“I dedicate this to my daughter.”
An emotional Darrell Clarke paid tribute to his late daughter after his Port Vale side secured a 3-0 win over Mansfield Town to win the Sky Bet League Two play-off final at Wembley Stadium.
The Valiants boss spent over a month on holiday following the death of his 18-year-old daughter Ellie in February and was overcome with emotion at the final whistle as his team secured a place in Sky Bet League One next season.
“I’ve been working so hard to control those emotions for the past few days and they all came out in the end,” he admitted. “It’s special for my eldest daughter who I lost this year and for my family who’s been going through a tough time.
“I certainly don’t want any sympathy, I just felt like she was kicking every ball for me up there today. It was the most emotional day I’ve had in football. I’m just happy for everyone in the club.”
Both fans joined in the eighth minute of the game with one minute of applause – his jersey number during his time with the Stags – to honor Clarke and his family.
“It was very special,” he admitted. “Ellie was a Mansfield girl—born and raised in Mansfield, like myself. I was touched that these Stags fans did that.
“I have a great affinity for the club. I was there from 10 to about 23. Doing this for me and my family will be forever grateful.
“I’ve got so much time for the Football Club and Nigel Clough and they’re going to bounce back – I’m praying they get promoted next season.”
Clarke, who will now be taking some time off with his family, was full of praise for his staff, the club and the wider football community for their support.
“The League Managers Association has been absolutely brilliant and continues to be because it’s not a quick fix,” he explains. “The Football Club and the Football Community, not just the club I managed and played for, but the support I’ve received has been amazing.
“I will only heal the family. We will go away and have our own special moments.”
The 44-year-old had his special praise for his assistant Andy Crosby, who led the team onto Wembley Field before kick-off after taking charge of the team during his compassionate leave of absence.
“We’re building the club on ‘we’, not ‘I’,” he added. “Andy took over with a group of players in the most difficult circumstances imaginable and did a fantastic job. I thought it would be fitting for him to lead the team out. There are no personal awards for me here, it goes just about what we do as a group.” and that’s why we made this decision.
“The group has been absolutely outstanding – the staff, the players, throughout the season.