Football: Twists in the tale of two goalkeepers: Problems are mounting for Shilton

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

PETER SHILTON today is confronted by the spectre of failure virtually for the first time in his long, and hitherto much-celebrated, career.

Plymouth Argyle's parlous position - they lie third from bottom in the Second Division and their last home gate was their lowest for nine years - is evidence of a once-burgeoning managerial success story which has suddenly swung into reverse.

The former England goalkeeper took up his appointment - his first foray into management - two and a half seasons ago, arriving at Home Park with a much-trumpeted brief to replace the derided long-ball tactics of his predecessor, David Kemp, with a more sophisticated style.

The switch could not prevent relegation, and it took the whole of his first full season of team rebuilding to fashion a formula which, in his second, was both pleasing on the eye and successful.

Indeed, it would have swept Plymouth into the First Division, for which their long-suffering supporters so earnestly yearn, had not Shilton failed to address a weakness in central defence. Argyle scored 88 goals - more than any other team in the country - and had the purists purring with their slick pass-and-move style. But their soft centre was exposed by Burnley's John Francis in the play-offs and Plymouth stayed down.

A clause in Shilton's contract gave Argyle the right to sack him should he not secure promotion within two years, and he arrived at Home Park the day after the Burnley set- back half-expecting the bullet, so troubled had his relationship been earlier with his chairman. Instead, Dan McCauley, a millionaire from Exeter, offered him a new contract, which was signed at the end of last month.

The much-publicised rift between two strong-minded characters went back to the early days of public carping by McCauley when the accessibility of his cheque book - Shilton was given nigh on pounds 1m to spend - failed to produce quick success. Yet this summer, peace seemed to have broken out. Shilton once more was given the wherewithal to return to the transfer market.

At which point Shilton decided to put his eggs in one basket by investing a club record pounds 300,000 in one player - Port Vale's Peter Swan - in an attempt to shore up the centre of his defence. The transfer, however, has had calamitous results and Swan's form in the opening games was so poor that rival strikers have begun viewing a trip to Devon with longing. Thirteen goals were frittered away in the opening three home matches and four more at Third Division Walsall in the Coca-Cola Cup.

If Shilton does not survive so dispiriting a start, the acquisition of Swan will be perceived, by many, to have been his bete noire. Significantly, Argyle have kept two successive clean sheets, when Swan, whose wife has just given birth, has been missing.

Shilton said: 'We have not been able to field a settled side all season because of injuries and it has been a difficult time for Peter, but you don't become a bad player overnight and in the long run he will be a good acquisition for the club.'

McCauley may have added to the strife by informing the press that John McGovern's decision to quit as assistant manager was apparently because Shilton owed him a substantial sum of money. The chairman insists he spoke out for the benefit of the club, reckoning that the truth was better divulged from the outset rather than re-surfacing to more damaging effect later.

Fortune has not favoured Shilton. A succession of injuries have taken a heavy toll, with Steve McCall, the midfield playmaker once of Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday, the most notable absentee.

It has had the effect of mocking Plymouth's status as pre-season promotion favourites, but there have been indications, also, of a lack of dressing-room harmony. The former captain, Steve Castle appeared to symbolise discontent at having a transfer request denied by traipsing out on to the pitch last at a home match.

A series of hell-raising off- the-field incidents from Alan Nicholls, Argyle's precocious England Under-21 goalkeeper, must also have been a source of embarrassment for a manager who places a high value on discipline.

Shilton's dealings with the media are unusual. No player is allowed to voice an opinion of his own - on threat of being fined - and not even the local paper is immune from the ban. His argument - that his charges should do their talking on the pitch - has an old-fashioned ring.

He has, however, himself largely overcome the instinctive reticence which checked his early relationship with reporters and admits also to having lightened up in the dressing room.

Whether there is light yet at the end of the darkest tunnel of a tracksuit career which could yet lead to a top-flight appointment is of pressing concern to Plymothians made weary by long years of under- achievement. A first win, at Cardiff on Saturday, was welcome and, with the injury toll easing, better days may yet be on the West Country horizon.

'It was a very pleasing performance at Ninian Park and good to get that first win, which is always the hardest,' Shilton said. 'Maybe now we have turned the corner.'

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor