Feature: It's not been the start he wanted but tears in England are in the past and Trevor Clarke is delighted to be a Rotherham United player

By Paul Davis | 25/08/2019

Feature: It's not been the start he wanted but tears in England are in the past and Trevor Clarke is delighted to be a Rotherham United player
Trevor Clarke

THE alert pinged on my phone. Rotherham United were confirming on Twitter that Trevor Clarke was their latest summer arrival.

Three-year contract. Welcome to the club. The usual social-media club niceties.

The 21-year-old and I happened to be in the same room when the Millers made their proclamation to the world late last month and I looked over towards him.

There he was, laid up in a wheelchair, his face contorted by pain, worry and misery.

Five minutes before that, he'd been on gas and air. Ten minutes before the gas and air, he'd been stretchered off in his first outing, a behind-closed-doors friendly at Rotherham's Roundwood training complex.

Struck down before the deal had even been made public.

“I don't think anyone could write that,” he says. “It was just mad, something like that happening before the signing was even announced.

“I'd gone into a tackle, did my knee and 15 minutes later my signing became official as I was being wheeled out on a trolley into the ambulance and straight to hospital.”

Clarke is the Irish youth international plucked from Shamrock Rovers by the Millers who liked the pace and potential that had been lighting up the League of Ireland Premier Division.

Life in Rotherham wasn't supposed to begin like this, but the defender, despite his tender years, is no stranger to adversity.

His first foray into English football as a teenager turned sour and, after rehabilitating his career back in Ireland with Rovers, a cruciate knee ligament injury robbed him of the chance of a move to Premier League Southampton.

“I went over to Middlesbrough when I was 16,” he recalls. “It's something every young Irish boy wants to do, go over to England and play football.

“I thought at the time it was the best thing that had ever happened to me but it turned out to be one of the worst experiences I've ever had in football.

“I was in digs on my own. I found it hard being away from home. I actually cried myself to sleep most nights. I was just going back to my digs and playing FIFA on my Xbox, the same routine all the time.

“I'd think 'Is this what it's supposed to be like to be a footballer?'. It turned into something bad very quickly.

“I lasted only nine or ten months there and came home. People were saying: 'What have you come home for? You get only one chance.'

“Luckily, when I was 17, Rovers signed me up. I was in and around the team and just as I was turning 18 I came off the bench to make my debut and scored a goal!

“Everything had picked up. It had gone from bad to good. I broke into the team, played well and stayed in the team. I got Young Player of the Year at Rovers.

“I thought I would be going back away again somewhere but a couple of weeks later I did my left ACL. That was a big setback in my career.”

We're chatting a week after that calamitous first day. The prognosis for his recovery is better than he'd dared hope and Clarke is in good spirits, sitting on the verandah in the Roundwood sun as manager Paul Warne's bark echoes across the pitches during first-team training.

I've pulled him out of the communal room where he'd been eating alone; the curse of the injured footballer.

He's open and friendly, and he's being modest. He doesn't mention that he was also voted Young Player of the Year for the entire League of Ireland top flight before being laid low by his cruciate problem.

“I'm glad it happened at that time, when I was 20, rather than later on in my career,” he says. “When you are young, you can get over it and recover quicker.

“I got back fully training, got back into the team again, then the Rotherham move came up. You can't say 'no', can you? Not with the fans and the size of the club and especially not after I talked to the manager. That made the decision a lot easier.”

His blistering acceleration in nearly 100 Rovers appearances had made him one to watch in Ireland but there was nothing high-speed about the scene inside Roundwood as medics lifted him gingerly out to the ambulance while the game against Newcastle Under-23s was being played out in the background.

Before kick-off, we'd exchanged pleasantries. Knowing Clarke would feature and that a club statement would be issued during the match, I'd dropped in to watch with my laptop for company.

The sorry, wheelchaired figure struggling in front of me while I sent my 'Trevor Clarke signs for Rotherham United' story to the web was nothing like the bright-eyed, eager one I'd shaken hands with not long earlier.

It was his right knee he had damaged, not the one that required an operation in March 2018. Happily, X-rays were clear, subsequent scans brought more good news and he could be back playing in October.

“I feared the worst when it happened,” he admits. “It's not looking too bad now. I'm relieved about that.”

The Millers' new head of recruitment, Rob Scott, had been monitoring Clarke for around two years. When Scott left Brentford for AESSEAL New York Stadium in April, he brought his interest with him and it wasn't long before Rotherham made their move.

“It came up pretty quick, like,” says the player in an accent betraying his upbringing in Clondalkin, Dublin, with mum Joanna, dad Trevor Senior, and elder brother and sister Darren and Ashleigh. “I heard a few people talking about it but I didn't hear anything directly myself.

“There was a game on a Sunday and Rovers called me in afterwards and said: ‘Look, there's been an offer made for you and we've accepted it. Get your agent on to it and see what comes of it’.

“I spoke to my agent that Sunday and was in at Rotherham on the Tuesday. I had my medical on Tuesday and signed.

“I'd been saying for ages I'd love to go back to England and when I did I was, like, 'Jesus, is this actually happening?' I was in shock. But it was kind of good as well, if you get me.

 

“Once I got back from my injury, it was something I wanted to do. Then it came up so quick. I'm delighted it got done.”

Clarke in his Shamrock Rovers days

He's small though well-muscled, with a military-grade precision parting in his dark hair.

The braces on his teeth are a reminder of his youth, but there's an impressive assuredness for a boy a long way from home.

“I was just too young at the time at Middlesbrough,” he reflects. “Now, I'm still young, but I'm more mature. I think the Boro experience matured me in a way.

“I went over there expecting it to be all fancy and got a massive shock. I was missing home.

“I'm 21 now. My family are only a flight away. I'm going to have my own apartment. It's going to be a lot easier.

“The experience will help me because I have more idea what to expect. I know what it's going to take to get what I want.

“Leaving Boro was kind of a mutual agreement. There was nothing nasty about it. I was homesick.

“When I went home, I said 'That's it, I'll never go back' but I'm buzzing to be here now. I was young. It was stupid to think like that.

“Getting in and around the Rovers first team and learning from the top players there brought me on. You're learning every day. You're just taking things in.

“I'm ready now. I'm older. I've got a bit of experience behind me.”

The Millers players have put an arm around him and teammates Freddie Ladapo and Matt Olosunde are chauffeuring him to the training ground.

“You're always nervous when you're settling in. It's like starting school again,” he acknowledges. “You come in and you don't know anybody, you don't know who to talk to.

“I talk to them all really. The lads made it a lot easier for me. You get to meet them and find they're a great bunch.

“Then there are a couple of other new signings who came in around the same time as me. They're in the same boat. That helped. You naturally talk to them because you're all going through the same thing.

“The club acted quick and helped me get a place for myself as well. That's made things easier.

“My missus, Courtney, came over the other Tuesday to have a look at a few flats with me. She's going to move over here. That's why I had to get her to look at the flats. She has the say on where we go! I don't want to get somewhere and have her saying 'I'm not living in that!'.”

It's a more relaxed encounter at Roundwood the second time around. The angst of seven days ago has left him. Already, there’s no limp.

He's learning to drive and it shouldn't be too long before Rotherham fans see him shifting through the gears.

“I like getting on the ball,” he says. “I like travelling with the ball and getting forward. I like a tackle. I like getting stuck in to people.”

'Just how rapid are you?' I enquire, and he responds with a smile and more modesty:

“When I get my fitness back, I should be all right, yeah.”


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