After beating cancer, Portadown midfielder Richard Clarke’s goal is to play
He's won a league title and the Irish Cup with Portadown and also played a major role in helping get back into the top flight three years ago as the club fought the toughest battle in its history.
Richard Clarke’s biggest and best result, however, came off the pitch just last week.
The 33-year-old midfielder has won his four-month battle with cancer and he will now start to work his way back into the Portadown first team, with the goal of returning before the season is out.
And to think that Clarke’s friends poked fun at him when he appeared on Sky Sports’ cult Saturday morning football show Soccer AM after being hit by the ball where no man wants to be hit.
At the time the incident in a game against Coleraine, which had been screened live by Sky, seemed innocuous, but when he experienced pain and swelling Clarke visited his doctor only to be told a few weeks later that the lump he discovered was indeed cancerous.
The affected testicle was removed in June, but that wasn’t the end of the matter. Scans discovered that the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes, meaning further treatment as well as having to put his life — and football career — on hold.
Arduous sessions of chemotherapy — the side effects included losing his hair — proved successful and Clarke is now in recovery.
“I was at the hospital for a review appointment last week having finished the chemotherapy a week before,” said Clarke.
“Nobody said anything about what the situation was and I didn’t want to leave things that way, so I asked the doctor how things were looking.
“He said the chemo had done its job and that everything was clear.
“To hear that was a big relief and a weight off my shoulders.
“I want to move on now. I still have to go back every three months for scans to check that everything is still as it should be.”
Clarke can now focus on the future and along with his wife Karen and daughter Abby he is looking forward to a new addition to the family in December.
It’s been a long road back for Clarke, literally. He’s lost count of how many times he had to make the 85 mile journey from his home in Castlederg to the cancer unit at Belfast City Hospital — a 170 mile round-trip for wife Karen on the few occasions Richard was detained because of infection.
“Karen came up every day when I had to stay in, even though I was trying to tell her to stay at home.
“I didn’t want her driving that distance on her own every day while she’s pregnant, but she didn’t want to stay at home.”
The red Portadown number eight shirt with Clarke’s name emblazoned on the back has been hanging in the Shamrock Park kit room untouched since August waiting on his return.
It won’t be long until it’s hung up on a peg in the dressing room, with manager Ronnie McFall (pictured) able to write the name Richard Clarke on his teamsheet once again.
“The boys from the Northern Ireland Supporters’ Club in Castlederg organised a match for cancer charities last weekend and I played for half an hour,” said Clarke.
“I could hardly breathe after it,” he added.
“The consultant told me that it was more down to the fact that I haven’t done any training for the last five months rather than the treatment.
“It’s going to take a while to get back, but I definitely want to play again and while I have to take things slowly I want to play this season
“Not being able to play for so long has re-invigorated me.
“I’ve missed it and because I know that I am coming towards the end of my career, I want to play as many games as I can now, but I won’t rush back and I know Ronnie won’t rush me back either.
“He’s been great all along and while he hasn’t pushed me, he’s always encouraged me to want to play again.
“I’ve been cycling a bit and I think in the next couple of weeks I’ll get back to training once a week and then step it up as I go along.
“Even over the last week or so when I’ve been cycling I’ve been feeling stronger as I’ve done a bit more.
“I am still under oncology care for the next six weeks, so I probably won’t do much in that time, but the big thing for me at the very start was that I was told my career wasn’t in doubt and I don’t want to finish yet.
“I want to start living my life again. My daughter has lifted me when I’ve been down and she’s asked me where my hair has gone.
“I needed a shave last week so that’s starting to come back too.”