Ray Clemence – A national icon
After being rejected as a 15-year-old at Notts County, Ray Clemence went on to establish himself as one of the England’s greatest ever goalkeepers with Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. Now he is overseeing the creation of the next generation of Englisk goalkeepers in his role as The Football Association’s national goalkeeper coach.
Ray Clemence is an English goalkeeping treasure. In 22 years as a professional, he made over a thousand league and cup appearances for Scunthorpe United, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, was capped 61 times by his country and won a plethora of medals, including three European Cups, two UEFA Cups, five English league championships and two FA Cups.
He appeared 665 times for Liverpool between 1968 and 1981, including an astonishing run of 337 consecutive games between September 1972 and March 1978. He was awarded the honor of Member of the British Empire (MBE) for services to football, is considered by Liverpool fans to be the club’s best ever goalkeeper and once topped “Total Football” magazine’s poll as the world’s greatest ever goalkeeper, beating the likes of Gordon Banks, Peter Shilton, Lev Yashin and Pat Jennings. In short Clemence’s career as a supreme short-stopper could hardly have been bettered.
And yet, things might have worked out very differently for him after Clemence was rejected by Notts County in 1964 at the age of 15. For most young players rejection spells the end of their dreams, but Clemence demonstrated the necessary mental strength and character to bounce back and his history is a textbook example of how early setbacks can be overcome.
“I thought my chance of a career in professional football was gone,” says Clemence, recalling that fatal day. “I went back to school and had a place at college to become an accountant, but I kept playing local youth football and Scunthorpe United spotted me. They ask me for trials and signed me on, but even then it wasn’t easy for me. The team I was playing in was so poor I was getting five, six or seven goals smashed past me every week and for the first and only time in my career, I lost my enthusiasm for the game. I wasn’t enjoying football.”
Shankly and paisley
?Luckily, two coaches at Scunthorpe pulled me aside and said, “We’ve looked at you in training and we think you can play for England one day – if you are prepared to work for it.” I took that on board, trained hard – to the point where I was exhausted every day – and by the end of the season I was in the first team. The following year I was their number one goalkeeper and in 1967 I was on my way to Liverpool. I have those two coaches to thank for straightening me out and it shows that if you have the strength of character to dig in and work hard, you can turn things around.”
And so Clemence’s fairy tale began. Under the inspirational leadership of legendary manager Bill Shankly – “The best motivator I’ve ever come across,” says Clemence, reverentially – Liverpool began sweeping all before them. An English league championship and UEFA Cup ?double’ in 1973 set the ball rolling and that was soon followed by an FA Cup win in 1974, after which Shankly handed the managerial reins over to the quieter but no less authoritative Bob Paisley.
Further league championship and UEFA Cup successes were achieved in 1976 before Liverpool enjoyed arguably their best ever year in 1977. With yet another league title already secured, the Reds lost the FA Cup final to Manchester United at Wembley. But four days later they had a chance to atone and the nation held its breath as Liverpool met German champions Borussia Monchengladbach in the European Cup final at the Olympic Stadium in Rome. Liverpool won 3-1, and for Clemence that sultry evening on the banks of the River Tiber remains his greatest ever memory.
He explains: “1997 would be THE year, for the simple reason I encompassed every emotion you could possibly have in football in the space of ten days. We won the championship league one Saturday, lost the FA Cup final the following Saturday, and then won the European Cup four days later. It was one giant roller coaster and a fantastic time for Liverpool Football Club.”
He says: “It was the first time Liverpool had won the European Cup and our fans were incredible. Half the stadium was red and white and it was amazing the lengths to which people went to support us. They sold things, washing machines, televisions, anything to get the money to be at Liverpool’s games. For that final people went on trains right across the Alps and slept in roof racks to be in Rome. They weren’t bothered about it being uncomfortable, they just wanted to be there.”
And he adds: “You walked into the stadium before the game and saw all those fans and knew about all the sacrifices they’d made to be there, so how could we let them down? We not only beat Monchengladbach, we did it in some style. We played some great football at that time; we played exciting football and entertained people. Certainly we did that night and the whole country was behind us.”
Move to Tottenham
Liverpool retained the European Cup in 1971 and went on to win it again in 1981 by beating Real Madrid 1-0 in Paris, which turned out to be Clemence’s final game for the club. At the age of 32 he needed a new challenge and, in a move that shocked English football, he joined Tottenham Hotspur. After winning the FA Cup with the London side in 1982, he enjoyed seven more fine seasons at the top before retiring at the age of 40.
But not everything went Clemence’s way during his long career. At international level, he might have trebled his number of England caps had it not been for the presence of his great friend and rival, Peter Shilton. For many years the pair shared the England goalkeeping duties, but it was Shilton who eventually got the nod in the major tournaments. But there is no animosity from Clemence, who says: “Peter and I roomed together and you don’t do that if you don’t get on. In many ways, our rivalry droves us both on.”
