AFC Sudbury’s record appearance holder and long-term captain Sam Clarke has revealed it was not his decision to call time on his near decade at the club, admitting he leaves with a heavy heart.
The news of the 30-year-old’s contract being terminated ahead of expiring in the summer was announced by the club on Sunday evening and clearly proved a shock to supporters and former players, provoking a flood of goodwill messages on Twitter.
Lifting the lid on the reasons for his exit, Clarke, who broke Paul Betson’s 376-game AFC appearance record in September, said: “It was a bit of a shock to myself as well.
“But when I got to think it through the time perhaps felt right to move on.
“Mark (Morsley, manager) and I had a chat when he first came in and then we let the dust settle a bit and had another chat.
“Mark is there for three-and-a-half years and he has got a team to build and, unfortunately, I did not feature in those plans beyond this season.
“I am not sure what direction he is going in but I have got to respect I am not part of his vision and I can’t afford to waste any time at the stage I am at in my career, so I need to go and seek a new challenge somewhere else.”
Having been undertaking an arduous long-distance commute to mid-week matches and training from a new work placement in Reading, the 2015/16 Isthmian League Division One North title-winning captain, who was the last player from that squad left at the club, said: “I love the club and would have liked to see out the remainder of my contract and still played until the end of the season.
“When I had a chat with Jamie (Godbold, former manager) at the beginning of the season it was always the plan to see out my contract and possibly end on a high here by going out with a bang.
“At the end of every season I was always up for seeing what the manager’s plan was for the next season though.
“It was getting a bit more challenging with my work situation but that had no impact on me leaving the club or wanting to leave the club at all.”
Bowing out on 387 appearances and 39 goals for the club since signing from Great Wakering Rovers ahead of the 2008/09 season, taking up the armband a year later, he said: “I made this club my life and I would sincerely like to thank the fans and everyone who has been part of my journey here.
“There have been some tough times, but there have been some real highs as well and I have loved being part of AFC Sudbury and who knows, one day I may be back.
“But it is a new chapter for AFC Sudbury and a new chapter for me, and people need to focus on being positive about it.”
AFC Sudbury’s assistant manager, Lee Norfolk, said: “Sam brings great experience and what he has done for the club is fantastic.
“Mark was thinking long-term though, and Sam wants to play.
“We have got quite a lot of young players who play in that area, which meant we might have had to shift things about with where Sam was playing, and Mark wants to give them a chance.
“If he (Sam) didn’t think he would play every week it is a bit of a mutual agreement that he goes somewhere else.”
He added: “It is a difficult situation. He was good when he was here with us. We probably did not get to see the full potential of what he could bring to the side as he had an injury.
“But Mark wants to look at some players and mould his own team.
“I would personally like to thank Sam for his attitude and what he has brought to the club.”
Clarke becomes the eighth senior player Morsley inherited since taking over on October 3 to leave the club, following Adam Mills, Dave Cowley, Tevan Allen, Jake Turner, Julian Smith, Louis Blake and Joe Claridge out the door.
It means that only highly-coveted defender Tyler French, who signed a new three-year contract ahead of the weekend, and fellow teenager Alfie Carroll, remain from last season’s relegated squad.
Joe Maybanks, who was brought in on Morsley’s arrival, has already left after Norfolk said things did not work out fitting him into the side, with young striker Max Booth joining on a one-month loan deal from the manager’s former club, Needham Market, potentially seen as a better foil for young striker Jamie Eaton-Collins.
Goalkeeper coach Danny Potter has moved on to Stowmarket Town.
The manager’s vision following the changes, which has left him fielding what is thought to be the club’s youngest ever senior side, are set to be explained in a ‘meet the chairman and manager’ event at the club tonight (7pm).
The club has also said a restructure of the company and the board of directors will be discussed.
Of French’s contract, which had just under two years to run before the extension, Norfolk said: “It is fantastic news for us.
“Tyler is the shinning light for the academy boys.
“Mark and myself are committing ourselves to the club for three-and-a-half years, and while we would not stand in his way if a big club came in, we would like to think Tyler will be part of that as well.”
n On the pitch, AFC Sudbury head into Saturday’s Bostik League Division One North game at 15th-placed Ware (3pm) looking to bounce back from Tuesday’s second successive league defeat, a 1-0 loss at mid-table Barking, which followed their 3-0 exit from the Buildbase FA Trophy at higher-league Met Police on Saturday.
Tuesday’s result saw the Yellows drop a place in the table to 17th ahead of the trip to Hertfordshire.
“It is a massive game,” admitted Norfolk. “We want to win every game but the league is our priority and it is about bouncing back.
“While we had no complaints, we probably deserved a bit more than what we got on Saturday.
“Our young players just ran out of steam a bit.
“Tuesday’s performance was not as good as we have had recently, but these boys are still learning their trade.”