SKIPPER Peter Clarke says the team spirit which carried Huddersfield Town to promotion was the best he has ever experienced.
The 29-year-old defender wears his heart on his sleeve and is incredibly proud to be captain at the Galpharm, and he hit a career high at Wembley.
Not only did Town win promotion after two successive play-off heartbreaks, but Clarke was the man who went up first for his medal and then lifted the silverware in front of 22,000 delirious supporters in the west end of the national stadium.
“The camaraderie between the players has been unbelievable,” said Clarke, who made 36 appearances either side of double hernia surgery.
“It has been second to none, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.
“Including any club I have been at and any club I have seen – Barcelona, anybody you want – the team spirit at Huddersfield Town among the players who won promotion has been the best, brilliant.
“We care about each other and we love each other and it’s just like an extended family really.”
Clarke didn’t sleep on the Saturday night after the final because he was determined to enjoy “every second” of the celebrations which followed what was only the club’s second-ever victory at Wembley (following 1995).
“I didn’t see my bed until the Sunday night, but to win promotion at Wembley in the way that we did was something we can all hold very, very dearly in our hearts and it’s something I will remember for ever,” he explained.
“The support we got down there was incredible, and to see so many people turn out to welcome us home was brilliant – because while it means everything to us it also shows how important it is to them.
“It just emphasises the fantastic backing we’ve had over the last 12 months, over the last two years and over the last three seasons.
“It’s been phenomenal because there have been disappointments.
“Millwall away in the play-off semi-finals was disappointing and Old Trafford last year was just heartbreaking.
“So to get there ourselves and achieve what we wanted while also rewarding the fans as well – it’s brilliant.”
Clarke was a playing colleague of manager Simon Grayson’s at Blackpool and, while congratulating the 43-year-old on his third career promotion as a boss, he also spared a thought for previous manager Lee Clark.
“Lee deserves a great amount of credit,” he said.
“He brought the vast majority of players together here and the lads raised a glass in celebration to Lee as well.”
Clarke is one of the players on Town’s books with higher-level experience, having signed his first professional contract with Everton in January 1999 and making nine appearances for the Goodison club in the top flight.
He had loan spells at Blackpool, Port Vale and Coventry City before a permanent move to Bloomfield Road in 2004.
They were managed by former Blackburn and Scotland centre-back Colin Hendry at the time and he could see the quality in Clarke’s play.
Not surprisingly, Clarke became captain and Player of the Year at Blackpool, also picking up a host of other awards from supporters groups and media.
He sought pastures new in August 2006, agreeing to join Southend United, but they were relegated to League I in his first season.
The highlight of his time at Roots Hall was probably a last-minute headed equaliser against Chelsea in an FA Cup-tie.
A few months after that, however, he was on the way to Town where, once again, he has been Player of the Year and become captain of the club.