In Clemence and Shilton, England was fortunate to have two of the world’s greatest goalkeepers vying against each other for almost 20 years. What would they give for such rivalry now, as in recent years the reputation of English goalkeeping, once rightly considered to be the best in the world, has diminished to the point where the number of top quality home-grown goalkeepers operating in England’s Premiership can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Since 1996, Clemence has been working for the Football Association as England’s national goalkeeping coach, and he now has additional responsibility for developing future international goalkeepers from the age of 15 upwards. He points to a string of up-and-coming goalkeepers who are beginning to make their mark, but admits to being concerned at the number of foreign players flooding into the Premiership to the detriment of homegrown talent.
“Three years ago it was looking pretty grim and we only had two r three English goalkeepers playing in the Premiership,” says Clemence. “But now we’ve got five or six and the emergence of guys like Ben Foster, Robert Green, Chris Kirkland and Scott Carson means the pool is starting to get bigger. There are also a lot of promising goalkeepers in the lower division, so slowly I think the worm is turning.”
Clemence thinks: “The biggest problem, and not just with goalkeeping, is that Premiership clubs need success and giving young British goalkeepers an opportunity is difficult. Managers are bringing in more and more foreign players, and even more worrying is that there are now quite a lot of foreign kids appearing in the academies as well. The idea of academies was to bring through the best English and British players that we have, so, with my England hat on, I find that frustrating.”
“I love the game”
In spite of challenges he faces, Clemence would not swap his current role for any other job. At 59, he looks fit and well and, after overcoming a prostate cancer scare two years ago, he insists there is nothing to beat donning the tracksuit and working with the best young goalkeepers in the land.
He adds: “Apart from playing the game, there can’t be e better buzz. I love the game; love being involved in it and it’s just fantastic to be able to work with our best youngsters, trying to develop them into senior players. I’ve had 40-plus years in the game and never lost my enthusiasm – apart from that little spell when Notts County threw me out!” in Clemence’s case, Notts County’s loss has unquestionably been English football’s gain.
Name: Raymond Neal Clemence, MBE
Born: 5 August 1948 in Skegness, England
Clubs: until 1996: Notts County. 1966-1967: Scunthorpe United. 1967-1981: Liverpool. 1981-1988: Tottenham Hotspur.
Honors: With Liverpool: 5 league championships (1973, 1976, 1977, 1979 and 1981), 3 European Cups (1977, 1978, 1981), FA Cup (1974), 2 UEFA Cups (1973, 1976), League Cup (1981), European Super Cup (1977). With Tottham Hotspur: FA Cup (1982). 61 caps for England.
Coaching career: 1988-1994: Goalkeeping coach at Tottenham Hotspur. 1994-1996: Manager Barnet FC. 1996-to date: Goalkeeping coach and goalkeeper development manager of the English national team.
20 questions, 20 answers – Chris Killen
Born: 8 October 1981 in Wellington (New Zealand)
Nationality: New Zealander
Clubs: 1999-2000: Manchester City (England). 2000-2001: Wrexham (Wales). 2001-2002: Port Vale (England). 2002-2006: Oldham Athletic (England). Since January 2006: Hibernian (Scotland).
Honors: 26 caps for New Zealand, 15 goals.
Miscellaneous: Having ruptured an Achilles tendon in January 2007, Killen will be sidelined until the 2007-2008 season.
1. What does football mean to you?
A lot, of course, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.
2. Which football club did you support as a child?
Liverpool. I grew up watching them on TV.
3. Did you ever have an idol?
Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman and John Barnes from that Liverpool side.
4. What is your fondest football memory?
Scoring against Rangers at Ibrox shortly after my debut.
5. What has been your biggest disappointment in football?
Getting this Achilles injury (Ed: Killen is currently injured).
6. If you had not become a professional footballer, what would you have become?
A fisherman. It was all I did at home apart from football.
7. What is your favorite type of music?
Dance, it gets you going.
8. And your favorite book?
The Game. It’s about pulling women. My mate said it was good!
9. Your favorite film?
The Shawshank Redemption.
10. Your favorite city?
Singapore. It’s so clean.
11. What is your favorite food?
12. What is your favorite hobby?
Fishing or golf, which I am not bad at.
13. What do you spend most of your money on?
Apart from keeping my houses, it would be cars.
14. What was your first job?
I sold programmes at New Zealand rugby test matches.
15. Who has been the most influential person in world?
From a personal perspective, my parents. They’ve had a huge influence on me.
16. What are you afraid of?
I have a phobia from spiders.
17. What was the most embarrassing moment in your life?
I tried to face my fear by holding a tarantula and broke into a flood of sweat!
18. How do you see the future of the world?
Everything electronic. Flying cars, the lot.
19. Where would you like to go on holiday?
Richard Branson has got his own island. It’s called Necker, I think. That would be good.
20. Whom would you most like to meet?
21. Jennifer Lopez.
Yes Or No?
Are you a patient? No.
Are you superstitious? Sometimes
Will Hibs win the 2008 Scottish Premier League title? I hope so.
Was Wynton Rufer the world’s top striker? One of them.
Will New Zealand qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup TM? Yes.
Would you like to coach? Yes.
Is Ronaldinho the world’s best player? Yes.