PNE captain Tom on familiar turf

Tom Clarke  will face his former club Huddersfield on Boxing Day
Tom Clarke will face his former club Huddersfield on Boxing Day
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There was never an doubt about which of Preston North End’s fixtures this season would be the stand-out for Tom Clarke.

Boxing Day sees PNE make the trip across the Pennines to face Huddersfield Town, a club Clarke served as man and boy.

Raised just a few miles away in Sowerby Bridge, he joined them at the age of eight.

Clarke finally severed his ties with them two-and-a-half years ago to join North End.

As club captain and with a promotion under his belt, it is a move he is glad he made.

“It was a bit strange when I left Huddersfield because I had been there since I was eight years old,” said Clarke.

“It was something which needed to happen though – I was ready for a change.

“Being there for so long, it seemed there were new players coming in all the time and that I was always fighting for a place against the new signings.

“Coming here to Preston was the best decision I could have made.

“I’m thankful to the gaffer who brought me here for putting his faith in me.”

“When I signed, I said it was my intention to be involved in as many games as possible.

“It has worked out pretty much that way, except for the odd injury and illness, I’ve been in the team.

“We won promotion at Wembley this year, we are in the Championship and I’m club captain, which is something I’m very proud of.

“I’m excited to be going back to Huddersfield on Boxing Day, obviously it was a game I looked out for straight away when the fixtures came out.

“It is a nice one for family and friends who will all be there – it will be nice for me to see a few familiar faces.

“Getting three points there would obviously make it even more special.”

Clarke followed in the footsteps of big brother Nathan in joining Huddersfield as a lad.

The siblings were later to play at first-team level for the Terriers before going their separate ways – Nathan went to Leyton Orient and is now back in Yorkshire with Bradford City.

“Huddersfield was the club where Nathan was and, as a young lad, I would go and watch him play for the junior teams, do some ball-boying.

“So it was the club I was brought up with – living in Sowerby Bridge we were local to them.

“I played for a kids’ team in Sowerby Bridge and someone from Huddersfield came down to watch me play.

“They asked me to come for a trial and things went from there.

“But with my brother being there anyway, I was always around the place, kicking a ball about and getting under everyone’s feet.

“I was 16 when I made my debut in the Huddersfield first-team, away at MK Dons.

“Nathan and myself were in the team together with was a special moment.

“Peter Jackson was the manager who gave me my debut.

“Back then, there weren’t as many new signings and the focus seemed to be bringing young lads through from the academy.

“As time went on, it became a bit more difficult to get a run in the team.

“During my years there, promotion from League One in 2012 was a highlight.

“I played a decent number of games that season and I felt we deserved promotion.”

Clarke, who turned 28 earlier this week, has special reason to look forward to Christmas – not withstanding his return to Huddersfield.

It will be his first as a dad, baby Heidi having arrived into the world in June.

“I had a nice day with the family for my birthday on Monday and now I’ve got Christmas to look forward to,” said the centre-half.

“This is my Christmas with our baby girl and it will be lovely to spend it with her.

“We are not training on Christmas Day but the instructions about what we can eat and drink are pretty strict.

“It is something we are used to, we know how to look after ourselves – what we can and can’t do.”

The Lilywhites’ Christmas programme has a strong Yorkshire flavour to it.

Saturday’s visit to the John Smith’s Stadium comes six days after the 1-0 defeat at Leeds.

On Monday, Hull City come to Deepdale and the first game of 2016 sees Rotherham make the trip to Lancashire. The last outing at Leeds was a frustrating one for PNE, defeat coming after they played for more than an hour with 10 men following a red card for Jordan Pickford.

That was rescinded earlier in the week after a successful appeal, leaving Pickford free to face Huddersfield.

But a bitter taste has been left in the mouth, the thinking being along the lines of ‘what might have been’ had North End kept 11 men on the pitch.

Said Clarke: “The Leeds game was disappointing, what happened with Jordan was a big factor.

“It looked like the referee was only go to book Jordan but then someone spoke in his ear to say it should be a red card.

“Matt Hudson did fine in nets in place of Jordan but obviously we had to play with a man less for a large part of the game which didn’t help us.

“We have looked back at the game, evaluated it and now we move on to focus on playing Huddersfield.

“The training has been good this week and hopefully we can get the win there.

“It is an important game for us because it is the next one.

“Huddersfield are close to us in the table so the aim is to put more space between us.”

Another ex-Huddersfield player in the PNE squad is Calum Woods. The versatile defender made the move to Deepdale a year after Clarke did.

Woods has been on the bench of late, a good run of games in the autumn halted by a minor hamstring injury he suffered against Blackburn last month.

He has been back on the bench for the last four games.