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Ray Clemence - From Deck-Chair Attendant to Liverpool’s #1

Clem was a hugely influential part of the greatest of all Liverpool teams...

Ray Clemence, who passed away yesterday, pictured at Melwood, Liverpool’s training ground in 1972.

When Ray Clemence was a young professional playing Third Division football (in the sensible days when third division also meant third tier), he supplemented his wages by working as a deck-chair attendant at Skegness beach in the summer off-seasons.

That was before the great Bill Shankly discovered his talent and paid struggling Scunthorpe United £18,000 for the 18-year-old’s signature in 1967.

In an illustrious 13-year career at Anfield, Clemence would go on to win three European Cups, five league titles, two UEFA Cups, an FA Cup and the League Cup.

He played more than 1,100 games for Scunthorpe, Liverpool, Tottenham and the English national team over a 23-year career.

Clemence, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2005 and also had treatment for a brain tumour, died yesterday (Sunday) at the age of 72.

Clemence (18) in 1966/67 season as a member of the Scunthorpe United first team squad.

His last appearance for Scunthorpe in 1967 saw them lose 3-0 to Doncaster, with Shankly present to see Clemence at fault for two of the goals.

“I remember telling my parents my big chance had just gone straight out the window,” Clemence recalled. “That summer, because I was still on only £11-a-week, I took a job on the deckchairs at Skegness beach.”

A few weeks later, while at his summer job, he spotted a man running towards him.

“My mum had phoned the council to send someone to find me. She’d had a call from the club to say Scunthorpe had agreed a fee with Liverpool and it was up to me if I wanted to go.

“My life changed at that moment.... as I’m standing there stacking deckchairs.”

Shankly gave Clemence his bow in the Liverpool first-team, September 1968, in a League Cup 3rd round tie at Anfield, a 2-0 victory over Swansea Town.

But another two years in the reserve team Central League as understudy to Tommy Lawrence were required before a calamitous FA Cup defeat by second division Watford prompted Shankly to ring the changes. Lawrence was left out. Clemence came in.... and stayed.

He went on to make 665 appearances for the Reds and missed only 6 league games over the following 11 seasons. In the championship season of 1978/79, he was ever-present (42 league games in those days) and conceded a miserly 16 goals, only 4 of which went past him at fortress Anfield.

Liverpool between 1976 and 1981 were probably the best team in world football and Clemence was a hugely influential part of it.

Ray Clemence Mural
Football Culture - Ray Clemence’s daughter Sarah cuts open a ribbon held by his grandchildren Harry, Lilly, Freddie and Claudia in front new mural of the former Liverpool goalkeeper in Wylva Road near Anfield, Liverpool.
Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images

He was incredibly agile, but the thing that stood out to me, a Manchester United fan who often lamented why Clemence hadn’t stayed on Skegness beach with his deck-chairs, was that he never made a mistake. It was hard enough to get past Liverpool’s watertight defence in those days and if you did there was Clemence to contend with.

He was the life and the soul too. David Fairclough, possibly the game’s first super-sub but also earning the moniker Bionic Carrot for his shock of unkempt red hair explained how Clemence lifted the dejected Liverpool side just days before their first European Cup win, after they had lost the FA Cup final to Manchester United. Having already won the league, the losing final was to be the second-leg of a never before achieved treble. Defeat scuppered the set.

“The lads were all down after the loss. We had the European Cup final to look forward to on the Wednesday night, and it was Ray who kicked everything off. He was such a huge influence, boisterous, lively and full of character. A real presence.

“He started dancing on the platform at Watford railway station as we waited on the train. When we got on Ray kept things going. There was a bit of a party, we had a few drinks, everyone’s spirits got lifted and of course we went to Rome and won the European Cup. Ray was a massive part of Liverpool’s success in the 70’s.”

Soccer - European Cup - Final - Liverpool v Borussia Monchengladbach
Clemence celebrating winning the European Cup for the first time in Rome in 1977, with Kevin Keegan.
Photo by Peter Robinson/EMPICS via Getty Images

Shankly never won the European Cup, Bob Paisley had succeeded him by then, but it was Shanks who was preparing Liverpool for more than just domestic dominance when he launched Clemence into his side.

