Rejection the spur for loyal fan Clemence

White Hart pain inspires the one-time Tottenham boy to make the most of his time in the second city
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The Independent Football

When he first went to White Hart Lane on match days as a young boy, Stephen Clemence liked nothing better than playing football in the huge gym with the other players' sons.

"It was the highlight of the day for us," he recalls. Already a Spurs fan, rather than a north London Liverpudlian in deference to father Ray's previous club, he could dream dreams of future stardom without any of the snide whispers of nepotism that would follow in later years.

Much later, he eventually lived the dream, but it was never quite as much fun as it should have been, and after averaging more than 20 Tottenham games a season for four years, a desperate run of injuries led to a reluctant re-think some 12 months ago. The conclusion was that the club no longer had sufficient faith in his abilities, and it was necessary to fly the cockerel's nest.

Thus it is that Clemence will feature in tomorrow night's televised Premiership match in the colours of Birmingham City, taking on Charlton Athletic from a starting point considerably higher up the table than the club he supported and would have loved to have made a career with.

It is the third time in his young life that Clem Jnr has uprooted and moved to a different part of the country because of football. On the first occasion, when Ray dramatically switched Liverpool's goalkeeping jersey for Tottenham's in 1981, he had little say in the matter - close-knit family or not, three-year-olds were not given a vote.

At 14, he found the offer of a place at the Football Association's National School, that footballing Hogwarts in deepest Shropshire, equally irresistible, with all the magic possibilities it entailed, and has never regretted it.

Like Jamie Carragher and Gavin McCann from that intake (a good year for midfielders), Clemence made it to the Premiership, briefly becoming a regular under Gerry Francis at 19, then finding that there were four different Spurs managers to win over in as many years.

Solid rather than technically gifted, he suited George Graham better than Glenn Hoddle, but was just earning a run from the latter when a tackle at Blackburn brought the first of three ruinous injuries. "I had three injuries of about three months each - knee, then groin and then Achilles - and after that I couldn't see a door opening at Tottenham," he says. "I had come to realise I was not going to get a place, especially in central midfield. I had played quite a lot out on the left, which was never my position. I was offered another year's contract, but didn't think that showed a lot of confidence in me, to be honest. So I was happy to go and show people what I could do somewhere else."

That turned out to be Birmingham, and involved a move away from London, where he had lived for 21 years and where his wife, Angela, worked as an actress in the football soap Dream Team.

She is now happily resting between engagements, while her husband has a regular appearance in a drama every bit as unlikely as those involving Harchester United; never mind 300 episodes, 18 deaths and one air crash - how about the porn and sex-shop hierarchy, glamorous (female) managing director and a team not long up from the Nationwide now sitting in the top six of the Premiership after keeping eight clean sheets in 10 games?

And violence? Even after experiencing Tottenham- Arsenal derbies at every level, Clemence was shocked by the ferocity of last season's meetings with Aston Villa, the first for almost 20 years at the top level. "The game at Villa Park got a bit out of hand," he says. "When there was a break in play for sendings-off and things, you would look round and see the supporters' eyes - they wanted to kill each other.

"I didn't really realise what a big club Birmingham were until I came. As a kid growing up with the sticker albums all you see is Aston Villa, not Birmingham. We work very hard for each other and give 100 per cent, that's our strength. OK, it's not the prettiest to watch at times, but it's getting us results."

And making for one proud father. Dad, although more geographically remote in his job at Soho Square as England's goalkeeping coach, speaks to his son before and after every game. Clemence Snr says: "When he was growing up, I tried to stand back a bit, because having me standing on the touchline put pressure on. People would inevitably say he'd got where he had because of his name, which was rubbish. He's done it himself.

"I'm still his biggest critic and we talk about every aspect of his game. But he's 25 now, he's a man. He'll still listen, but you have to pick your times. He's a straight, sensible lad, who knows what he wants and is going for it, and I'm proud of what he's achieved."