Matt Clarke left the Millers for his dream move to the Premier League, but it didn’t work out. Here he tells us why he doesn’t regret it.
Over the years there have been Rotherham players who have moved to Sheffield Wednesday under different circumstances.
Guy Branston and Mark Robins swapped Millmoor for Hillsborough in the early 2000s after falling out of the reckoning at the higher-placed Millers.
A few years later Deon Burton wanted to make the same move, but this time the roles were reversed as the cash-stricken Millers were on the way down and Wednesday were back in the Championship.
In fact, Burton was so desperate to get his move to the Owls over the line that he famously refused to turn up for Rotherham’s New Year’s Eve clash with Doncaster so not to jeopardise the deal.
But goalkeeper Matt Clarke’s move was different – this was his chance to hit the big time.
Clarke – a self-confessed Sheffield Wednesday supporter – came through the ranks at Millmoor and was a fans’ favourite.
“The fans at Wednesday were a lot more shallow and fickle than they were at Rotherham.” – Matt Clarke
He had established himself as the club’s number one over a number of seasons and was captain of the side.
His crowning moment came at the back end of the 1995-96 campaign when he became the first player to lead the Millers out at Wembley and subsequently lifted the Auto Windscreens Shield after a 2-1 win over Shrewsbury.
That honour was the reward for several years of impressive performances which hadn’t gone unnoticed by clubs higher up the ladder.
In the summer of 1996, the Owls – at the time established members of Premier League – made their move and swooped for the 23-year-old in a £325,000 deal.
It was a dream transfer for Clarke, joining the club he supported as a boy and getting a crack of the whip in the big time.
But his stay at Hillsborough turned out to be more of a nightmare.
A firm understudy to Kevin Pressman, the Sheffield-born stopper had to wait until the final game of the 1996-97 season for his debut and that lasted only 10 minutes as he was sent off for two yellow cards, despite coming on as a 73rd-minute sub.
That set the tone for his spell in S6 as over the following two campaigns he only managed a further three appearances, going through the entire 1998-99 campaign without featuring.
He left Hillsborough for Bradford in 1999 but holds no regrets about his move from Rotherham.
“I look back now and it was still the right move for me,” Clarke told Millers Time.
“Unfortunately I didn’t get into the team, the opportunities were just a little bit limited to me, that’s why I moved on after three years to Bradford and managed to grasp the opportunity.
“When I look back to that period when I was at Sheffield Wednesday I think I played four times in three years and a couple of them were as a sub, so it was a difficult time for me and there were times when I thought, ‘What have I done, I should have stayed at Rotherham’.
“Of course I was sad to leave, Rotherham is still the first result I look for on a Saturday, and I had some great memories there.
“I can remember being approached by a die-hard chap in Rotherham and he asked me why I left, which I was always going to get.
“It was a good move for me, I was a Sheffield Wednesday supporter so it was the right thing to do at the time, but it doesn’t make it any easier moving away from my first love at the time which was Rotherham.
“It was my first club and I had some cracking times and memories there.
“It was difficult but you have got to move on to better your career and challenge yourself because ultimately you want to play at the highest level and that was a stepping stone for me.”
Clarke went on to better times, famously helping Bradford survive in the Premier League before helping Bolton reach the same promised land the season after.
But the keeper was robbed of the chance of a long and full career by a knee injury which eventually forced him to retire aged only 31, just three seasons after commanding a £1.35million fee.
But now, 12 years later Clarke is thankful for what football gave to him
“I look at the positives,” he added. “I had a great time, I had some bad times in football like everyone, but football was pretty good to me.
“Yes, my career ended prematurely but I made some life friends out if it, I had some fantastic experiences, I made some decent money out of it which has set me up for the rest of my life.
“In one instance you are gutted when it ends, but by the same token you have to grasp other opportunities. I had some happy times.”
The happiest of those was at Millmoor, enjoying a different taste of the game compared to the places he went on to play at.
“I had my best times at Rotherham when the game was totally different to what it is now,” he reminisced. “I had some good camaraderie, met some good chaps and had some happy days there.
“I’ll never forget them and I was always fortunate to say I have experienced those days.
“Back then it was all about the football, I can look back on my days at Rotherham, especially the day at Wembley, with very, very fond memories and I thank everybody, including the fans, for the support they gave me while I was there.
“To coin a phrase, it was ‘happy days’.
“The early days there for me were great there went many resources.
“It was a totally different club to where Rotherham is now and as I progressed in my career and played at a higher level I saw facilities that Rotherham didn’t have.
“It was still a very fond memory, Rotherham lies close to my heart and I thank the fans for their support when I was there.
“The fans were great, really good and kind to me. They supported me probably more than any other club I have been at even though I made it clear I was a Sheffield Wednesday supporter.
“The fans at Wednesday were a lot more shallow and fickle than they were at Rotherham. Everyone who was there from the tea lady to the coaches was lovely, it was a real homely club.”