By Keith Brookman
With Rovers’ return to the Football League assured, manager Darrell Clarke’s first signing was strong central defender James Clarke.
The 25 year old had appeared against Rovers in January 2015 in the Gas’ goalless draw at Woking and had earlier worked under his namesake at Salisbury City.
An Oxford United debut had come in the 2-0 victory at Kidderminster in the Conference in November 2007 and he had been sent off after 71 minutes of a 3-0 defeat against Burton Albion in March 2008 and, appearing alongside Lewis Haldane and Chris Carruthers, six minutes before half time of an opening day defeat at Barrow five months later.
Clarke had played 25 (+7) times in the Conference for Oxford United before 151 games with their neighbours Oxford City which took in promotion from the Southern League to the Nationwide North in 2011.
Thereafter, 75 (+1) appearances for Salisbury, this tally starting with a 2-1 victory over Hornchurch in August 2012, his side gaining promotion to the Conference in 2012/13, where he appeared in 36 (+1) matches during 2013/14, had preceded 28 (+2) games in the same division with Woking, helping the side to 12 clean sheets.
James made his Rovers debut on the opening day of the 2015/16 season when Rovers played Northampton Town.
He enjoyed a successful first season as a Football League player and signed a new contract with the club in the summer of 2016 and after a season that saw him make another 22 league appearances he signed another new deal in the summer of 2017.
Injured in the first game of the 2017/18 season, against Charlton Athletic at The Valley, James didn’t return to action until the final weeks of the campaign when he made only 12 league appearances.
He signed a new deal to remain at The Memorial Stadium in the summer of 2018 and went on to appear in 42 league games in 2018/19, scoring twice in the process. One of the club’s most consistent performers in a struggling side, it came as a surprise when he left in the summer of 2019 to join Darrell Clarke and Marcus Stewart at Walsall.