Gateshead defender Ben Clark has decided to bring down the curtain on his sixteen year career.
The thirty three year old has decided to retire and will look to focus on coaching within the Tynesiders’ youth setup, as well as working with the local community with long-time centre back partner James Curtis.
The decision ends a career that has seen the defender make just under five hundred appearances for four different clubs and is one that Clark knew he had to make.
He said “To be honest I have known for quite a while now. I have spoken to a lot of people that have retired and they have said you know when you know.
“I have known for a while, I wasn’t in the team and although I am training with the team, if I wasn’t involved on a matchday I just thought it was the right time to pack in and concentrate on the full-time role I now have at the football club.
“I am grateful for that opportunity and it is one I am looking forward to”
It has been a summer of change at the International Stadium, as Heed boss Neil Aspin overhauled the Heed squad.
A number of defenders were brought into the squad including Wrexham duo Jamal Fyfield and Manny Smith.
Aspin also brought in Liam Hogan and handed the Tranmere Rovers centre back the captain’s armband.
In order to get game time Clark signed a dual-registration deal with EBAC Northern League club South Shields, making four appearances for the Mariners.
As he watched his Heed team mates from the touchline, his reaction to watching them in action left him sure that retiring was the right decision to make.
“The biggest thing for me was I wasn’t really missing the buzz of a Saturday” he said.
“I found myself genuinely wanting the lads that played in my position to do well. Every footballer will tell you they want you team to win but you want the lad that has taken your position to maybe not do well.
“You want to be in the team but I wanted the lads in my position to do well. That tells its own story I think
“I am at peace with the decision”
Clark began his career with a short spell at Manchester United’s academy, before moving on to Sunderland in 1999.
The Consett-born defender went on to make a handful of appearances for the Black Cats, before joining Neale Cooper’s Hartlepool United in 2004.
His first season saw Pools come within seven minutes of a place in English football’s second tier for the first time in their history.
Eifion Williams and Jon Daly put the Victoria Park outfit into a 2-1 lead against Sheffield Wednesday in the League One play-off final at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
Clark, not in the matchday squad that day, watched on as Steve MacLean’s eighty third minute penalty sent the game into extra time.
The Owls took command as Glenn Whelan and Drew Talbot sent them into the Championship, with Pools suffering a serious hangover as they were relegated in the following season.
Danny Wilson replaced Martin Scott at the helm, and a swift return to League One was secured.
That was a time recalled my Clark as “the highlight of my time at the club and probably in my career”.
“In my first season at Pools we were seven minutes away from promotion to the Championship, which for a club like Hartlepool would have been something very special.
“We had a very good team, but an even better team spirit.
“We had the disappointment of relegation the following season but Danny Wilson came in and changed the football club completely.
“We had a great year, we got promoted and that was the highlight of my time at the club and probably in my career, even ahead of the Wembley appearances”
Clark’s retirement is a poignant one for Gateshead.
Up until his decision to end his playing career was announced, he remained the only Heed player left on the club’s playing staff from their 2014 Skrill Premier Play-off Final defeat against Cambridge United.
That was the closest the Tynesiders have come to achieving a place in the Football League and that team will be fondly remembered by the Heed Army for years to come.
Clark, captain of the club on their Wembley appearance, has seen many of the side depart from the International Stadium during the summer.
Long-serving centre back James Curtis and full back Craig Baxter left for Spennymoor Town and South Shields respectively, whilst twelve months earlier midfielder Phil Turnbull moved to Darlington.
JJ O’Donnell remains at the club in an off-field capacity, with Heed legend Curtis returning to work within the local community.
Clark paid tribute to a number of that Gateshead side, calling them “great characters” as he looks to move on in the next stage of his career.
“James Curtis is a club legend, I won’t say Phil Turnbull is because he has too big a head already, Craig Baxter, they brought the club to this level.
“They were great servants, great characters and great friends of mine. They epitomise the football club and I was lucky to play for them.
“I got a couple more years at the club on the playing side than they did, which has been enjoyable.
“But James is still here, on the community side and the chairman has looked after him. I have to pay tribute to the chairman, he has looked after me too and I think I have done all I can on the playing side. Now I look to move on off-the-pitch”
As he moves on to the next stage of his career Clark has been working with Gateshead’s Under 19s, as well as developing the club’s community scheme.
However, he revealed that he doesn’t envisage a future role in the dugout, as he emphatically stated “management is not for me”.
“Micky Cummins is letting me shadow him with the Under 19s and I have taken the team on a couple of occasions.
“I have also told the younger lads in the first team squad I am always around if they need some advice.
“If the manager and Lee Nogan need me I will be around for them and I’ll be doing the community work with James Curtis too, which is something we all want to build.
“Management is not for me and I said that to the manager on Tuesday night. The coaching side of it is something I enjoy and that, along with the community side, is where I see myself going”
Interview: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)