Stephen Clemence

Former Player Remembers: Stephen Clemence

In conversation with Club Historian John Hutchinson midfielder Stephen Clemence talked about his experiences as a player and as a coach.
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An England Under-21s international, Stephen played for 10 seasons in the Premier League for Tottenham Hotspur and Birmingham City and then captained Leicester City before injury ended his career. He is currently the first team coach at Newcastle United.

Stephen grew up in a football environment because his father is the ex-Liverpool, Tottenham and England goalkeeper Ray Clemence.

Thinking back to his earliest football memories, Stephen recalled: “I left Liverpool when I was three years-old, when my dad signed for Spurs. I actually supported Liverpool until I was about 10 years-old but then Paul Gascoigne signed for Tottenham. I just fell in love with Gazza, to be honest. I loved watching him every week so I became a bit of a turncoat and became a Tottenham fan!

“My main memories of going to watch Tottenham when I was younger centre around an indoor ball court round the back of the West Stand. I was at the matches every week because by then my dad had become the reserve team manager and then the first team coach at Spurs. As soon as the game finished, there would be a lot of the players’ sons and nephews on this ball court like Chris Hughton’s son and Glenn Hoddle’s nephew and we played six-a-side after every game.

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Stephen Clemence
Stephen Clemence

Clemence signed for the Club in the summer of 2007 and was later named Club captain.

“Spurs wanted me to go there from when I was about eight or nine but my dad didn’t let me go. He thought I was better off playing with my mates and enjoying my football with my school and my Sunday league team. I didn’t sign for Tottenham until I was 13.

“I was a centre-forward as a kid and scored quite a lot of goals, but I was never really quick enough to have a career playing up front. I moved back to centre midfield where I just loved being involved in the defensive and attacking side of the game and always having touches of the ball.

“When I first signed, Ossie Ardiles was the manager then Gerry Francis came in and gave me my debut. I now know, as a coach, that you don’t know how young players are going to react on the big stage. My debut was the first game of the season against Manchester United. It was live on Sky and a roasting hot day. Unfortunately we lost the game 2-0, playing against the likes of Teddy Sheringham, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs and Peter Schmeichel. After about 20 minutes I thought I was going to be sick! I was absolutely shattered. But then I got my second wind. The pace of the game was unlike anything I had experienced before. I felt I did okay. I managed to keep my place in the team for the next 10 to 15 games.

“I played for England at all levels up to the Under-21s. I would have liked more caps but when I was in the Under-21s squad, the midfield was Frank Lampard, Jamie Carragher and Lee Hendrie, who at that time was the next big thing. I enjoyed my time going away with England. I learnt a lot training and playing with some very good players. Peter Taylor was the coach.

I decided to choose Leicester in the Championship. I had played there the previous April and had thought that the atmosphere was fantastic. The stadium was a great arena.

Stephen Clemence LCFC.com

“My first goal for Spurs was in the FA Cup in an evening game against Fulham. Again it was live on Sky, against Fulham. Jurgen Klinsmann had just re-signed for Tottenham. I still couldn’t really believe I was playing and training with these players on a regular basis. It was 0-0 when José Dominguez played the ball to me. I managed to skip past their centre-half Chris Coleman and I knocked it past Maik Taylor into the bottom right hand corner with the outside of my left foot. It was probably a very proud moment for my parents who were in the crowd. To score at White Hart Lane was a dream come true”.

Unfortunately, Stephen’s career was hindered by injury.

He said: “I struggled with injuries at both Tottenham and Leicester where I finished my career. It all started at Tottenham. I got a late tackle in a game against Blackburn, and damaged my knee ligaments. Then the Achilles started to be a problem. It was really a bad year-and-a-half to be honest. In the end I managed to play over 100 games for Tottenham which I am very proud of. I cherish those memories but I did have a bad deal with injuries and by the time I got myself fit again, I felt I was going to struggle to get into the Tottenham side."

Stephen did however play in the last ever game at Filbert Street when Leicester City famously beat Tottenham Hotspur with Matt Piper’s winning goal going down in history as the last goal scored at the famous old ground.

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Foxes Win Last Game At Filbert Street

Goals from Paul Dickov and Matt Piper ensured the Foxes' time at Filbert Street ended with a win, as City beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 on 11 May, 2002.

“I remember us getting beaten! I got brought down and we got a penalty to go ahead. We got a bit of a telling off by Glenn Hoddle in the dressing room afterwards. I’ve got a few memories of Filbert Street playing for Spurs. I remember trying to close Muzzy Izzet down on the edge of the box and him volleying one into to the top corner! Filbert Street was a tough place to play at."

In January 2003, Stephen moved to Premier League Birmingham City to get more regular first team football. Leeds United were interested but Stephen was very impressed with what Birmingham’s manager Steve Bruce had to say. The deal rose to £1M, a considerable sum in those days for a player who was nearing the end of his Tottenham contract.

