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It might have been in stoppage time as a substitute, and it might have come just before Leyton Orient scored their winning goal, but James Clarke, who left us at the end of last season, made his Football League debut last night for Mansfield Town.

1819 burnley james clarke 00 500x500Clarke, who had been with the club for four years, was one of six players the club announced were being released from the under-23 squad last April. He left alongside goalkeeper Aidan Stone, fellow defender Ed Cook, midfielder Mark Howarth, winger Marley Blair and forward Tinashe Chakwana and, at the time, coach Steve Stone said: “They have been a credit to what the football club is trying to achieve.

“The one from the u23s up to the first team is the biggest gap you will find in football. That’s why it’s been so tough and that’s why five or six of them have left because it is a tough contract. It would have been easy for me to give them another year and say development but for the boys I’ve let go, it’s time to go and play men’s football and play for three points on a Saturday afternoon. They won’t like it now, but hopefully they’ll thank me for it down the line when they’ve got a career in the game somewhere else.”

Two of those players, Stone and Clarke, joined Mansfield in the summer. Stone has been the substitute goalkeeper all season while Clarke, initially signed to join their under-23 squad, has stepped up in the last week and has been on the bench for the last three games. Last night he got on for the final few minutes and made that Football League debut.

He impressed firstly as a central defender and then at right back during his time at Burnley and played for the Republic of Ireland at under-19 level, but an injury last season cost him his place in the Burnley under-23 team, one he didn’t really win back when fit again although he remained with the club following his release and played his final game against Blackburn in the Lancashire Senior Cup Final, playing in midfield on a night when Stone, Chakwana and Dan Agyei also played for us for the last time.

Despite their result last night, Up the Clarets would like to send congratulations to James on making his Football League debut.

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