William Edwin Clare was born in Basford, Nottinghamshire, on 21 September 1883, the son of a coal-mining contractor. He played local football for clubs including Kirkby Rovers, Bentinck Colliery Welfare and Mansfield Woodhouse, and signed for Notts County in 1904. He made his debut at the end of the 1903-04 season, in a 2–0 loss away to Small Heath in the First Division and made five more league appearances the following season.
He signed for Brighton & Hove Albion in May 1905. He began as a regular, but was displaced by Tom Turner, made no more appearances in the Southern League team, and left the club at the end of the season. He later played for Mansfield Weseleyans.
Edwin also played cricket professionally. He joined Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club’s ground staff as a 17-year-old, and played at least once for the club’s Second XI, before continuing his career as a club professional with West Norfolk, Redcar of the North Yorkshire and South Durham League, and Ribblesdale League club Burnley St Andrew’s, whose local newspaper described him as a “powerful-looking young fellow”, “a fast bowler and good bat”.
In 1904, while a Notts County player, he received the Certificate of the Royal Humane Society for rescuing a child from the Grantham Canal:
Clare was walking on November 26th between Nottingham and Radcliffe-on-Trent, when he heard cries for help, and saw a boy named Harold Lamb, of West Bridgford, struggling in the canal. Although fully dressed, Clare unhesitatingly plunged into the water, swam to the other side, and rescued the boy.