CLEARLY not one for harbouring grudges, Lee Clark insists tomorrow afternoon he will offer a warm handshake to Huddersfield Town chairman Dean Hoyle – who controversially sacked him and left him shattered last February.
The Geordie makes his first return to the John Smith’s Stadium with current club Birmingham City insisting he does not feel any resentment about his treatment back on February 15, 2012.
Following his dismissal, Clark famously issued a statement where he spoke of being ‘shocked’, ‘disappointed’ and ‘very perplexed’ at the decision, revealed by phone to him by Hoyle the morning after a home defeat to Sheffield United.
Town, fourth at the time, were just four points off an automatic promotion spot in League One.
Rumours at the time suggested the relationship between manager and chairman had seriously broken down, with Hoyle reportedly tired of seeing Clark’s name continually linked with jobs.
But plenty of water has flowed under the bridge in the past 11 months, so much so that Clark was only too happy on behalf of his family to accept the Town chairman’s invitation that they return to the club as guests tomorrow afternoon.
On the eve of his first Town return, Clark, speaking exclusively to the Yorkshire Post, said: “I view Huddersfield as a big part of my life and a great and important part.
“It was my first managerial position and I thoroughly enjoyed every single day I had at the football club.
“I still have lots of friends there and they are good people, including the owner Dean (Hoyle), who eventually made the decision to change it.
“Him and the board of directors have invited my family back to the game on Saturday as his guests and that just shows you that the relationship, despite what happened, is still strong.
“I will shake them all by the hand, 100 per cent.”
He added: “I understand what happened; I am a big boy, that’s football.
“Dean spent a hell of a lot of money and has put a lot of time into Huddersfield and is a fan. He thought it wasn’t going the right way and wanted to change it.
“The only reason it hurt was because I loved the job. I really looked forward to going into work and being manager of Huddersfield.
“Once it ended, I had to dust myself down quickly and was not one for hanging around.
“If there was a job of interest, I would have taken it immediately.
“But I waited for something a bit different and am now manager of a huge club and I have to do a similar rebuilding job to what I did at Huddersfield. It is something I am relishing.”
Clark’s quest to return Town to what their supporters feel is their rightful place at the Championship table may have ended unfulfilled during his reign.
But the 40-year-old, who took the club to two successive play-off campaigns in 2009-10 and 2010-11, feels proud of his time at the club and if he has just one regret, it is not having star winger Anthony Pilkington at his disposal for the infamous play-off final defeat to Peterborough United at Old Trafford in May 2011.
Clark, who also presided over Town’s record 43-match Football League unbeaten run, added: “I think Dean would be the first to admit that we changed the club beyond all recognition and that is why the club are doing as great as they are now.
“Bur I will always remember that Peterborough game, for sure. For a spell, we were in the ascendancy. But it just was not to be.
“I thought the players recovered really well next season and were doing great.
“Looking back, it’s all ifs and buts, and I do feel if we’d had Anthony Pilkington available for the play-off final, we would have been in the Championship a year earlier.”
Town will forever be one of Clark’s ‘teams’ and the heart-on-sleeve North Easterner admits he will not overly enjoy trying to put one over a club for which he has such fond feelings.
But duty calls and while Town fans and Clark may care to remember what they did for each other tomorrow, it will be strictly business from 3pm onwards.
On whether he will receive a good reception, Clark, who returns to the club along with Terry McDermott, Derek Fazackerley, Steve Watson and John Vaughan – all with him at Town – added: “Certainly during the game, the fans are not going to want me to be successful as they will be desperate for their team to win, which is the right thing to do.
“But we have got to win for our own reasons.
“I go to Huddersfield in a professional capacity looking to win and beat people and supporters who were a massive part of my life.
“I won’t particularly enjoy that, but they will understand I have got to do the business for my club and supporters now.”