold him in good stead at an AFL club.
Unlike other draft prospects, Clarke hasn’t necessarily come through all the elite pathways.
“When I first got added into the Dragons squad it was a bit daunting. I hadn’t trained at a high standard like that, or even been involved before, besides the St Kilda Next Generation Academy.
“I’ve always just trained at the Colts where most people go through the motions. I went down to the Dragons, got along with everyone pretty quickly and just tried to be a sponge and learn everything off the others.”
Clarke had a taste of NAB League football at the end of last season, after he was rewarded for some strong form for the Port Melbourne Colts.
“When I started the year at the Colts in the seniors, I wanted to get to the Dragons.
“I achieved that sooner than I thought I would which was great, I hit the ground running when I got there and played a game within the first three weeks.”
And this season, he picked up where he left off.
“The Tasmania game was the clear standout of them all.
“Throughout all the other games I felt I was very consistent. I averaged almost two goals a game, close to 20 touches, I felt I was pretty consistent all year and made an impact and contributed. I don’t think I could’ve asked for much more.”
Clarke believes his strengths on the field are his goal sense, footy smarts and his energy.
“I try to bring that energy off the field too, I’m a pretty hard trainer and work hard.”
That energy has him poised to become an instant cult hero in the AFL ranks, with his flamboyant celebrations lifting teammates and crowds across the state.
“I just love giving the crowd a little something.”
Clarke doesn’t just have a knack for finding the goals either – he’s got a knack of finding fish too.
“I’m a great fisherman – I’ve caught every species there is in Port Phillip Bay.
“I got into fishing with one of my mates that I grew up with, I started doing it at about 13-14 and we’ve been doing it ever since.
“We just hit the piers all around Port Melbourne, wake up at 5am, it gives me something to do, keep active and is a bit of fun.”
Clarke had two initial goals in mind for 2022 – make the Vic Metro side and win a premiership for Sandringham.
Now his final goal is within reach.
“The end goal is to get drafted, and it seems to be looking more and more likely at the moment, which is good, but who knows.
Clarke says it would “mean the absolute world” if he were to be picked up by an AFL club.
“I’ve always had that self-belief that I thought I could make it, but I’ve never envisioned myself being in the place I am today – of hopefully being picked up in a few days time.
“It’s pretty special, especially given where I’ve come from – the community of Port Melbourne.
“I think there’s only ever been one player who’s played in the AFL, which was Jack Love, who only played a handful of games.
“It would mean a lot to me, a lot to my family and a lot to my community. It would be absolutely unreal.”
If Clarke does get picked up at next week’s AFL draft, expect ticket sales to go through the roof when the whole of Port Melbourne rock up to his first AFL match.