English football mourned the death of another of its favourite sons this weekend. Reports came in of the sad passing of Ray Clemence, one of England’s greatest goalkeepers.
One of the nicest men in football, ‘Clem’ was a huge favourite at the clubs he played for, especially Liverpool and Tottenham.
Born on 5th August 1948 in Skegness, his first professional club was Scunthorpe United from August 1965. He made his debut for the club at the age of 17. Despite conceding seven goals in one of his early games, he kept the jersey and made over 50 appearances for the Iron.
Liverpool manager Bill Shankly was soon one of his admirers. At the end of the 1966-67 season, Shankly watched the final game of the season as Scunthorpe lost to Doncaster, with Clemence responsible for two of the goals.
Believing he’d blown his chances of the big move to Liverpool, Ray took a summer job stacking deckchairs on Skegness beach. A few weeks later he saw a man running towards him. What he didn’t know was Scunthorpe had agreed a deal with Liverpool and his Mum had called the council to send a man to try and find him.
“My life changed at that moment, as I’m standing there stacking deckchairs”, he explained years later.
Shankly paid £18,000 for the 18-year old and he had to serve his time in the reserves before finally getting his full league debut against Nottingham Forest at the end of January 1970. When Liverpool were embarrassed by Second Division Watford in the FA Cup Quarter-Final that season, first-team regular, Tommy Lawrence was one of the casualties. Clem finally got his chance. He missed just six league matches in the next 11 seasons!
The 1970-71 season saw him concede just 22 goals in 41 First Division matches. He surpassed this record in 1978-79 season when he was beaten just 16 times. That season he kept 28 clean sheets and conceded just four goals at home.
The 1970-71 season ended in disappointment as they were beaten in extra-time in the FA Cup final as Arsenal won the double.
His agility and quick reactions soon caught the eye of the England management. Alf Ramsey handed him his first cap against Wales in November 1972. Fittingly he kept a clean sheet in his first match. That season was a memorable one as Clemence picked up the first of his five league titles at Liverpool.
Clemence would have earned way more than the 61 caps he did for England had Peter Shilton not been around at the same time. When Ron Greenwood took over as England manager, he couldn’t decide between the two. In one friendly against Austria in 1979, they played a half each.
Clemence never played in a World Cup for England. Despite playing all six matches of the 1978 qualifying campaign, England missed out on the World Cup on goal difference to Italy. He played in half the qualifying matches for Spain 1982 but was in goal for the three defeats against Romania, Switzerland and Norway. When it came to the finals Greenwood plumped for Shilton throughout the tournament.
Clemence was given the captain’s armband once in a friendly at Wembley against Brazil in May 1981. His last appearance for his country came in a European Championship qualifying match in Luxembourg in November 1983.
By then he was a Tottenham Hotspur player.
His Liverpool career was one of medals and trophies. He won the first of his five league titles in 1973. That same season saw them win their first European trophy, beating Borussia Monchengladbach over two legs in the UEFA Cup. A year later they made amends for losing to Arsenal in the FA Cup Final when Clemence was part of a side which beat Newcastle United. 1975-76 saw another League/European double, as they again won the UEFA Cup beating Bruges over two legs. Then a year later came the big one. Victory in Rome gave Liverpool their first European Cup triumph. They were close to winning the treble, but for disappointment in the FA Cup final. Another European Cup triumph came his way in 1978, and then came the record-breaking 1978-79 season and another league title. 1979-80 saw his fifth and final League Championship medal, before his only League Cup winner’s medal in 1980-81. A glittering career at Anfield spanning 13 years and covering 665 appearances had seen him win five league titles, one FA Cup, one League Cup, two UEFA Cups, one Super Cup and three European Cups. It was in the dressing room with the third European Cup winner’s medal in his hand, he decided he would move from Anfield.
