Darrell Clarke had one of the more successful managerial spells with Port Vale before his surprising dismissal in 2023. We look back at his reign’s high and low points.
Appointment from old rivals
On the 15th February 2021, Walsall manager Clarke is appointed as manager of Port Vale. The club lie in 18th spot in League Two and have been without a permanent manager since the departure of John Askey at the start of January. Clarke arrived a week after David Flitcroft’s appointment as director of football.
A slow start
However, it is a disappointing start as it takes Clarke eight games to get his first win as Vale manager. It comes in a 2–1 victory over Newport County on 16 March at Vale Park.
A transformation into a winning streak
That Newport win becomes the first of six successive victories, the longest winning streak for the club since March 1996. Clarke is nominated for the League Two Manager of the Month award after his team picked up 16 out of an available 18 points in April, conceding just a single goal in the process.
All change in the summer
Port Vale ended the 2020–21 season in 13th-place and Clarke said that “I can’t wait to get rid of the deadwood if I am honest”. He released all fifteen out of contract players and placed a further three contracted players on the transfer-list. Clarke and Flitcroft recruited 12 players for the start of the 2021–22 season, including Ben Garrity, Jamie Proctor and James Wilson.
A solid start
Clarke was named as September’s Manager of the Month award after overseeing a run of three wins from four games which took his side into the automatic promotion places. He also won October’s award after Vale secured a further 13 points as he became the first Port Vale boss to win the award two months running.
All change again in January
Nine players left the club in the January transfer window, whilst eight signings were made, including Chris Hussey and crucially defender Connor Hall.
On 15 February, Clarke takes a period of leave after the tragic death of his daughter with assistant Andy Crosby standing in during his absence. On 30 March, it was confirmed that Clarke would be returning to the club to support Crosby until the end of the season before taking charge again in the summer. Vale qualified for the play-off semi-finals and Clarke was sent off in extra-time of the second leg for an altercation with Swindon Town’s Dion Conroy, and had to witness Vale’s penalty shoot-out victory from the stands. He apologised for his behaviour and went on to say that: “We’ve got one more game to go against Mansfield, which is fitting because it’s where my eldest daughter came from… it’ll be an emotional day but I’m looking forward to the final.”
A glorious day at Wembley
Clarke signs a new five-year contract two days before the play-off final. Vale eased to victory in the final with a 3–0 victory and Clarke dedicated the win to his late daughter, Ellie. Clarke was one of eleven managers who received special recognition at the 41st Football Writers Awards dinner for their work during the 2021–22 season.
League One ups and downs
The Valiants enjoyed a strong start on their return to League One but the departure of Connor Hall in January coupled with injuries to forward James Wilson, Jamie Proctor and Ellis Harrison see the team’s form start to fall apart.
Clarke was linked with the vacant management position at Portsmouth in January 2023, though stated that “I am really happy here (at Port Vale)”.
However, on 17 April 2023, Clarke was sacked following run of two wins in eighteen games that left the club 18th in League One. He released a statement two weeks later which stated: “Port Vale and its incredible fanbase will always hold a place in my and my family’s hearts. The journey we travelled together, on and off the pitch, can never be erased. I will never be able to repay you as people for how you were there for us in our darkest hour, and for that we will be eternally grateful”
Time at club: 2021 to 2023
Games in charge: 124
Win ratio: 41.9%
Awards: League Two manager of the month (Sept and Oct 2021)
Honours: Promotion to League One (2022)