STEVE Clarke will go head to head on the touchline with his former ‘boot boy’ Paul Lambert in Sunday’s derby showdown with Villa (ko 4pm).
The two bosses first crossed paths when Lambert was coming through as an apprentice player at St Mirren and Clarke, six years his senior, was preparing to leave Love Street for Chelsea 25 years ago.
The pair have now come full circle via different routes to becoming top-flight chiefs and the Albion head coach is relishing their Villa Park meeting.
“I knew Paul when he was 16 or 17 and we’ve gone our separate ways, then suddenly we’ve come back together again,” said Clarke.
“I have always bumped into him at various grounds over the years and said hello, and we’ve always had good words for each other.
“But we don’t really know each other as people.
“He was an apprentice at St.Mirren and just coming into the team as I was looking to get out.
“I was linked with a move after move and Paul was breaking into the team.
“We didn't play very much together but we trained a bit together and we know each other from old so it will be nice to catch up with each other again.
“It is always him that brings up the fact he cleaned my boots.
“I never remind him of that fact!”
Clarke has been impressed by Lambert’s rise up the managerial ladder, which has seen him also tackle jobs at Livingston, Wycombe Wanderers, Colchester United and Norwich, and insists it is no surprise to him.
“I would say he was always a serious professional,” he added.
“When he came into work you could tell he had a good attitude, wanted to do well all the time, and demanded high standards from himself.
“Looking now, you would say that is one of the traits you want to become a coach or a manager.
“It doesn't surprise me he has gone onto have a good career as a coach and as a manager.”