In his five years at Birmingham City, Stephen played for some of the time alongside the ex-Leicester City favourites Robbie Savage, Izzet and Emile Heskey, with whom he had played in the England Under-15s, Under-16s and Under-18s sides.

Birmingham City were relegated in 2006, but were promoted back to the Premier League the following season, when Stephen was voted the Blues’ Player of the Year and the Players’ Player of the Year.

That close season, Stephen moved to Leicester City.

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Stephen Clemence
Stephen Clemence

He made his debut as captain against Blackpool in August 2007.

“I had played a big part when we got promoted,” he explained, “But here was a lot of speculation over the summer, linking me with different Championship clubs. I also heard things through my agent. When I returned to Birmingham for pre-season. I went to see Steve [Bruce] who told me he couldn’t promise to play me every week, and that it might be best for me to move on as he knew I wanted to play every week.

“I decided to choose Leicester in the Championship. I had played there the previous April and had thought that the atmosphere was fantastic. The stadium was a great arena. Leicester City had huge potential even though they’d had a tough time the season before.

“Milan Mandarić was the Chairman and Martin Allen was the manager. I was appointed captain. I think I was the 10th summer signing. Obviously, it turned out to be a very disappointing season and we got relegated. I was injured for nearly all of it. Even when I played I wasn’t fully fit. I was playing with injections. It is my biggest regret that the Leicester people never saw me at my best. It was a really sorry end to my playing career really."

Reflecting on that season, Stephen continued: “It was a very difficult squad to captain. There were three managers and two spells with interim managers. Some of the nine or 10 players who came in in the summer weren’t really of the standard they should have been to get promoted which was the aim of the Club. I struggled from the start with injury. I was taking injections to play games. You wouldn’t get players doing that these days but it was my mentality to play. I should never have done that really. I should have had a rest and come back when I was strong enough. But I felt a huge responsibility as captain. Knowing the team wasn’t as good as it should have been I felt that I could still help.

There were some good players at the Club, though, like Richard Stearman, Gareth McAuley and Paddy Kisnorbo.

Stephen Clemence LCFC.com

“With all the changes of management that season there were different styles of play. Defensively, we had a good record but we didn’t score enough goals. We drew too many games. It was very frustrating. I wasn’t even involved in the last eight or nine games because I had had my Achilles operation by then. That was the injury which finished my career.

“There were some good players at the Club, though, like Richard Stearman, Gareth McAuley and Paddy Kisnorbo. James Wesolowski should have had a better career but he broke his leg a couple of times early in his career which didn’t help him. Then we got Matty Oakley and Steve Howard from Derby. They had been promoted like myself the year before, but by the time they signed it was probably a bit too late. We could have done with players like them in the summer."

At the end of the season, for the first and only time in their history, Leicester City were relegated to League 1. Stephen said: “What was good after that season, in the summer, was that the Club finally got some stability again. Nigel Pearson came in and the next season was a really good one for the club, winning the League 1 title. Although I was in the treatment room for the whole season it was great to see the team winning and getting that mentality back. Although I wasn’t involved on the playing front, I tried my best off the pitch to try to pass on little bits of advice to the younger players. I stayed involved because I was still Club captain but you do feel a bit of a spare part when you can’t actually get onto the pitch."

Stephen’s injury forced him to retire from playing in April 2010. Since then he has worked with Steve Bruce as a coach at Sunderland, Hull City and Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday and now at Newcastle United.

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Stephen Clemence
Stephen Clemence

The former City midfielder now works as a first team coach under Steve Bruce at Newcastle United.

He said: “At Birmingham, especially in my final season, Steve Bruce saw me work with young players like Nicklas Bendtner, Fabrice Muamba, Seb Larsson, Stephen Kelly and Mat Sadler. I would tell them if they weren’t doing it right but I also gave them encouragement as well. Steve Bruce liked that and that’s why he first brought me in to do the Under-21s at Sunderland and then at Hull. In the final two years at Hull I was coaching the first team and I was the first team coach at Aston Villa. Nothing beats playing as every coach or manager will tell you, but I have coached at huge football clubs working with a great manager, with great people around me as well. I am still learning every day, trying to do the best I can.”

Thinking back over his career playing under several managers at Tottenham Hotspur, Birmingham City and Leicester City, Stephen concluded: “I played for my current manager Steve Bruce for four-and-a-half years at Birmingham. He has had a huge influence on me as a person and as a coach. My job is to take his ideas onto the coaching field. I try to put my imprint on to that throughout the week, conveying how he wants the team to play.

“George Graham at Spurs was great as well. He was a tough manager, but he was fair. You knew your role, your job and your responsibility. He spoke really well to the team. I thought he was an outstanding manager.

“Glenn Hoddle was also an outstanding coach at Spurs. From a tactical and technical point of view he was fantastic. Unfortunately, I had a year-and-a-half injured under him but when I did play he put a lot of faith in me. Although he was the one who ended up selling me to Birmingham, there were no hard feelings. He was a great manager and one that really should still be in the game in my opinion."

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