Football: Twists in the tale of two goalkeepers: Light on the horizon for Clemence

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The Independent Online
Their paths have followed parallel courses for more than two decades. For years, Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence were rivals for the England goalkeeper's jersey until Shilton finally claimed it as his own.

When they moved into management it was Clemence who appeared to take the upper hand. While he made his name assisting Terry Venables at Tottenham, Shilton played into his forties before taking a management job in the lower divisions with Plymouth Argyle. Yet by the end of last season, Shilton's prospects appeared the brighter. His enterprising Plymouth team had narrowly missed out on promotion to the First Division, while Clemence, having left Tottenham in the wake of Venables' acrimonious departure, had stepped down several rungs to take over as general manager at impoverished Barnet, who were promptly relegated. Now their fortunes are again changing: Shilton has had a miserable start to the season, whereas Barnet, with Clemence as team manager, are riding high in the Third Division

RAY CLEMENCE must sometimes wonder where it was he made the wrong turning in life. He and the other guy started out as players at the same club, enjoyed unprecedented success together at their next club and even won sixty-odd England caps playing side by side. Yet today Kevin Keegan is at the peak of the managerial mountain and Clemence is at Underhill. There is one consolation though: at least Clemo is now outshining his old rival Shilts.

Of course, Clemence knows full well where it was he went wrong, but not why. He was sacked as first team coach at Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of last year, when Terry Venables lost his bitter battle with Alan Sugar for control of the club: 'a casualty of war', as he describes himself now, with a smile.

'People tend to think of me just as a Liverpool player, but though I spent 14 happy years at Anfield, I was also at Tottenham for 12 years, seven as a player, five as a coach.

'It was a tremendous wrench for me to have to go. I came out of it greatly disappointed. For the first few days I was a little bit shell shocked. People said to me: 'You must have been bitter about it because you did nothing wrong.' But I don't think there's any reason for bitterness in life, you have to make the best of the hand you are dealt.'

Clemence has certainly done that. Barnet, a club which teetered on the brink of extinction last season due to the legacy of an earlier regime, was the hand he was dealt by an old associate from his White Hart Lane days, David Buchler, now chairman of the Third Division club. Six months spent doing media work, albeit enjoyably, was no substitute for the real thing and Clemence, once convinced of the club's viability, had few qualms about accepting what he described as 'the biggest challenge of my career'.

Since moving from general manager to manager at the start of this season in succession to the first-team goalkeeper, Gary Phillips (now his assistant), Clemence has had a remarkable rejuvenating effect on Barnet's fortunes. After starting off with a home defeat against his old club, Scunthorpe, Barnet have steadily prospered to the point where they stand third in the table and welcome Manchester City tonight in a Coca-Cola Cup second round, first leg tie.

Only an Englishman could accept a job for which he was so overqualified (five League championships, three European Cups, three Uefa Cups, two FA Cups and one League Cup - and that's just the winners' medals). It would be hard to imagine any foreigner with a fraction of those honours being prepared to come down to a club like Barnet.

One is given not the slightest inkling that it is beneath Clemence, however. Instead, he has nothing but admiration for his players. 'I made a very conscious effort on the first day I came here to set only as high a standard as I could, given the level I was at.

'They are a fantastic set of lads. They cause me so little problem it's untrue. They don't expect the things that players do at the top end. They don't moan because they've got to take their kit home every day to wash it. They don't moan about the changing facilities. And they don't moan if they've got to get up early to travel on the day of a game.'

Working under tight financial control, he has brought in six players this season on free transfers, moving seven out. He appears to have found a real bargain in Doug Freedman, a 20-year-old Scottish striker from Queen's Park Rangers who scored four goals in the 6-2 win against Rochdale last week to take his tally to nine in nine games.

Clemence is aware the Premiership is watching and tempers his praise. 'He's a talent,' he conceded. If it comes to it, though, he won't stand in the way of any of his players - 'I know what rewards there are in the game.'

He also understands the challenges of the game and it is this which in part may explain his presence at Barnet. He recalls sitting in the dressing room at Parc des Princes after Liverpool had beaten Real Madrid 1-0 to win the European Cup for a third time and thinking: 'It was just another game. I decided there and then that I had to move to find a new challenge.'

Spurs satisfied that urge with more silverware and when his playing career ended at 39 the club gave him a job coaching the goalkeepers and then the reserves. That is when he confronted his next challenge: to prove that keepers can coach. 'Keepers are different. We probably spend 90 per cent of our time concentrating and 10 per cent actually doing something. I think that's a great advantage because it means I've spent 27 years scrutinising how people play. It's a fallacy that we can't coach. Mike Walker has done it at Norwich and Shilts did well last season.'

All those years on from the days when they vied for the England keeper's jersey, Clemo and Shilts are still enjoying success alternately. Far from feeling any jealousy towards Keegan, whose achievements on Tyneside he believes parallel those of Bill Shankly in the early days on Merseyside, Clemence sees it as just another example of the great man's influence.

'If you look at all the players that were around Shankly, nearly all of them have been successful in whatever they have chosen to do after their playing days.' A comforting thought for Clemence during the long climb ahead.

(Photograph omitted)

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