AFC Sudbury’s Captain Fantastic Sam Clarke admits overtaking Paul Betson as the club’s all-time record appearance holder this weekend would be a big weight off his shoulders.
The 29-year-old is set to pass through the 376-game barrier for The Yellows if he plays a part in Saturday’s return to Bostik League Division One North action at Cheshunt (3pm).
But although recognising what an achievement it is, especially in today’s era of player movement, he is just looking forward to moving on to focusing on getting his beloved team back on course in the league after their winless start.
“I just want to get the record now as it has been playing on my mind over the close-season,” said the player who is now in his ninth season after transferring from Essex side Great Wakering Rovers ahead of the 2008/09 season.
“From a personal point-of-view it has not been a very settled pre-season, obviously with this (calf) injury and this hanging over my head. So if I can get Saturday out of the way hopefully I can settle down a bit and get some consistency with some games under my belt.”
Clarke’s commitment to play for AFC is even more incredible since his work took him to Reading since last season, where he is now based throughout the week and where he makes the 218-mile round trip from to training and mid-week matches.
“I have had to relocate due to work commitments, so it is a bit difficult and it is a long old journey but I am willing to do it this year and get the record under my belt and hopefully push on throughout the season,” he said.
“It is a phenomenal record. In non-league it is very rare to stay at a club and play as many games as that.
“How has it happened? I just love the club really and have since day one.
“It has got the right outlook on playing the game and the people here are brilliant.
“I have always got on with every manager that has come in and they have liked me, so there has never been a reason to go and play anywhere else.”
The club’s plans to recognise Clarke’s achievements are not yet known, with the usual for testimonials to be held for players after a decade of service, which he is now in.
Asked if Sudbury was seen as his club for life now, he said: “You never know what is going to happen in non-league but at the moment I just want to focus on getting a run of games under my belt and cracking on with this year.
“Obviously we have got through changes in pre-season and I just want to get wins behind us and forget about the record and the injury and just get back to winning games.”
Clarke was only one of a handful of players who remained at the club from last season’s relegated squad and thinks the play-offs have to be their target in terms of bouncing straight back up, thought has warned patience will be required.
“You cannot just change that amount of players and expect to win week-in week-out against established sides,” he said. “I think people have got to be patient.
“If you look at the average age of the squad, I think it is 22 or 23, so it does bode well for the next two or three years.”
He added: “I think we can definitely do things this season. We are creating chances and once we settle down a little bit with someone putting them in the net, we will be firing.
“It is only a matter of games before we beat someone three or four nil with the amount of times we are getting behind teams.
“It is a very tough league but we will be aiming for the play-offs 100 per cent.”
AFC, who announced striker L’heureux Menga has left the club after just three starts and a substitute appearance ahead of last weekend, are looking to put a run that has seen them only pick up one point from their opening three Bostik League matches behind them when they travel to Cheshunt, also without a win and a solitary point after four games, Saturday before hosting Brentwood Town, who have four points from four matches, on Tuesday (7.45pm).
And speaking after Saturday’s 1-1 home FA Cup draw with Mildenhall Town — which saw another match where AFC saw more of the ball but were unable to get their rewards with Jake Turner’s 51st minute strike levelled by Jake Chambers-Shaw following a 70th-minute breakaway, manager Jamie Godbold said they will not be changing their approach.
“We are not far away from beating a team four, five or six,” he said.