Stockport County have signed centre-half Michael Clarke from Evo-Stik Northern Premier League First Division North side Northwich Victoria – allowing the 26-year-old to finally fulfil a boyhood dream.
Clarke revealed he’s always dreamed of playing for his home-town club: “Being a Stockport lad I’ve always wanted to play for County,” he said. “Some players move because they’re motivated by money, or other reasons, but I just want to play in front of those 3,500 fans every week, I can’t wait.”
Clarke started out as a striker but was successfully converted to a defender by manager Jim Gannon, who named him club captain during his time in charge at Northwich.
The new signing admits that playing for Gannon was a major factor. He said: “I’ve never worked under a better manager; it’s been the best three years of my football career playing for Jim. When he got the job at Northwich I did really well, he converted me from a striker to a centre back and I played there the whole of last season. He made me captain; we did really well in the league and had a great run in the FA Cup, so hopefully the same thing can happen at County.
“When Jim asked me to play at the back, I did it for the team really, but once I got into it I actually preferred it. I did play at the back as a kid until I was about 17, but then my college team asked me to play up front and I scored a hat trick, so I stayed as a striker when I moved into semi-pro.”
Last season Clarke led Vics to the Second Round of the FA Cup, where they came within 5 minutes of causing an upset against Northampton Town, whilst their promotion dreams were shattered in a play-off final defeat against Spennymoor Town.
Gannon said: “I know all about Michael from my time at Northwich and he’s a natural leader on the pitch. He’s also very versatile, and can play as a holding midfielder when required. During my time with Vics, I successfully converted him from centre forward to centre half and he played over sixty games last season, becoming one of the best defenders in the Northern Premier League. I’m sure he will be very popular with the County fans.”
Clarke, who lives in Gatley, has a full-time job as a self-employed painter and decorator in the family business. He started his career at Woodley Sports before joining Chester City, Northwich in his first spell and Rushall Olympic, before returning to Vics.
He firmly believes a promotion season could be on the cards for his new club. He said: “The aim has to be to get in the play-offs, that’s where I think we should be – and a nice little cup run wouldn’t go amiss either. I’m not worried about the step up, I’ve got a few mates who play in the National League and they’ve told me there‘s not a massive difference and I’ll be more than capable of playing at that level. I just want to get into pre-season now, do some work on fitness, get the right diet plan in place, put a load of effort in, concentrate on my football and give it my best shot next season.”
Clarke received rave reviews last season for his performances at the heart of the Vics defence, and played sixty-one times for the club – but it should’ve been even more. He said: “I played sixty-one games last season and it would’ve been more if I hadn’t got the flu at the end of the season! I was gutted, I just wanted to play more games.”