Ray Clemence was a reassuring and extremely gifted constant during Liverpool’s days as Europe’s dominant force

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Ray Clemence was a reassuring and extremely gifted constant during Liverpool’s days as Europe’s dominant force… his roll call of honours reads like a schoolboy’s fantasy and he’ll always be remembered as one of their own
The former Liverpool, Spurs and England keeper died on Sunday aged 72
Ray Clemence was loved on Merseyside during his 11 year spell at the club
He overcame a shaky start to become a leading figure in a trophy-laden period
Clemence won five league titles, three European Cups and an FA Cup with Reds

When Ray Clemence first played in goal for Liverpool, his standing at the club was so uncertain he wasn’t even given his own jersey.

‘They gave me Tommy Lawrence’s,’ recalled Clemence back in 1999.

‘It was so big that when it was wet it came down to my knees.’

With news of his passing at the age of 72 today, Liverpool will mourn a footballer who was to become and remain one of their own.

From the moment he took the great Lawrence’s place for good in 1970 to leaving for Tottenham after the 1981 European Cup Final win against Real Madrid in Paris, Clemence played more than 650 games and missed just six.

His roll call of honours reads like a schoolboy’s fantasy. Five league titles, three European Cups, two UEFA Cups with a League Cup and FA Cup thrown in to complete the remarkable set.

As Liverpool established themselves as Europe’s dominant force during the 1970s, Clemence was a reassuring, steady and extremely gifted constant.

An indifferent trainer who preferred to play up front during Melwood’s infamous 5-a-side games, Clemence was a talented natural between the posts and one of the first of a generation of sweeper keepers who proved life could be easier if you were brave enough to patrol beyond the confines of the penalty area.

Just last year his great rival and England room-mate Peter Shilton spoke in these pages of Clemence’s easy talents.

‘People said Ray was natural and he was,’ smiled Shilton.

‘He didn’t train that much. He would face a shot and say: ‘Wide’ instead of diving.

‘But what a lovely man. All we did in those days was talk and laugh. We never even discussed football.’

The day Clemence’s life took its pivotal turn, he was actually stacking deckchairs on Skegness beach.

Just 18-years-old, the young goalkeeper with a talent for accountancy had recently been turning out for Scunthorpe but had played badly after spotting the great Liverpool manager Bill Shankly in the car park one afternoon.

Overcome with nerves, Clemence conceded three goals, two of which were his own fault.

‘I remember telling my parents my chance had gone,’ Clemence told this newspaper seven years ago.

Not so. Supplementing his £9-a-week income with a day job on the sands of his home town, Clemence was approached with a message by a man from the council. Liverpool had called his mother.

Shankly soon sold a dream of first team football to Clemence that was missing a few pertinent truths. Lawrence, he said, was in his 30s and would soon be on his way. The reality was that the great Anfield keeper was only 27 and far from past it. Clemence spent two-and-half years in the Liverpool reserves until the club’s defining FA Cup defeat at Watford in 1970 prompted Shankly to rearrange some chairs of his own.

Early on, it was not always easy for Clemence. He suffered from nerves, especially with his kicking. Heckled by the home crowd during a game against Swansea, Shankly’s assistant Bob Paisley had the flags on the top of the stand removed so that Clemence could not see he was kicking in to the wind. Boxing training also helped and it was not terribly long before Clemence was regarded and confident enough to sit at the coaches’ table at lunch after training.

Liverpool, now under the direct control of Paisley, were peerless during the mid and late 1970s and Clemence was in the vanguard. It was the goalkeeper who led the uplifting and rather drunken singing as Liverpool’s train became stuck on the way home from their sapping FA Cup Final defeat to Manchester United in 1977. It was he who saved crucially from the great German Uli Stielike with the European Cup Final against Borussia Monchengladbach poised at 1-1 in Rome four days later.

‘It just hit my knee,’ Clemence later shrugged. Liverpool won 3-1 and a European dynasty lasting the best part of a decade was born.

The 1978/79 season arguably saw that Liverpool side at its best. Clemence conceded just 16 goals during a 42-game league season and kept 28 clean sheets. Two summers later, sitting in the Parc de Princes dressing room after a third European Cup win, he decided it was time to go.

‘I sat with a paper cup full of champagne and the feeling that it was just another game,’ he once said in an interview with the Independent.

‘I made the decision there and then.

‘I thought: “If you can’t be on the ceiling after winning the European Cup, it’s not the place to be”.

‘Before the game, it hadn’t even occurred to me to leave.’

Good years at Tottenham followed. Another FA Cup was soon his and another UEFA Cup, too. But it was in the colours of Liverpool and the bright yellow jersey with the black trim of England that Clemence really cemented his place in the Pantheon.

Restricted to a relatively modest 61 international caps largely by the presence of Shilton, with whom he shared duties under Ron Greenwood, his work as goalkeeping coach under Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan, Sven Goran Eriksson, Steve McClaren and Roy Hodgson meant that by the time he took an FA development role he had been directly involved in more than 300 England games.

It is unfortunate that perhaps his most memorable moment in an England shirt came at Hampden in 1977 when Kenny Dalglish scored through his legs in an Old Firm game. A year later Dalglish signed for Liverpool with a handshake and a reminder to “keep them legs closed”.

Within the game, though, Clemence remains associated only with excellence and success. A prostate cancer diagnosis arrived in 2005 and kept him from his England coaching for only six months. Eight years later a tumour on his spine proved to be another tough opponent and it was then, at the age of 65, he decided it was time to commit himself only to his wife Vee, children Stephen, Sarah and Julie and a growing number of grandchildren.

Speaking during his treatment in 2013, Clemence told the Mail: ‘I have three wonderful kids but I didn’t see as much of them as I should have because I was busy being what I wanted to be.’

Clemence has been part of English football’s fabric for half a century. Worshipped at Anfield, he was a pall bearer at Shankly’s funeral 1981. Once they found a jersey to fit him, he always was the very safest pair of hands.

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