FC Halifax Town: “It was quite scary initially” - Clarke relieved to be on the mend after eye injury
Clarke was forced off in Halifax’s 1-0 defeat at Sutton on November 28 with an eye injury, and hasn’t played since.
The 37-year-old suffered a detached retina and was operated on by opthalmic surgeon Rubina Rahman at Calderdale Royal Hospital.
“I thought it could have ended my career, so it was quite scary initially,” said Clarke.
“The contact at the time wasn’t something I’d put down as being heavy, but when I got caught in the side of the face, to then within a couple of days, to completely lose my sight in the left eye, was quite scary.
“I had the operation, which ended up being two-and-a-half hours, whilst being awake.
“The retina had detached and it ended up being quite a serious operation, so thankfully that went really well, the surgeon was really happy with that.
“I’m still in the process of it not being too blurry now. I joined in training for the first time today, did some extra running and bits and bats, so I feel really fit and ready to go.
“Contact-wise I haven’t done anything and I’ve been advised by the surgeon to ease back into that, so I’m probably at the early stages of that.”
Clarke added: “Not knowing too much about it, it was quite scary in the fact that I couldn’t see anything out if it,” he said.
“The eye looked fine, I didn’t have a black eye or anything or any bruising, so my initial worry was ‘why is it like this, why is the sight not there?’
“Speaking to specialists and seeking their advice, they reassured me that it does happen, it is a bit of a freak accident, certainly in football I think it’s very rare, but they reassured me once I’d had the operation that within time I should be fine to get back playing.
“It was all about the recovery and making sure I had the operation as soon as possible.”
Clarke said a Sutton player caught him with the palm of his hand on the side of his face close to his eye.
“It was nothing spectacular, I’ve had plenty more big tackles and head injuries before,” he said.
“He must have just caught me at the right point to cause it.
“Initially there were quite a lot of black, squiggly lines that were running up and down my eyesight, so I just thought maybe I had some of the artificial grass in there, or something else.
“I’ve had a million head injuries and tackles before and never thought ‘I need to come off here’.
“With it being at the side of the face I was hoping that the sight would gradually come back and I’d be fine to carry on playing.
“But Sutton’s club doctor made the decision and took it out of the manager’s hands. Me being me, I wanted to play and hope it would sort itself out second-half but unfortunately it didn’t.”
Clarke had his operation a week to ten days after picking up the injury.
“I’m so thankful to the surgeon and the team because when you read up on it and look into it, it’s an amazing operation that they do,” he said.
“Then for probably about two weeks the sight had still gone.
“They put a gas bubble in the eye, which then disperses over time.
“I’m coming out of the back end of that now.
“I had the operation just before Christmas.
“It’s still a bit blurry in certain places, and I’ve been told I’ll have to wear glasses and contact lenses, so the loss of my short sight comes with the operation.
“I guess it’s something you don’t think about when you play football, that an injury like that is going to happen, but unfortunately it’s happened to me.”
Clarke was concerned the Sutton game may have been his last in a long and distinguished career.
“Initially my thoughts were that I’d have to stop, certainly in my position I’m forever heading the ball and having those challenges,” he said.
“My first week or so, there were so many thoughts running through my head that would that be my last involvement, would I be able to carry on?
“Once I’d got over that and sought the advice from the specialists, it was about moving forward and looking forward to working hard to get back playing.
“I still have that desire to keep playing, like I always have.
“But you do take a step back. I’ve got a wife and two girls and, long-term, it probably is a life-changing injury.
“I never expected I’d have to be wearing glasses after a tackle that happened in a game.”
Clarke is not sure when he will be able to return to action, and that it’s down to how his eye reacts to contact and heading the ball again.
“That’s the big test at the moment,” he said. “The surgeon isn’t a sports specialist so, rightly so, she’s protecting the work she’s done and making sure the first thing is that the eye has recovered.
“We can’t really put a time on it unfortunately, but I’m working hard so that when I do get the go-ahead, I’m fit enough and ready enough.
“I’m running before games, I’m doing my extras with the physio Aaron (Scholes), whose been brilliant with me.
“It’s trial and error at the moment but the sooner I can get back, I’m desperate to do that.”
Clarke praised the support he has received from the coaching staff at Halifax.
“They’ve been fantastic,” he said. “I’m not one to not want to train or even come off the pitch with an injury, I always try my best to play on.
“They’ve made me more aware of the fact that, long-term, it’s a health thing and there’s nothing more important than that.
“They’ve wanted me around the squad as much as possible and given me the time to be at home straight after the operation to recover.
“They’ve kept me involved with all the analysis, looking at teams coming up and thankfully the team has put themselves in a fantastic position.
“Initially the eye was quite sensitive to light so I was walking round with sunglasses on, just trying to protect it.
“The manager’s been fantastic in understand there is a life after football and with me having a family, that I needed to do things right, and they’ve been right behind me. The support they’ve shown me has been fantastic.”
The Town skipper says he looks back on what happened with relief.
“Obviously I’m happy that the specialists feel that, in time, I’ll be able to come back and something that I love doing,” he said.
“That was my initial worry, that I wouldn’t be able to do that.
“I love playing, I love being involved with the lads.
“But seeing the positives and how quickly the specialists and the surgeon reacted, they got me in despite the pandemic, and really looked after me.
“You’ve just got to put your trust in them.
“The support my family have shown me, especially my wife, has been really amazing too.”