Jack Sparkes is set to pull on the red and white jersey for the final time this weekend, as he announces he will be leaving Exeter City at the end of the season.
'Sparkesy' joined the Exeter City Academy aged 8 and will end his Grecians career after 14 years on 150 first team appearances, scoring nine times for his boyhood club.
Jack has been the epitome of what it means to be 'One of Our Own,' taking to the pitch with pride every time he pulled on City colours, but was also one our many stars to have put in work in the community -particularly focusing on his home town of Exmouth where visited local school groups on several occasions. During the pandemic, Sparkesy also supported the NHS, cycling 30km per day for two weeks, raising £1,600 to assist their fight against Covid.
Like so many of our academy products, Jack made his first-team bow at the age of just 17 in August 2017 at Swindon Town, famously hitting the woodwork to deny him a memorable debut. That first goal in red and white would come just two weeks later though in the EFL Trophy as he bundled home a late header against Yeovil Town. Before becoming a regular starter under Matt Taylor, Jack had important loan spells at Chippenham Town and Salisbury - vital moves for his development.
2018 also saw Jack handed the honour of the no.31 shirt - The 1931 Fund is a group of around 60 Exeter City supporters who all donate £19 a month to help pay towards an extra member of the first team squad, named after City famous 1931 FA Cup run.
Sparkes' breakthrough season would come in 2019-20, where he put his stamp on the first team making 17 appearances in League Two before an injury sustained on Boxing Day ruled him out for the season. The Covid shutdown and league extension meant he was able to return for the play-offs, playing the first leg against Colchester and in the final against Northampton, where he was a second half substitute.
City reached an eighth place finish in 2020-21, with Sparkes scoring his first league goal that season with a fine finish late in the game against Scunthorpe. He would add two further League Two goals, plus one in the EFL Trophy - a spectacular solo effort - to record his best goalscoring season in red and white.
2021-22 was the most memorable - and challenging - season of Sparkes' City career as he helped the side gain promotion to League One for the first time in ten years. Following a shoulder injury sustained on second day of the season as Leyton Orient, an operation meant Jack was on the sidelines for several months before he was loaned to Torquay as he continued his recovery.
Sparkes credits that move to Plainmoor to reigniting his season as he burst back into the first team. Both of his goals for the Grecians last season would have huge impacts on the club's fate - none more so than his stunning 96th minute goal against Harrogate Town as City came from 3-1 down to win 4-3.
This season, Sparkes has registered a fantastic five assists, so often his left footed drop of the shoulder and delivery proving pivotal - while also finding the net twice, most recently against Derby County last month - a goal almost identical to his very first.
Reflecting on the decision to leave the club, Jack said: "I'd like to start by saying how grateful I am to the club for the faith they have shown in me over the last 14 years. It is an emotional time for me, but speaking to the manager, it is time for new opportunity for me somewhere else which I am looking forward to. Having a newborn, it will difficult moving away, but you have to embrace it while she is young. It will be a different life for us and we're looking forward to it."
Looking on his journey from academy to pro, Sparkes looks back with fond memories: "If you'd told me when I was 8 I'd be playing this many games for the first team, it is every lads dream. I wouldn't have thought that at all. I am immensely proud of where I have come from and what I have done for the club. Growing up at the academy, I had Simon Haywood as my first proper manager and he taught me what I needed to be a professional, and then Matt Taylor who had been a massive part. I am so grateful to everyone who has played a massive part in my journey."
Touching on the support from the City fans, Sparkes was keen to thank them: "Thank you for sticking by me. It's been tough at times. I've had some bad games, and i have some good games. I hope they see me as a good person more than anything else. I always gave my best for the club, and I always will."
Speaking about Sparkes' impending departure, manager Gary Caldwell added: "It's always sad when you see an academy player leave. Since January, his game time has been limited due to competition in his position, but he has been a brilliant servant for the club who has contributed a lot this season and last season in the promotion campaign, which I know will always be special to him. We felt it was right for him to be playing at this stage of his career and we hope that he has a lot of success when he moves on. He is somebody who is always welcome back and we wish him all the best."
Everyone at Exeter City expresses their sincere gratitude to Jack for his committment to the club over 14 fantastic years, and we wish him every success for the future. Once a Grecian, always a Grecian.