In the first of our new, in-depth Friday Features, Paul Miles talks to midfielder Stephen Clemence.
It is testament to Stephen Clemence’s rapid progress that he’s no longer seen as ‘Ray’s son’ but a Premiership player in his own right.
Few would argue that the 22-year-old has been one of the most improved players at the Lane in the last few seasons — all he wants now is the big breakthrough and a sustained run of games in the first team.
Taking time out from the gymnasium during a quiet week at Spurs Lodge, ‘Clem’ happily talked about his dad, moving through the junior ranks, his professional ambitions — and money.
Was it always inevitable that you would go into football with what your dad achieved?
SC: “I don’t think it was inevitable because it’s a tough career to go into and there are a lot of good players out there. Just because my dad did very well and was very successful in football didn’t mean that I was going to be the same. I’ve had to work very hard to achieve what I’ve achieved so far.”
Tell us about how you came through the ranks as a youngster. What was the National School of Excellence like?
SC: “I played for my district and county teams and fortunately I was picked for England Under-15s, Under-16s and played at every level up to Under-21s. I did well throughout youth football but I’m past that now and it’s all about moving up to the next level and trying to do well in the Premiership.
“Lilleshall was a good experience for me. I learned a lot about the game and it was good discipline for the lads as well. It was a good grooming to come into the professional game. We had our jobs when we came to the clubs, like cleaning boots and the dressing rooms. It was like an apprenticeship but with the school work as well, which was quite difficult.”
Was there a worry that the schoolwork would get left behind?
SC: “I think there was a worry from my parents and all the other parents because all the lads were really interested in was their football. Luckily I did quite well at school so I was okay.”
How many GCSEs did you get then?
SC: “Three Bs and six Cs.”
When you were at school everyone would have known who your dad was. Was that a burden?
SC: “When I was growing up things were inferred that I was only where I was because of my dad but as you get older you get a bit more thick-skinned and you don’t really care what people say anyway. I’ve played at every level up to Under-21s and now I’ve played over 70 times in the Premiership so it doesn’t worry me at all. It’s probably made me all the more determined with who my dad was and I’ve probably worked harder to achieve what I have up to now. I still want to do a lot more in football and become a regular here, which is my main target.”
Can you remember your first-team debut?
SC: “Manchester United at home, live on Sky. I hadn’t even had a full season in the reserves the season before - I played about half the games because first-team players coming back from injury come ahead of the young lads coming through. I came back from pre-season and I’d had a really good pre-season. We went on tour to Norway and it was great to get on that first of all, my first involvement with the first team. We had four games out there and I didn’t play until the last game, which was against Rosenborg. I had a good game and Gerry Francis kept me in for the rest of the pre-season games. The week before the season and we played Fiorentina for David Howells’ testimonial. I came on at half-time and did well again and it was Man United live the week after but I didn’t think I would be involved in the starting line-up, perhaps a place on the bench. He named the team an hour before, I was involved and my stomach just churned. It was like going down a roller coaster. Once I started getting changed it was fine. I was confident anyway because I had been playing well. All Gerry said to me was to keep doing what I’d been doing and that I might get closed down quicker. He said I deserved it and to go out and show people what I could do.”
What about the game itself?
SC: “I remember the pace of it. At one stage I felt physically sick. I don’t think it showed because I’ve seen the video since and I still managed to get around the park alright. Playing against Keane, Butt, Scholes and Giggs in midfield was a great debut and I was pleased to have done well in it.”
You have played under three managers in your time at the club. How has that affected you?
SC: “Gerry gave me my chance which I’ll always be thankful for. I feel I did okay for Gerry. Under Christian Gross it was very different to what I’d experienced before and the club was having a difficult time. That’s probably my worst time in the first team. I didn’t have a lot of confidence either. Since the gaffer’s been here now I think he’s helped me out a lot and my game has come on a lot in the last year-and-a-half and now I’m ready to push on to the next step.”
Most people would agree that last season was your best. Do you feel that you came on a lot?
SC: “Definitely. I think my game’s improved and that is something I have to thank the manager for. He’s helped me a lot with my game. I feel I’ve improved again, I know I did well in pre-season and played a couple of games that I know I’ve done well in again. I’m just waiting for my next chance now and I know I can do well again. I’m confident in my ability that I can do well.”
What interests have you away from football?
SC: “Golf is probably my main interest. Myself, Matthew Etherington, Simon Davies and Mark Gower try to play every week. Apart from that I just watch videos, films and relax a lot of the time because when you come away from here you feel tired and you have to prepare for the next game. You don’t want to do anything that might be detrimental to your game on a Saturday so you have to be careful.”
The classic cliché was about young men with plenty of money to burn but I get the feeling that is changing now.
SC: “It’s a great time to be involved on football. We are all paid well and that’s nice. But at the end the day it’s not all about money for me. I want to be involved in the team and when I’m not picked on a Saturday I’m very disappointed. I’m not thinking about how much money I take home each week. I just want to be in that team. It’s not all about money for me.”
You mentioned about wanting to be a regular at Spurs but do you have any other long-term ambitions?
SC: “My main target at the minute is to get another chance, take it and try to become a regular here. If that doesn’t work out then one day I will probably have to think about playing somewhere else because everyone loves playing and I don’t want to sit on the bench. My ambition is to do as well as I can and I suppose you don’t know where that will take you. You just hope you have more ups than downs.”
The fans have warmed to you.
SC: “Yes, especially in the last year or so. I had a difficult time under Christian Gross, I was only 19 at the time, the team wasn’t doing well, I was playing regularly and not doing well either. I think they’ve seen me bounce back and when I do play I’m fully committed, I give it my all and I think they see that.”
They see an affinity with the club and that you want to do well for the club, a bit of passion.
SC: “I’ve been coming to the club since I was about three years old so I know quite a lot about it. This is the only place I’ve ever really wanted to play. There is no better feeling than when you go out at White Hart Lane on a match day, especially when we are winning, and the crowd is behind us.”
So take the ideal scenario - in two years time where does Stephen Clemence want to be?
SC: “I want to be here and playing regular first-team football. I will have to work hard to do that but that’s where I want to be. Hopefully Tottenham will have had a couple of years experience in Europe and we’ll be moving forward.”
To listen to this Stephen Clemence interview, click here