Gracefully athletic player, who has died aged 72, was one of England’s finest keepers and a legend at Liverpool and Spurs
Paul Wilson – The Guardian
Ray Clemence was not just one of the finest goalkeepers England has ever produced, he was a link back to the time when footballers used to have day jobs or summer occupations. Impossible as it will now seem to imagine, there was a period relatively recently when promising young footballers would find themselves meeting and dealing with members of the public, as Clemence famously did when working as a deckchair attendant on the beach in his native Skegness.
Just in case younger generations find this hard to credit, photographs exist of a young Clemence not only distributing the aforesaid folding finger-traps, but also leaping around on the sand on being asked to demonstrate his goalkeeping ability.
At that precise time in his life Clemence was on his way from Scunthorpe United to Liverpool, where once he started playing he would make his name and quickly force his way into the England reckoning. Bill Shankly did some excellent business with Scunthorpe, but before he picked up Kevin Keegan for £35,000 in 1971 he spotted and signed Clemence for around £18,000 four years earlier. Even as a teenager Clemence had already played 48 games for Scunthorpe, but though the Liverpool manager recognised his precocity, he initially signed him for the Anfield reserve team.
Clemence would have to wait until 1970 to break into the senior Liverpool side, watching Tommy Lawrence in the later years of his Anfield career, until Shankly decided all at once that his powerful side of the 1960s had been allowed to grow old together and culled Lawrence along with Ron Yeats and Ian St John to give a younger generation a chance.
Tall, slender and gracefully athletic, Clemence was a different type of goalkeeper to Lawrence and he never looked back once he gained his opportunity in the first team. He was a virtual ever-present in the Liverpool goal for the next 11 seasons, and by the time he left for Tottenham Hotspur in 1981 he had claimed five league titles, three European Cups, two Uefa Cups an FA Cup and a League Cup.
With Spurs he would go on to add another FA Cup and another Uefa Cup, and go on to join the exclusive club of players with more than 1,000 official appearances. Clemence played 1,117 senior games in all, 61 of them for England, and his total of caps would have been much greater but for having the misfortune to play at the same time as Peter Shilton.
Those two were arguably the last of the production line of notable English goalkeepers that thrived throughout the 1960s, and it was a dilemma for England managers of the time which one to choose. Clemence played more often in the 1970s and Shilton ended up first choice for most of the 1980s, though there was a considerable period of overlap during which Ron Greenwood deliberately alternated between the two.
Though a more than capable shot-stopper, Clemence was one of those goalkeepers who read the game so well he did not always need to fling himself about the goalmouth. His anticipation usually meant he was in the right place at the right time, whether to collect a cross or to reach an attempt on goal. In his first full season at Anfield Liverpool equalled their own record of conceding only 24 goals in a 42-match campaign, and in 1978-79 they bettered that by some distance, winning the league while conceding ony 16 goals.
That was not all Clemence’s doing as by the late-1970s Bob Paisley had a formidable side with an extremely organised defence, though there can be little doubt that the reassuring presence of an outstandingly reliable goalkeeper spread confidence through the team.
Clemence’s consistency was also remarkable – he missed no more than half a dozen games in racking up 665 appearances for Liverpool – but when Bruce Grobbelaar arrived as a signing for the future he took the opportunity to move south and join Spurs.
Though 33 at the time Clemence was still at the top of his game, as the £300,000 transfer fee Tottenham were happy to pay would confirm. Though many thought that price a little high for a swansong in the capital, Clemence proved the doubters wrong by playing well over 300 games for his new team.
He missed the 1984 Uefa Cup final against Anderlecht, watching from the bench as Tony Parks made the penalty shootout saves to secure victory, but was between the posts at Wembley as late as 1987, when Spurs lost to Coventry City in Clemence’s fifth FA Cup final.
When an achilles tendon injury forced him to stop playing later the same year, bringing an end to a playing career spanning more than two decades, Clemence joined the Tottenham coaching staff, and after a couple of years spent managing Barnet, he rejoined his former Spurs and England teammate Glenn Hoddle as goalkeeping coach for the national team.
He remained in that position under Keegan and Sven-Göran Eriksson, and though Fabio Capello brought over his own specialist from Italy, Roy Hodgson reinstated Clemence to the England position. He also worked as the FA’s head of development, with a brief to monitor and encourage the progress of the various England youth teams.
Popular wherever he went, and even esteemed in retirement as was evident when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer 15 years ago, Clemence might have been unlucky to come to prominence with England at a time when the national side were in the doldrums and unable to qualify for World Cups, but he more than made up for it with a stellar club career. Of all the great players who performed so impressively for Shankly and Paisley, few proved as permanent a success story as Clemence and even fewer were able to win as much.