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Ray Clemence: From deckchair attendant to Liverpool’s greatest goalkeeper

Ray Clemence File Photo
(Image credit: PA)

Ray Clemence went from stacking deckchairs on Skegness beach to being the last line of defence in the all-conquering Liverpool team of the 1970s and early 1980s.

An £18,000 signing from Scunthorpe, Clemence helped the Reds win five First Division titles and three European Cups during 11 years as first choice at Anfield in which he remarkably missed only six league matches.

The former England international, who conceded just 16 goals in the 42-match 1978-79 season, played more than 1,100 games for Scunthorpe, Liverpool, Tottenham and the national team over a 23-year career.

Former Liverpool, Tottenham and England goalkeeper Ray Clemence has died.

Former Liverpool, Tottenham and England goalkeeper Ray Clemence has died (PA)

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

Signed by Bill Shankly in 1967, Clemence was the greatest goalkeeper to play for Liverpool and arguably the best of his generation, despite his international competition with Peter Shilton which saw his rival win 125 caps to his 61.

As well as the league titles and European Cup success, Clemence also won an FA Cup, a League Cup, two UEFA Cups and the European Super Cup, but his contribution was much greater than the sum of his honours.

And all that after having been reluctant to play in goal in the first place.

Born in Skegness on August 5, 1948, a nine-year-old Clemence started as a centre-forward, but was a defender in his early teens before, one day, Lumley Secondary Modern’s school team found themselves short of a keeper.

“I couldn’t play anywhere else. I never wanted to be a goalkeeper. The sports master nominated me to go into goal. When I went into goal it was just natural for me to do,” said Clemence, who is survived by wife Veronica, son Stephen – a former player and now a coach – and daughters Sarah and Julie.

After being rejected as a schoolboy by Notts County, he arrived at Scunthorpe as a 17-year-old in 1965 but in his fourth game as a professional let in seven against local rivals Grimsby.

Clemence joined Liverpool from Scunthorpe for £18,000 in 1967

Clemence joined Liverpool from Scunthorpe for £18,000 in 1967 (PA)

Nevertheless, within two years he had attracted the interest of Liverpool, a club about to embark on one of the greatest spells of success in the history of the game.

His last appearance for Scunthorpe in 1967, though, saw them lose 3-0 to Doncaster, with Shankly present to see Clemence be 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.

Ray Clemence (right) with fellow England goalkeepers Joe Corrigan and Peter Shilton

Ray Clemence (right) with fellow England goalkeepers Joe Corrigan and Peter Shilton (PA)

“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.”

The only thing he would stack up after that were trophies and accolades.

After serving his apprenticeship in the Central League, he took over from Tommy Lawrence on a permanent basis during the 1969-70 season, despite being assured by Shankly when he signed that Lawrence was “over the hill and past his best”.

Ray Clemence dives at the feet of Tottenham’s Alan Gilzean

Ray Clemence dives at the feet of Tottenham’s Alan Gilzean (PA)

But it was worth the wait as Clemence won every major honour in the game bar the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 665 appearances before, surprisingly, announcing at the age of 32 that he needed a new challenge to prolong his career.

He moved to Tottenham in 1981 and did just that, playing for a further seven years and making 330 appearances for the north London club.

He helped them win the FA Cup in 1982 and the UEFA Cup two years later, although he was a spectator for their final victory over Anderlecht as stand-in Tony Parks proved Spurs’ penalty shoot-out hero.

Clemence hung up his gloves for good in 1988 and joined the Tottenham coaching staff.

Ray Clemence worked on the coaching staff under a number of England managers

Ray Clemence worked on the coaching staff under a number of England managers (Daniel Hambury/PA)

He also had a spell in charge of Barnet before, in 1996, joining the England coaching team under Glenn Hoddle. He remained part of the backroom staff until his retirement in 2013.

On the international front, Clemence’s battle with Shilton for the England number one shirt was a cause of some frustration, with the pair rotated for more than a decade. Clemence made his debut in 1972 and won his final cap in 1983.

His biggest disappointment was missing out on a place in the starting line-up in the 1982 World Cup, effectively as a result of Tottenham’s FA Cup final replay with QPR which prevented him featuring in two pre-tournament friendlies.

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

Clemence’s rivarly with Peter Shilton meant he did not win as many England caps as a goalkeeper of his talent should have (PA)

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

However, the goal he is most associated with was Scotland’s second in their 2-1 victory at Hampden Park in 1976 when Liverpool team-mate Kenny Dalglish steered it between his legs.

“Gordon Banks is remembered for his save against Pele and I’m remembered for that,” he said ruefully.