Loneliness of the lower league loan star
Billy Clarke hates driving, so this must obviously be one of those cruel twists of fate that life sometimes throws up. That's because the 21-year-old is currently on his third loan spell of the season and racking up the miles behind the wheel.
First Darlington, then Northampton and now Brentford - no wonder the Irishman has developed an intimate knowledge of the motorway system. In the course of my entire interview with him he only swore once, it was almost an instinctive reaction and came immediately after I asked Clarke how many miles his car has done.
An added complication, though a very welcome one, is that Clarke's girlfriend is heavily pregnant and so he is coming to the end of one of the more unusual and hectic campaigns a lower league player is ever likely to encounter.
Or, as Clarke puts it: "You might say that I have been around the block."
Clarke, technically, is an Ipswich Town player, has been since he came over to these shores from his native Cork at the age of 15. Having represented the Republic of Ireland at a range of junior levels, he was seen as a player with immense potential.
He made his first-team debut for the Tractor Boys as a 65th-minute substitute in a 2-1 defeat at Cardiff in late November 2005, replacing current boss Jim Magilton. A first start came the following month before Clarke was loaned out shortly afterwards to nearby Colchester to gain some first-team experience. He may not have known it then but it was the shape of things to come.
The forward played fairly regularly for Ipswich in the 2006-07 campaign, opening with three goals in five games, and again during the early months of last season. He slipped out of the picture after Christmas and was loaned out to Scottish side Falkirk for the final three months.
After failing to score in his previous 43 appearances for Town, Clarke realised at the start of the current campaign that he would be unlikely to play much of a role this season.
"I kind of knew from day one I wouldn't be getting a game," he told me.
Clarke was not about to sit around in the reserves. And if he felt like a young man with a point to prove, he has certainly put the miles in to change people's perception of him.
Clarke scored eight goals in 20 appearances as Darlington started the season strongly. He often played in the hole between midfield and attack, earning rich praise from Steve Claridge, who did a scouting report on the player for The Guardian newspaper. Clarke's loan expired at the end of 2008 and Darlington's promotion hopes have since hit the buffers. Then again, many things at Darlington haven't worked out as anticipated. For example, entering administration wasn't part of the blueprint when the season started back in August.
Clarke did not hang around and joined League One side Northampton on loan at the end of January. The club put him up in a flat owned by a former player and he was able to train at Ipswich in the early part of the week before linking up with his new team-mates as matchday approached.
He made a breakneck start for the Cobblers, scoring after two minutes of his debut and notching a hat-trick in the 5-1 demolition of Crewe. "I seem to settle in and adapt quite well, which is obviously a good thing," he said.
His final stop this season was Brentford, joining in late March to help ease a striker crisis at the club after injuries to Jordan Rhodes and Nathan Elders. Charlie MacDonald, a key player at Griffin Park over the previous months, also suffered a season-ending injury shortly after Clarke's arrival.
As with Northampton, Clarke has trained with Ipswich on Monday and Tuesday before motoring down to London to train with the Bees on Thursday and Friday. He is staying in a hotel just a couple of minutes walk from the ground and seems to be genuinely enjoying his time with the club.
If the pressure was on Clarke when he arrived he has definitely responded, with three crucial goals in five games so far. All of his goals have come in different games and Brentford are now all but promoted. A win against Dagenham on Tuesday will ensure Andy Scott's team move into the (relatively) fast lane of League One football next season.
Should that happen, Clarke will once again end the season celebrating promotion. It was the same back in 2006, when he played the last six games for Colchester. The Essex club secured a place in the Championship and Clarke even got a medal. But talking to him about the experience, I got the impression that he felt a little like a gatecrasher at someone else's party. It may well be the same again this season.
"It is good to be part of something every footballer wants and it is good to see all the lads getting the rewards for the hard work they have put in," said Clarke.
More than anything, I got the feeling Clarke would like to celebrate a promotion having spent an entire season with a club, having been through the highs and the lows and done all the hard yards.
As it turns out, he will be released by Ipswich at the end of the season, which means his future is up in the air.
The Irishman says he has enjoyed his time at Brentford and would seriously consider an offer from them. He hopes his form has done enough to get him noticed, to earn him a permanent deal somewhere.
In the meantime, he will become a dad in July and, after spending a season on the road, living out of suitcases and continually meeting new team-mates, he is ready to settle down.
"I want to play for a good club that has a chance of doing well whatever league they are in," he said. "Fingers crossed, I'll have a baby by next season and I don't want to be moving around, leaving the missus to look after him all the time."
It is time for the lower league wanderer to find a permanent place to park.