Ray Clemence obituary

Athletic, elegant and decisive goalkeeper for England, Liverpool and Spurs

It says much about the outstanding ability of Ray Clemence, who has died aged 72 after suffering from prostate cancer, that he was able to amass 61 caps for England during an era in which he was vying for his place against Gordon Banks and Peter Shilton, the two best England goalkeepers of all time. Succeeding Banks between the posts in 1972, Clemence battled with Shilton for the keeper’s jersey for much of the 1970s until his slightly younger rival achieved ascendancy.

However, while Clemence’s years with England brought much acclaim, it was his career in the domestic game that delivered the glory. As the last line of defence in the great Liverpool sides of the 70s he won three European Cups, five First Division championships, two Uefa Cups, an FA Cup and a League Cup before a move to Tottenham in the early 80s added FA Cup and Uefa Cup winners medals to that tally. He then became a member of the Spurs backroom staff and subsequently enjoyed a long tenure as England’s goalkeeping coach.

Born in Skegness, Lincolnshire, to Bill and Muriel (nee Scott), Clemence was corralled into the school team at Lumley secondary modern as a reluctant goalkeeper, but turned out to be good enough to sign for Third Division Scunthorpe United as a teenager in 1965, making his debut the next year. At the close of the 1966-67 season he was picked up by Bill Shankly’s Liverpool, receiving the news of his transfer on Skegness beach, where he was working in the summer months as a deckchair attendant to supplement his footballing income.

It was not until the 1969-70 season that he was able to fully displace Tommy Lawrence in goal at Liverpool, but thereafter he was unassailable in the position, playing 337 games without missing a match from September 1972 until March 1978. His first honours came in the 1972-73 season under Shankly, when Liverpool took the First Division title and then the Uefa Cup, in which he kept out a penalty in the initial leg of the final versus Borussia Mönchengladbach, rating it the best save of his career. His first European Cup win arrived under Bob Paisley in 1977 against the same team, and again he made a crucial intervention, blocking superbly from the German international Uli Stielike, who had broken clear as the score stood at 1-1. Liverpool went on to win 3-1.

Supremely athletic, elegant, quick and decisive, Clemence also marshalled his defenders superbly, and with a backline combination of Phil Neal, Alan Kennedy, Phil Thompson and Alan Hansen during the 1978-79 season he conceded only 16 goals in 42 league matches, keeping a clean sheet in 28. After excellent performances in the 1-0 European Cup final win against Bruges in 1978 and, three years later, in the 1-0 victory against Real Madrid in the same competition, he decided to quit Liverpool while he was at the top. By then widely regarded as the finest keeper in the club’s history, he opted to sign for Tottenham.

At Spurs Clemence was never going to pick up the weight of silverware he was used to at Anfield, but his seven-year tenure was a successful one in which he gained medals for a 1982 FA Cup win against Queens Park Rangers and a 1984 Uefa Cup victory against Anderlecht, although he was unable to appear in the finals of the latter due to injury. He was appointed MBE in 1987 and retired the following year aged 40, having taken part in more than 1,000 matches for his various teams – putting him No 7 on the all-time list of players with most appearances.

For England Clemence had made his debut under Sir Alf Ramsey in a World Cup qualifying match against Wales in 1972, after Banks had lost the sight in one of his eyes following a car crash. However, Shilton had already won five caps for England by that stage, and for the next few years he and Clemence embarked on a fight to wrest the goalkeeping position from each other.

By 1975 Clemence seemed to be winning the tussle under the management of Don Revie, but Revie’s successor, Ron Greenwood, opted to select the two keepers more or less in rotation for the rest of the decade. Clemence played in two of England’s three matches in the 1980 European Championship finals, but for the World Cup finals of 1982 he was on the bench, sitting out the entire tournament.

When Bobby Robson became manager shortly afterwards he continued to favour Shilton, and though Clemence was picked for two low-profile games against Luxembourg, the last of those, in 1983, proved to be his final cap.

After finishing with Spurs he moved on to the club’s coaching staff, and during the 1992-93 season was assistant manager to Doug Livermore in the inaugural campaign of the Premier League. Spurs finished eighth, but Clemence was returned to a backroom position the following season and left in 1994 to become joint manager (with Gary Phillips) of Third Division Barnet. He took sole charge after six months and stayed at the helm for two seasons, delivering league positions of 11th and ninth.

In 1996 he left Barnet to become the England goalkeeping coach under Glenn Hoddle, continuing in that role until 2012, when he called it a day after injuring an achilles tendon in a warm-up with the goalkeeper Joe Hart during the European Championship finals. After a year overseeing the England age-group sides he retired from football altogether in 2013. He was always a popular figure in the sport, known for his approachability, level-headedness and sense of humour.

In 1971 he married Veronica Gillespie. She survives him along with their children, Stephen, also a professional footballer, Sarah and Julie.

Raymond Neal Clemence, footballer, born 5 August 1948; died 15 November 2020


Peter Mason

The GuardianTramp

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