Ex-Blues young gun is out to shoot down Town
HE had started pre-season eager to impress his manager before the club’s debut season in the Premier League.
But an innocuous incident in Blackpool’s first friendly changed everything and almost cost Billy Clarke his career at the tender age of 22 years old.
As Blackpool enjoyed and endured the highs and lows of the big time, a frustrated Clarke had no choice but to watch from the treatment table.
As relegation was sealed, cruelly on the final day of last season, all the determined Irishman was focusing on was getting back onto a football pitch, regardless of the standard.
Of course, if many Ipswich Town fans had their way, the young Irish striker would have been doing everything in his power to aid their own return to the promised land.
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But Clarke was released on a free transfer by Roy Keane in May 2009 after initially looking like he would set the world alight at Portman Road.
Which brings us on to present day and Clarke and Blackpool hosting his former club in the Championship on Saturday.
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After figuring in all of the Seasiders’ six league and cup matches this season, Clarke said: “I am delighted to be playing again and I think the fact I have come back, in training and matches, is a reflection of the hard work I have put in during the pre-season.
“Fitness-wise, I feel fine. The last match against Crystal Palace was only the third competitive game I have started in 18 months so I am still getting to grips with things.
“But I think there will be big improvements in my performance the more games I can get in.
“There is also a sense of relief as there were times I wondered whether I would come back. I think anyone would have doubts.”
Having made 49 appearances for Town, scoring three goals, Clarke said: “I spent pretty much my childhood with Ipswich to a certain extent, having arrived when I was 15 and left when I was 21.
“It was a really good time for me but all the pals I have made, the likes of Jordan Rhodes, Owen Garvan and Liam Trotter, have left.
“I think my relationship with the fans was pretty good but the manager told me and others that it was time to move on.
“I’m looking forward to playing them on Saturday. They were thumped by Peterborough but bounced back straight away against Leeds so it will be a tough match.
Upon being released by the Blues, Clarke was quickly snapped up by Ian Holloway. But after injury blighted him during Blackpool’s promotion-winning season, things took a huge turn for the worst when he ruptured his cruciate ligament after jumping for a ball just two minutes into the club’s first summer friendly against Tiverton Town.
But more than a year on, Clarke, now 23, is only focused on helping Blackpool continue their decent start to the season and repay the faith shown by manager, club and fans.
He explained: “The manager was gutted for me, perhaps even more so than when Blackpool didn’t stay in the Premier League. I just want to play well for Blackpool and for the manager. I do have some unfinished business but I am sure if I work hard, I will get to the Premier League eventually.”