A DISPUTE over surgery led to supporters’ and players’ player of the season Nathan Clarke switching the yellow of AFC Sudbury for the red of Needham Market.
The Free Press is able to reveal the shock decision centred on a disagreement between the 11-goal defender having an immediate private hernia operation, costing him more than £2,000, while not being offered a better pay packet.
This was despite an exceptional season that saw the 23-year-old welder more than earn redemption back at the club having left in acrimonious circumstances the previous campaign after a poor disciplinary record.
Manager Chris Tracey said he was trying to ‘break the mould’ of mainly non-contract players by offering him a two-year deal. And he revealed they were not willing to take the gamble with the NHS that he could be on the sidelines for much of the season, as Tom Devaux was last term.
But Clarke, who agreed to sign for Suffolk Ryman One North rivals Needham Market this week, has said he leaves the club with a heavy heart.
“The last thing I wanted was to leave Sudbury,” he said. “I won the players’ and supporters’ awards, which was fantastic, and I loved the club to bits.
“But, unfortunately, these things happen. There was no recognition for last season and I know there were players on higher money than me who had not performed.”
He explained: “They would not wait for the NHS and wanted to do it (hernia operation) privately and they said if I didn’t have it done on Monday I would not be fit for the start of the season, which I disagreed with – it would have meant I would have ended up paying to play football with my Tuesdays off work.”
Clarke added his thanks to the ‘brilliant’ AFC supporters and staff, including a special thanks to chairman Phil Turner.
Tracey, who has been trying to tie up a deal with holding midfielder Bradley Barber from Clarke’s new club Needham Market, said the defender’s decision was motivated by more than just finances.
“I am really disappointed Nathan will not be remaining, but that is his choice and we cannot do anything about that,” he said. “For me to do what he was asking would have set a precedent we were not in a position to do.”
Tracey added Barber would be an ideal player for his side and has made a gentleman’s agreement to sign despite him being set to miss the first three months of the season due to working away.
But Needham manager Danny Laws has said Barber signed a new deal at Bloomfields, which Tracey claims the player denied had happened.
• FOR our review of AFC’s 2011/12 season, see today’s Suffolk Free Press.