The gap year from hell

Billy Clarke on the ball in the 2-2 draw with Brighton & Hove Albion.
Billy Clarke on the ball in the 2-2 draw with Brighton & Hove Albion.
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THERE were times last season when Billy Clarke wondered whether he’d ever don the tangerine of Blackpool again.

Clarke was down and depressed about a knee injury which wrecked his chance of playing in the Premier League.

But worse than that, in his darkest moments he debated if he’d ever be able to play to the same high standards he had before his injury.

His world came to a shuddering halt in July 2010, in the opening seconds of the Seasiders’ first pre-season friendly at Tiverton Town in Devon.

Clarke was bubbly before the game, looking forward to building on a promising first season at Bloomfield Road, in which he had curled in a brilliant derby strike against Preston and excited the fans with his skill and eye for goal. He was now set on proving he could excel in the top flight too.

But disaster struck two minutes into the Tiverton game, when Clarke’s knee gave way. He ruptured his cruciate ligament, the injury every player dreads.

“He was looking so sharp in training and had done so much in the summer to try and get over the knocks he had last year,” said boss Ian Holloway lamented at the time. “We’re all gutted for him, absolutely gutted.”

It is testament to the 23-year-old Irishman, then, that he has not only fought back to fitness but is once again beginning to look like the player he was before injury struck.

After a full year on the sidelines, Clarke worked hard over the summer.

It paid off. He had a good pre-season, scoring twice, and has featured in every game so far, starting the last two matches at Brighton and Crystal Palace.

He’s looked stronger, sharper and more confident in every passing game and it goes without saying that he’s delighted to be back.