Darrell Clarke interview: Port Vale boss on his return to the dugout, play-off dream and respect for Mansfield | Football News
The win against Swindon already seems like a long time ago for Darrell Clarke.
Emotions were running high in the play-off semi-final second leg, and the Port Vale boss knows he needs to keep a cooler head at Wembley, rather than the one that saw him involved in an altercation with Dion Conroy during that eventual victory.
“I’ve been fined and rightly so,” Clarke – who signed a new five-year deal with the club this week – tells Sky Sports. “I was apologetic after the game. You take your punishment on the chin. It was my first red card as a manager and you live and learn by that.
“It was a crazy night, but it’s gone now. To be that far down in the shootout and come back and win, it was a great experience, but it certainly didn’t do my heart much good, that’s for sure!”
Indeed it was a crazy night, it was also Clarke’s first at home since his return to the dugout after a three-month absence following a close family bereavement.
In the intervening gap Vale were led by his assistant Andy Crosby, but he came back in for the final game of the season earlier this month. There was no pressure on him from the club to return after three straight defeats had left Vale in a position where they could have missed out on the play-offs entirely. Clarke just felt the time was right.
Saturday 28th May 3:30pm
“It wasn’t a results thing,” Clarke says. “Andy, my brilliant assistant, had done a fantastic job while I took that leave.
“I’d been in amongst the training ground a couple of times and I just felt that we could get a bit of a momentum swing. But the main thing is I just felt ready, and I wanted to be the one who led it.
“Keeping busy has certainly kept me going. I had my dark days like anyone else who has lost loved ones, and I don’t kid myself to think there won’t be darker days ahead. But I love my job and I want to make my family proud of me. You have to get yourself up off the canvas at times and carry on, and that’s what I will be doing.
“I’ve been so touched by it all. My family have as well. The love and support we’ve had from everyone at the club has been absolutely amazing. I cannot thank my staff and players for it enough. It’s one of the reasons I’m here now. I’m hoping to achieve success for those guys.”
Clarke also has a lot to thank his players for this season, after taking a punt on a massive refresh. Despite finishing last season in fine form, he chose to completely overhaul the squad in the summer. Now, they are back on the cusp of League One after five years away.
“We needed freshening up even though the lads who finished with me last season did very well,” he says.
“When you do that as a manager you put yourself under pressure, because the results were good last season, but it just felt like the right thing to do. This group has given me everything and we’re looking forward to the game.”
Lining up in the other half at Wembley will be Mansfield. It was Clarke’s boyhood club, and where he started his career – spending 14 years there between 1987 and 2001.
Clarke has also been overwhelmed with the support he has received from Field Mill – and the Stags fans are planning a minute’s applause in the eighth minute at Wembley to support their former No 8.
But he and Mansfield boss Nigel Clough know that, come Saturday, it will be business only.
“There are a lot of links everywhere,” says Clarke, who signed goalkeeper Aidan Stone and left-back Mal Benning from Mansfield last summer, midfielder Harry Charsley joined as recently as January and former Stags boss David Flitcroft is his current director of football.
“I’ve had great love and support from the football community and a lot of Stags fans, which I’ve really appreciated. But they will know, like Nigel said in the week, that we’re going there to win.
“We do respect each other, and that’s very important, but come Saturday it’s war. It’s been 11 months of hard work and the carrot at the end of it is League One football, which would be massive. It would be so great for the owners, who are exceptional, and for the fans if we can achieve it.
“We know Mansfield are a tough team with a great manager and person in Nigel. We’re looking forward to it, and by whatever means possible if we can win it’ll be great.
“The lads have coach loads of family and friends coming down and it’s a massive occasion, but we have to remember it’s still business for us. You’ve got to make sure that the prep is right.
“We’ll get the photos out of the way the day before. After that it’s about turning up on the day, making sure we’re focused, and winning the game.
“Whatever happens we want to make sure we know we’ve given our all.”