June 25, 2024

During his four seasons at Fratton Park, the popular defender helped Pompey win League Two and the Checkatrade Trophy at a crowded Wembley Stadium.

Matt Clarke, a huge former Fratton favourite, has opened out about the injury nightmare that cost him 14 months of his career.

The 27-year-old had no choice but to have surgery due to chronic back discomfort that was affecting his performances for new club Middlesbrough, who he signed with in the summer of 2022.

But, between his last appearance for the Championship club on October 1, 2022, and his return against Preston North stop on November 28, 2023, Clarke admitted he became resentful towards football – simply because he didn’t know when his ordeal would stop.

Clarke, who is now eight games into his comeback, told Teeside Live: ‘I’d been pretty fortunate with injuries up to that point. I had a month or two of injections and treatment to attempt to strengthen a few areas so I could return, but one month turned into two, two months turned into three, and it became an absolute nightmare.

‘It’s probably as awful as it gets as a footballer when your next game is taken away from you indefinitely. Your concentration and focus as a professional footballer are always on the next game. At the end of a season, you know the day you’ll be back for when pre-season begins. If you’ve had a hamstring injury, you’ll be out for six weeks. Even if you have your ACL or anything similar, you’re thinking nine months ahead, “Okay, maybe by January I’ll be ready to play.”

 

Brighton closing in on deal to sign Matt Clarke from Portsmouth | Football News | Sky Sports

 

‘That was not my experience. It was indefinite, which is irritating when you see specialists and the path back to where you want to go isn’t apparent and you can’t put dates on things. Even in the locker room, the guys are wondering, “When are you going to be back?” It’s a difficult place to be if you can’t answer that. It was a trying moment.’

Clarke made 175 appearances for Pompey after joining on loan from Ipswich Town in 2015 under Paul Cook. He would stay on the south coast for four seasons, helping the Blues win League Two and the Checkatrade Trophy at Wembley. Prior to joining Brighton in 2019, the centre-back was named The News/Sports Mail Pompey player of the season twice.

Despite failing to break into the Seagulls first team, Clarke’s reputation grew following Pompey courtesy to loan spells at Derby (twice) and West Brom. But the game that had given him so much pleasure turned him bitter as he struggled with not knowing when he’d return.

‘I believe you always trust that things will get better eventually, but when you’ve lived with a lot of pain and you do all the work but the pain doesn’t go away, or you see the specialist but the pain doesn’t go away, that’s a tough and frustrating situation to be in,’ he added.Listen, there is always someone who is in a worse situation than you. At the end of the day, it’s football, and you have to keep that in mind. I try to avoid “dark places” and such since, at the end of the day, there are some folks out there who are really hurting. It’s annoying not being able to play football, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s just one of those things, and you just have to keep trying and faith that things will get better for you soon.

‘I believe I became a little bitter against football. Football is something I’ve always been able to do and enjoy, and it’s what I perceive my purpose in life to be, to some extent. When you are unable to do so, you get resentful. But you must concentrate solely on your task and your abilities.’

Pompey fans will undoubtedly wish Clarke success in his recovery and will be thrilled that he has started two of Middlesbrough’s last three games. There’s no disputing that the Fratton fans would want to see him return to PO4. Although many speculated about him coming in as a temporary substitute for ACL casualty Regan Poole, it is unlikely considering his importance to Michael Carrick.
Nonetheless, the popular defender’s future appears to be bright, as he says he is finally in a good place.

‘I feel extremely wonderful now,’ Clarke remarked. ‘I believe I am capable of performing whatever is required of me. Obviously, there is always some rustiness, and you never know what level you’ll return to, but you have to find that stuff along the route. I feel like I can accomplish anything, therefore it’s up to me to determine my level and form.’

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