Preston’s focus will now be on Saturday’s huge game against Cardiff City, but it has been an emotional few days at Deepdale.
North End’s return to action brought a 1-1 draw with Luton Town last weekend, with football now back following the pandemic-induced suspension in March.
The season ending later than planned meant Preston faced some contract decisions. Players whose contracts end on June 30th needed to sign extensions to see out the season, and Tuesday was the deadline for those extensions.
Paul Gallagher was the only North End player to sign one. The likes of Michael Crowe, Connor Simpson, Kevin O’Connor and Jack Armer are all leaving but the emotional decision came with Tom Clarke.
The 32-year-old defender has only played 11 games this season, and Preston have decided to let him go. Clarke has just a matter of days left as a Preston player and as club captain.
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Clarke has spent seven years at Deepdale, having been Simon Grayson’s first signing in 2013. Whether at right back or centre back, Clarke has been a constant in the North End side in a real revival since Graham Westley’s exit.
Clarke has been involved in some of Preston’s biggest moments of the last seven years; his dramatic winner against Blackpool, the pass for Joe Garner’s stunning goal against Rotherham and lifting silverware as Preston beat Swindon Town at Wembley Stadium in 2015.
After six years as club captain, Clarke is moving on. Injuries and advancing years have taken their toll on Clarke, and he is now fifth-choice centre back whilst being fairly unsuited to a right back role at this stage of his career.
Still, Clarke’s exit is an emotional one. He has been an outstanding leader and servant during his time at Deepdale, and it’s clear that those who have worked with him valued him highly.
Ex-North Enders Alan Kelly and John Welsh praised him as an inspiration and a true leader, whilst ex-WWE wrestler Stu Bennett branded him a ‘legend’.
Ryan Ledson echoed those sentiments, though the most heartfelt reaction came from Tom Barkhuizen, who stated that it was hard for him to find the right words following Clarke’s exit – and added that he didn’t want it to end like this, most likely a reference to how Clarke now won’t play a role in Preston’s push for the playoffs.