Dependability and consistency was the cornerstone of Liverpool’s success throughout the 1970s, especially in Europe. In the 1977 European Cup final, he pulled off a crucial save from Uli Stielike with the game poised at 1-1. In the Quarter-Final his saves against St. Etienne had been an important part of their route to the final. He saved a penalty against Borussia Monchengladbach in 1973 UEFA Cup final which stopped them losing on away goals rule.
Sitting in the dressing room in Paris after another clean sheet against Real Madrid, Ray decided he needed a new challenge. No one saw it coming, but he always maintained he just knew it was the right thing to do. No reflection on the club he loved, he just wanted a new direction.
He moved to Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 1981. Within months he was up against his old club battling for honours as Spurs were competing in the League Cup final against Liverpool. Liverpool won after being a goal down.
At the end of the season, Tottenham arrived at Anfield for Liverpool’s final home game of the season. Needing just a draw, Liverpool were again a goal down at half-time. As he came out for the second half, Clemence made his way to defend the goal at the Kop end. The camera is behind Clemence showing the whole of the Kop applauding a favourite son. It’s an incredible moment which makes your hair stand on end. What other player has received such a welcome from the fans of a club he’d just left?
‘The first half I was playing at the Anfield Road end and they were still chanting ‘England’s number one’ to me, so that was nice. I could never have envisaged when I came out at half-time and ran down to the Kop, the reception I would get. The whole stadium stood up and every single one in the Kop. It’s probably the most emotional I have ever been at a football ground. It definitely brought a lump to my throat because I could not believe the reception from them. It was just one of the best moments you could possibly have.’ [source LFChistory.net]
Clemence did indeed find the challenge he was searching for at White Hart Lane, playing almost until he was 40. Eventually, he made over 1,000 career appearances.
Despite losing in the League Cup final, Clemence won another winner’s medal, the FA Cup. Tottenham beat QPR in a replay. He played a part in the club’s UEFA Cup win two years later, although he missed the final due to injury. In January, he dislocated his shoulder in an FA Cup tie at Fulham, where Graham Roberts had to stand in for him.
Clem had returned to training in time for the final, but his understudy, Tony Parks, had been doing so well manager Keith Burkinshaw didn’t want to make a change. But then Parks suffered a cut in his knee in the UEFA Cup quarter-final against Austria Vienna, so Clemence returned to the team. Fate struck again for both men when Clemence severed a tendon in his finger in training, so back came Parks.
Spurs beat Anderlecht to lift their first European trophy for 12 years and Parks was the hero in a penalty shootout. In 1987, Clemence was in his fifth FA Cup final, but as in 1971 and 1977, he had to settle for a runners-up medal, against underdogs Coventry City.
Clemence hung up his gloves for good in 1988 and joined Tottenham’s coaching staff. He had a spell as manager of Barnet and then in 1996 former Spurs teammate, Glenn Hoddle, took him on as goalkeeping coach for the England team. He worked under successive England managers. He was also head of the FA’s Head of Development Team, overseeing England teams at various age levels.
Clemence was awarded the MBE for services to football in the 1987 Birthday Honours. In February 2005, he announced he’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He battled the disease for 15 years before his death on 15th November 2020.
It is remarkable how many times Ray’s career path crosses that of Kevin Keegan. Both were signed as teenagers from Scunthorpe United by Bill Shankly for Liverpool. They shared seven major honours at Anfield. Both left the club after European Cup success with a desire for a new challenge. No player played in as many games with Clemence for England than Keegan. Both sat on the bench watching most of England’s World Cup matches in Spain. Keegan got on for the closing minutes of England’s last game against Spain. Clemence did not. Clemence then worked with Keegan when he was England manager.
The Clemence family released a statement following the sad news of his passing;
‘With great sadness, we write to let you know that Ray Clemence passed away peacefully today, surrounded by his loving family.
After fighting so hard, for such a long time, he’s now at peace and in no more pain.
The family would like to say a huge thank you, for all the love and support that he’s received over the years. He was loved so much by us all and he will never be forgotten.’
Tributes from around the world of football have poured in for a man no one had a bad word for.