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The Big Interview: Chris Clements

7 September 2015

There’s a good chance this season you’ll hear a number of players bemoaning a long, arduous coach trip, whether that be to Carlisle in the North-West or Portsmouth on the South coast.

However Chris Clements is unlikely to be one of them. Because when it comes to away travel, the Mansfield midfielder discovered during a spell with Icelandic side IB Vestmannaeyja (IBV) that he should always be thankful if a journey is as simple as getting on a bus.

“Every away game we had to get a plane to fly over to the mainland which took about half an hour to 40 minutes,” explains Clements. “They were little airports and little planes – and definitely no jumbo jets!

“One game when I played for the youth team we flew over in two tiny 10-seater planes. It was certainly different to travelling to away games here, and not what I was used to.”

Back then, Clements was on the books of Crewe Alexandra and asked, along with AJ Leitch-Smith, to go out on loan in order to secure his future at the Cheshire club.

“Steve Holland, who is now at Chelsea, had just left and Gudjon Thordarson came in as manager,” he adds. “He basically told me that if I went to Iceland he would give me another year on my Crewe contract.

“It was on an island just off the Iceland mainland, which was very secluded and not all that many places to go. I think I would compare the standard to conference football over here. There were some teams who liked to try to get it down and others were more direct.

“It was tough because at times you couldn’t understand what your team-mates were saying nor they what you were, but it was a good learning curve.

“I tried to learn the language at first, but it was so hard that I quickly gave that up. The three words I did know I forgot the moment I set foot back in England!”

It’s not the only time Clements has been forced to demonstrate resilience in his bid to make it as a professional. The 25-year-old had spells on loan at Nantwich, Leigh Genesis and Stafford Rangers before signing for Hednesford Town.

Only then was he snapped up by Paul Cox as a player with the potential to unlock Conference defences as Mansfield went in search of promotion back to the Football League.

Since then it has not always been a smooth ride for the Birmingham-born player, being a peripheral figure in the 2012-13 Stags’ team that won the Conference and only showing his best form in flashes during the two subsequent seasons back in English football’s elite 92.

But this term, so far, has seen Clements make a start that has been as impressive as the Stags as a whole. He’s out to continue that form consistently, believing that a change in style has been key to an improvement in his effectiveness.

“We have started well and to lose only one of our first five games is a good effort, especially as we have so many new players,” he says. “We knew it would take time to gel, but I think it has happened quicker than might have been expected.

“I think I have started off better this year than I have in previous years and the passing style of play under the gaffer this season has helped me with that because it is how I want to play. Now we are keeping the ball a lot longer. When you haven’t got the ball you can’t just keep on running for the whole 90 minutes.

“I think I have had something to prove at the start of this season. You are always going to get people who are not your biggest fans, but at the same time I will hold my hands up and say that I don’t think I have been as good as I could have in the last three seasons.

“Coming into this season and knowing how the gaffer wanted to play, I knew that this was my stage to show people what I’m about and hopefully win over some of the fans who had doubted me previously.

“The way we were going to play and the signings we made over the summer – bringing back the likes of Matt Green and Adam Chapman – convinced me that here was the right place to play my football.”

Last weekend, Mansfield chalked up their second away victory of the campaign with a 2-1 victory at York – the first time the team had hit back from a losing position to win since March 2014. Both goals came courtesy of Matt Green and were the first for the hitman since his return to the club he left for Championship side Birmingham City in the summer of 2013.

Clements says: “It was great to see Greenie get off the mark with the two goals at York, especially after the penalty miss against Oxford. All strikers thrive on confidence and you know that now he has got off the mark, the goals will keep coming.

“He is probably the best finisher I have played with and we all knew within the club it would come, whether it was after two games or 10. If he stays injury-free then I would back him to be up there in the scoring charts come the end of the season.”

With eight points from their first five league outings, Mansfield sit in eighth place in League Two, just outside the play-off places ahead of today’s visit of AFC Wimbledon. Clements insists that early success is no fluke and credits his manager, Adam Murray, for much of it, believing the former Conference title-winning skipper has taken superbly to his off-the-field role.

“I am 1,000 per cent impressed with what the gaffer has done so far,” he says. “He wanted to play more football last season, but we didn’t necessarily have the players to do it as we do now.

“On a day-to-day basis he takes all the training sessions and we go through everything with a fine toothcomb. The other good thing about the gaffer is that he gets involved with the banter. He has a laugh and a joke, and it is good to have that interaction with players.”

While Clements has had to get to know a number of new faces this summer, one new arrival he already knew well was fellow Brummie Krystian Pearce. The two played in the same Kingsdown Colts team as youngsters before Clements was signed on by Crewe and Pearce by Birmingham. Clements laughs: “He was one of those lads who was about 8ft tall when everyone else was still about 5ft! I remember him playing in all different positions and he was very athletic.

“I started off as a striker – everyone wants to score goals when they are young – and I was a midfielder-cum-striker when I was picked up by Crewe, who converted me.

“Dario Gradi was right at the centre of it then. As well as taking the first team he also took the under-14s. It was quite scary having the first team manager as your manager at that age, but it helped you develop and you picked up some good advice.”

Clements’ team as a football-mad youngster was Aston Villa and he was delighted whenever he had the opportunity to see them in action. “My uncle used to take me down to watch Villa whenever I wasn’t playing on a Saturday, or games that were on other days of the week,” he says. “I don’t go regularly now, but I do try to get along two or three times a season. It’s always good to watch a Premier League game, because it’s what everyone aspires to.

A keen golfer, Clements also likes to unwind by watching films – “If there is a good new film out, then I’ll usually be in the cinema watching it” – citing both as perfect ways to defuse the pressure that comes with being a professional footballer. 

He’s hoping that keeping that sense of perspective will help produce more magical moments such as his opening goal in the 2-0 win against Nottinghamshire rivals Notts County at Meadow Lane.

“I will remember the goal for a long time,” he smiles. “When I made the run I was just praying Greenie would see me and once I’d had my first touch I was thinking ‘Don’t miss this!’

“It seemed to take forever to go in and from my angle I was worried that it might hit the post and come out, so I was delighted to see it go in.

“As soon as it did and the roar went up it was an amazing feeling and one you will struggle to better. To do it in such a big derby game, for the fans, who never stopped singing, was something you dream of.”

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