The process gathered pace when Liverpool won the UEFA Cup in 1973, defeating Borussia Monchengladbach. Clemence played a key role in the two-legged final, diving to his right to save Jupp Heynckes’ penalty in the first-leg at Anfield, the disadvantage of a crucial away goal averted.

Liverpool lost the second-leg 0-2 at the Bökelbergstadion, Clemence making a series of first-half stops as the Germans swarmed all over Liverpool. Ultimately it was his penalty save which proved most crucial. Without it, Borussia would have taken the cup on away goals. Clemence put it down not to luck, nor guessing right, but in doing his homework, having watched Heynckes score a penalty in the semi-final against Holland’s FC Twente Enschede.

The same season Clemence won the first of his five league titles, but European Cup success proved beyond Shankly’s men the following season, when they lost home and away to a very good Red Star Belgrade. The defeat convinced Shankly, Liverpool could not win Europe’s top prize deploying an old-style English centre-back as they had in Larry Lloyd.

He wasn’t exactly right as Nottingham Forest, with Larry Lloyd, proved that theory wrong a few years later, but it still led to the introduction of Phil Thompson and Liverpool began to play the ball out from the back.

Whether or not it was part of Shankly’s developing vision, Clemence’s game was to have significant influence as Liverpool forged a more European style. He was exceptionally quick off his line giving the Reds much more flexibility to do things differently.

He was the first player I knew to be labelled sweeper-keeper, before the term became part of football’s lexicon. His new modern role was mightily successful. Before he left Anfield, Clemence won another Uefa Cup and three European Champions’ Cups.

His 61-cap England career while notable, did not go so well. He was part of two World Cup qualification failures and while Don Revie favoured him over Shilton, his constant rival for the #1 shirt, later on, Bobby Robson leant more towards the Nottingham Forest man. In between, in a poorly-disguised show of indecision, Ron Greenword chose to alternate the pair.

But life at Liverpool couldn’t have been better, so it came as a huge shock when he decided to leave Anfield for Tottenham Hotspur. Liverpool had just won its third European Cup in five seasons (see video-clip below, the Anfield Kop’s reception for Clemence on his first visit back as a Tottenham player).

The reasons were never really understood although Merseyside was alive with scurrilous rumours. Clemence was full of fun, was approachable and enjoyed the city’s nightlife, making it easy for gossip to spread.

The most likely explanation is that he received a substantial pay rise for moving south.

He won a second FA Cup with Spurs and helped bring home the UEFA Cup, another old Clemence acquaintance, to White Hart Lane.

After retiring he joined the coaching staff at Tottenham, then managed Barnet and became a member of the England setup in 1996, remaining involved until retiring seven years ago. He continued to work even after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

He may not have fulfilled his potential in an England shirt and his biggest disappointment was missing out on a place in the starting line-up at the 1982 World Cup. Conceding an equalizer five minutes before the end of extra-time from QPR’s Terry Fenwick in the FA Cup final forced a replay, his involvement preventing his featuring in two pre-World Cup friendlies.

Clemence’s rivalry with Peter Shilton meant he did not win as many England caps as a goalkeeper of his talent should have.

Ray Clemence
Clemence & Shilton, Friends & Rivals.
Photo by Wesley/Keystone/Getty Images

He rated his save from Borussia Monchengladbach’s Uli Stielike in the 1977 European Cup final with the score at 1-1 and the momentum potentially shifting away, as his most important.

However, the goal he is probably most remembered for was Scotland’s second in their 2-1 victory over England at Hampden Park in 1976, when Liverpool team-mate Kenny Dalglish steered the ball between his legs.

“Gordon Banks is remembered for his save against Pele and I’m remembered for that,” Clemence more than once ruefully remarked, usually grinning resignedly.

For a brilliantly agile goalkeeper who never seemed to make a mistake it’s a strange moment to be remembered for. But perhaps not, since there had been so very few errors in the great man’s catalogue.

Soccer - International Friendly - England v Brazil - Wembley Stadium
May 1981 - Leading England out as captain of England at Wembley against Brazil led by the great Socrates. It was the only time Clemence captained his country. Brazil won 1-0, Zico the scorer.
Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

Ray Clemence is survived by his wife, Veronica, son Stephen, who was also a professional footballer, and daughters, Sarah and Julie.

Raymond Neil Clemence, born Skegness August 5, 1948; died November 15, 2020, aged 72.