Clemence recalls opening day bow against United
06 August 2015|Tottenham Hotspur
Stephen Clemence remembers feeling a range of emotions within the space of a couple of hours when he made his senior debut for us against Manchester United on the opening day of the 1997-98 campaign.
Our former midfielder is preparing for the new season as part of Hull City’s coaching staff, while we’re building up to Saturday’s Premier League curtain-raiser at Old Trafford.
The prospect of that latter game certainly brings back memories for the now 37-year-old, who graduated from our youth ranks to make his first team bow against the Red Devils at White Hart Lane this time 18 years ago, in circumstances he admits were somewhat unexpected.
“I didn’t know until about an hour-and-a-half before kick-off that I was actually in the team!” recalled Stephen, who was 19 and a regular in our reserve and youth sides at the time.
“I’d been away with the first team in pre-season and did reasonably well, but I still probably thought Gerry Francis, the manager back then, would go with one of the more experienced players for the United game on the opening day.
“But Gerry came in and announced the team and I was in it! I remember the feeling in my stomach, it felt like I was going down a rollercoaster and it’d done a little flip with excitement, but Gerry came over to me and said ‘you deserve this chance’ and told me he thought I’d done fantastically well in pre-season. He told me to just go out there and enjoy the game, although he warned me that it would be a little bit quicker than what I’d been used to.”
As the minutes ticked down to kick-off, ‘Clem’ recalls a string of players approaching him and wishing him luck for what was, similar to this Saturday’s clash, seen as one of the biggest games of the opening weekend.
For the young man, the match itself went by in a flash – although he still remembers a great deal of detail about it.
“Once I’d found out I was involved I started getting ready like I had done for my previous games in pre-season, but I had people like Gary Mabbutt and Justin Edinburgh – experienced Tottenham players – coming up to me and telling me I deserved to be there,” added Stephen, the son of our legendary former goalkeeper Ray Clemence.
“It was Teddy Sheringham’s first game since joining Manchester United and it was live on television, so I knew it was a big occasion. By the time kick-off came around I felt confident. I think I did a little bit of skill on Paul Scholes and got him booked in the first 15 minutes which made me even more confident and overall I really enjoyed the game.
“Unfortunately we lost 2-0 and I came off after about 70 minutes, absolutely exhausted. Gerry Francis was right – the game was a bit quicker!
“It was like nothing I’d experienced before and although everybody tells you in football that the Premier League is a frantic place to play, unless you actually experience it you’ll never know just how quick it is.
“My Spurs debut was a great memory for me and thankfully I was able to go on and play a good amount of games at the Club after that.”
Stephen left us for Birmingham City in 2003, having scored three goals in 109 senior games in our colours. He later represented Leicester City before retiring and going into coaching under his former Birmingham boss, Steve Bruce.