“I dedicate that to my daughter.”
An emotive Darrell Clarke paid tribute to his late daughter after his Port Vale side secured a 3-0 victory over Mansfield Town to win the Sky Bet League Two Play-Off Final at Wembley Stadium.
The Valiants boss spent over a month on compassionate leave of absence following the death of his 18-year-old daughter, Ellie, in February, and was overcome with emotion at the final whistle as his team sealed a place in Sky Bet League One next season.
"I worked so hard in the past few days to control those emotions and then they all came out at the end there," he admitted. "It’s special for my eldest daughter that I lost this year and my family that have gone through a tough time.
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"I certainly don’t want 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 delighted for everyone at the Club."
Both sets of fans joined forces with a minute's applause during the eighth minute of the game – his shirt number during his time with the Stags – to honour Clarke and his family.
"It was very special," he confessed. "Ellie was a Mansfield girl – Mansfield born and bred, like myself. For those Stags fans to do that, it touched me.
"I've got a great affinity with the Club. I was there from being 10 years old to about 23. To do that for myself and my family, I’ll forever be grateful.
"I’ve got so much time for the Football Club and Nigel Clough and they’ll bounce back – I’m praying they’ll go up next season."
A victory that meant so much 🤍🖤#EFLPlayOffs | #StepUp | @OfficialPVFC pic.twitter.com/w0a5QmCVYT— Sky Bet League Two (@SkyBetLeagueTwo) May 28, 2022
Clarke, who will now take time out on holiday with his family, was full of praise for his staff, the Club and the football community as a whole for their support.
"The League Managers Association have been absolutely outstanding, and continue to be outstanding, because it’s not a quick fix," he explains. "The Football Club and the football community, not just the Club I’ve managed and played for, but all the support that I’ve been given, has been great.
"I’m just going to mend the family. We’ll go away and have our own special moments."
The 44-year-old saved special praise for his assistant, Andy Crosby, who led the team out onto the Wembley pitch before kick-off, having taken charge of the team during his compassionate leave of absence.
"We build the Club on ‘we’, not ‘I’," he added. "Andy took over in the hardest circumstances imaginable with a group of players and did a fantastic job. I thought it was fitting for him to lead the team out. There’s no personal accolades for me here, it’s all about what we do as a group and that’s why we made that decision.
"The group have been absolutely outstanding – the staff, the players, all season. From what we’ve had to come through, to put in that performance was outstanding."