DEFENSIVE linchpin Nathan Clarke paid out his contract at Ridgeons League Norwich United to give his troubled career at AFC Sudbury one last go, promising the club he would not let them down.
And for the 23-year-old welder the last 14 months could not have gone better, having been one of the club’s best performers with 11 goals to his name from central defence already this season.
But Clarke, who hit a last-gasp equaliser at home to Redbridge on Saturday, said he could never have imagined his chance to redeem himself after a terrible disciplinary record would have gone so well.
Clarke, who picked up 11 yellow cards and four reds last season before leaving AFC in January to drop down to the Ridgeons League, said: “I had had a bad season with my discipline last season and felt I had let the club down more than anything.
“So I decided to move on with work commitments I couldn’t make training on a Thursday night.
“I went to Norwich United and improved my discipline by thinking to myself I have got to prove to myself I can do it at that level and this season I have come into my own really and everything has fallen into place.
“I have hopefully turned the corner as I have only had three yellow cards this season (and one highly dispute red card).
“I have never been one for backchatting the referee but sometimes I saw red for some reason and went into silly tackles and this year I am not diving in like that.”
And Clarke himself — having previously only scored six in one campaign – cannot believe his current scoring record.
“It is unbelievable, things are just falling for me and I am taking them,” he said.
Clarke’s manager Tracey believes his player deserves all the praise coming his way right now.
“Some people asked if it was the right decision to bring him back to the club in the summer but he has formed a great partnership with James Smith and he has now scored 11 goals and that is fantastic for a centre-back,” he said.
“He bought himself out of his deal at Norwich United and I think he has been fantastic this season and you can probably count on a couple of fingers how many poor games he has had.”
Clarke added he hopes ball-playing former FA Trophy winner Smith stays at AFC to help him improve further next season and also paid tribute to the influence experienced goalkeeper Danny Gay has had on his game.
AFC face another huge test of their play-off credentials on Saturday, away at fellow promotion-chasers Tilbury (3pm) with Tracey having no fresh injury concerns to contend with.