Captain, leader, legend. Three words that have been used aplenty to describe the departing Tom Clarke as his 7-year stay at Deepdale came to an end.
Clarkey is a product of Huddersfield Town’s academy and signed his first professional deal in 2005 and made his debut against MK Dons. He scored his first goal for Huddersfield against none other than Blackpool who were then managed by his future boss, Simon Grayson.
Up to now, Tom has played for five different clubs with three different loan spells coming in his time at Huddersfield. First, he went on loan to Halifax Town in February 2008 to regain match fitness after rupturing a ligament in his left knee.
The following season, in October 2008, he went out on loan again to Bradford City in League Two. He only managed 6 league appearances before he was recalled to Huddersfield. In the 2009/10 season, he had his best run in the side under manager Lee Clarke playing in central midfield.
Unfortunately, he suffered a repeat of the same injury in his left knee and as expected, he was out for a lengthy period of time. Upon his return from injury and after a spell on loan at Leyton Orient, Clarke had a run in Huddersfield’s side playing primarily at left-back before he was replaced in the side by Callum Woods. He managed to work his way back into the side in his more familiar position of central midfield and ended up making 16 appearances in the league that season as Huddersfield were promoted to the Championship after beating Sheffield United in the play-off final at Wembley.
Upon promotion, Tom signed a one-year extension which made him Huddersfield’s longest-serving player. However, in May 2013 it was announced that he would be leaving the club at the end of his contract and bringing an end to his 8-year stay at the club he joined as a youngster.
This happened to be Simon Grayson’s first full summer at North End and he moved to sign the Yorkshireman on a free transfer and the rest, as they say, is history.
Probably his most memorable moment at the club is that goal on a Monday night in August 2013 against Blackpool. Then there are the pictures of him on someone’s shoulders after we beat Chesterfield to reach Wembley in the League One play-off final and of course, there is the final itself.
We spoke to Tom’s former manager, Simon Grayson, about him and their time at the club together.
“After previously working with Tom at Huddersfield my first thought in the summer of 2013 was to sign him for PNE. He was a free transfer and was exactly the type of player, both on and off the pitch, that I thought we needed at the time.
“He is someone who would lead by example, put his body on the line, train every day with a purpose and professionalism; a very good professional who wanted success, just like I did and ultimately a good honest person. To make him captain was also a no brainier for all the reasons I’ve mentioned above.
“I knew the players would like him, respect him and he would be a voice in the dressing room for me. Of course, scoring against Blackpool certainly made him very popular with the supporters early on but it was his wholehearted performances either as a centre back or at right-back that I’m sure made him so popular with fans and fellow teammates.
“Tom would sense when the players were a bit down and in need of a team-building exercise whether it was paintballing, go-karting or something else. One of his other strengths was helping new players settle in at the club. There is no doubt that this helped with the team spirit which is something I tried to build and along with Tom and one or two other players they helped create this spirit.
“I’ve no doubt that Tom will be remembered by all Preston fans for his never say die attitude, his leadership qualities and the captain who lifted the trophy at Wembley. A player who will, I’m sure, be recognised for being a major part of the club’s recent success.
“All the best the best in future, Clarkey.”
Tom went on to make 247 appearances in 7-years at North End and he played with a number of different players, all of whom probably have numerous things to say about him. We caught up with Tom’s former teammate, Jack King. Here’s what Jack had to say about his captain from his time at the club.
“Tom Clarke was an absolute leader on the pitch but more importantly, a gentleman off it. Without a doubt, he’s one of the nicest blokes you’ll meet but he’s also someone you wouldn’t want marking you at any point.
“A fantastic captain but an even better guy. Always the first to laugh at jokes, even if they’re not that funny like some of Gally’s. All the best, Skipper.”
There’s no doubt Tom Clarke will be missed at North End, that was clear to see from the reaction on social media by the players. It all seemed very emotional but from a fan’s perspective, perhaps it was time for a new challenge for the Yorkshireman.
I have no doubt that wherever Tom ends up next, he’ll do just as well as he has done here. Thanks for the memories, Super Tommy Clarke.