Preston North End manager Alex Neil has paid tribute to departing captain Tom Clarke, who left the club this week after seven years.
The Lilywhites skipper officially departs next week after 247 appearances in 15 goals, since his arrival in the summer of 2013 and the PNE boss admitted that the defender will leave behind a big hole in the dressing room.
“Tom will be missed,” said Alex. “He has been a fantastic leader, a fantastic captain for Preston North End and when such a big character leaves a club it is quite a strange and sombre feeling at times.
“Tom, being 32 now, would want to be playing every time he is available and getting as many minutes under his belt he can. I have been there myself, that when you get to that age you want to play every game, you don’t want to be sat at the side.
“Tom has been a massive part of why the club finds itself in the situation it is in, in terms of the development we have had over the seven-year period he has been here.
“He is a proper leader, a proper captain and, in my experiences of Tom over the three years that I have been here, he is an absolute model pro.
“I can’t speak highly enough of him. He has been fantastic and it is always with a heavy heart when you say goodbye to someone like Tom.”
When the manager arrived three years ago, Tom was recovering from a ruptured Achilles, but Alex explains that straight away the No.5’s character was evident.
“When you are managing people and you speak to them, you get a feeling for what they are like and the one thing you say with Tom, is that there are no heirs or graces about him, he is very straight forward, just a nice lovely fella, who wanted to do the best for himself, his team-mates and the club,” he continued.
“And that is all is all you ask as a manager – that honesty, determination and willingness to do well.
“For Tom, some of the niggles he has had, are because he puts his body on the line that often and he has done for years and years, because wanting to win for PNE means that much to him and all I can really do is to thank him for the all his contributions to the club since he has been here and that’s not enough really; he has been terrific.
“Tom’s contribution for me while I have been here has been as much off the pitch as on it. He did well in a lot of the games and when we went to difficult venues where we thought we would have to dig in, then Tom’s character, the type of person he was, the fact he lead by example, the fact he wouldn’t shirk challenges or responsibility, he was the type of guy you want in your team in those games.
“Not being intimidated when you go to difficult venues is an important thing and when you have a leader and captain like Tom, that was never going to happen. At the venues like Cardiff and Millwall, the truth is in the pudding when you look at the games he and we have played there.
“Tom’s a throwback to great captains and leaders this club has had down the years.
“When I was younger, you had five, six or seven of those lads in your team and they are so valuable. They are happy to take the responsibility of leadership and now because we coach players to death that much, there is a lack of leaders, because we don’t allow them to be leaders any more.
“It is easy to criticise the players, but what we have done is to take all those responsibilities away from them, rather than let them crack on and do it. Since I have been at Preston, our changing room governs itself.
“Maybe I would deal with a particular thing now and then, but Tom Clarke ran our changing room for us, along with the likes of Gally and John Welsh when he was here and they were key figures in that changing room to keep everyone on an even keel, speak to the young lads whenever they needed a fly in their ear and he was there to do that and it is the type of player you cannot underestimate.”
And despite the pandemic allowing a proper goodbye for the man voted by the fans as one of the ‘Legends of the Town End’, the North End boss was keen to have him back when the fans were allowed into stadiums again.
“It is really quite sad in the way it is ending. He said his goodbyes this week and we made it quite clear to Tom that the facilities were still there for him to use to keep ticking over.
“We would like to have ended it in a more fitting way for someone who has contributed so much, but unfortunately a lot of things at the moment are up in the air.
“But hopefully, at some stage, we do get the opportunity to give him a proper farewell,” he added.
To watch the full interview with Alex Neil on Tom Clarke, just click on the video at the top of the page, with all iFollow interviews available free of charge, all of the time.