Ray Clemence was serial winner, the original 'sweeper-keeper', Kop hero and Tottenham icon – he leaves a lasting legacy

A HERO on the Kop, remembered fondly at White Hart Lane and one half of English goalkeeping’s true Golden Generation.

For those who remember there was such a thing as football before the advent of the Premier League, the death of Ray Clemence will be a hammer-blow.

Frequently the measure of a footballer is their trophy-count, more than the impression they made.

In which case, alone, “Clem” was a giant.

Five league titles, three European Cups and three Uefa Cup triumphs – plus two FA Cup wins and a League Cup medal as well.

And the small matter of 61 England caps as well, part of the squad that ended the Three Lions’ ten-year absence from major finals and 12-year wait to get back on the biggest stage of all in 1982.

But he was more than that…. a calming, assured presence, perhaps the first “sweeper-keeper”,  someone you could rely on. 

Capable of the critical saves, yes, but also a keeper whose mistakes could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

While the Skegness-born Clemence grew up wanting to be a centre-forward, a change of path at the age of 15 led him onto the books of local club Scunthorpe by the age of 17.

He made himself first choice for The Iron before Bill Shankly and Liverpool came calling in 1967.

Scunthorpe happily agreed the £18,000 fee. Clemence was taken in by the wily Scot.

He recalled: “Shanks told me Tommy Lawrence was over the hill and past his best and if I continued to improve I’d be in the 'Big Team' within six months. 

“But Tommy wasn’t over the hill and past his best. He was at the peak of his career.

"I had to wait two and a half years before getting a regular first team place.”

The wait was worthwhile. Shankly was building the first great Liverpool side. Clemence was integral to it.

Indeed, his penalty save from future Bayern Munich boss Jupp Heynckes in the first leg of the 1973 Uefa Cup final against Borussia Monchengladbach was the pivotal moment of a tie Liverpool won 3-2 on aggregate.

Without the save they would have lost on the away goals rule.

That season also saw the first of Clemence’s five league crowns, the last line of a defensive unit which included Tommy Smith in front of Emlyn Hughes and Larry Lloyd.

It was the first step in an era of greatness, with the five titles in just eight seasons, but also saw the Merseysiders dominate Europe.

In Rome, in 1977, Monchengladbach – again – had drawn level when Germany star Uli Stielike burst through.

Clemence remembered: “I made myself as big as I could and hoped he’d hit me. Thankfully he did.

"It wasn’t my most spectacular save but it was my most important.”

Within two minutes Smith had headed Liverpool back in front and when Phil Neal scored from the spot the Anfield side were officially masters of Europe.

Two more triumphs followed, against Bruges at Wembley in 1978 and then to beat Real Madrid in Paris three years later. Two clean sheets.

It was Clemence’s last Liverpool game, opting to move rather than lose his place to emerging former Zimbabwean soldier Bruce Grobbelaar.

Tottenham boss Keith Burkinshaw, who had been his player-manager at Scunny and was unconvinced about keeper Milija Aleksi now back in Europe after winning the FA Cup, pounced for £300,000.

Clemence left a stronger team than he joined, although Spurs did have a no-nonsense back four including Graham Roberts, John Lacey, Steve Perryman and Chris Hughton.

But while his old team beat his new one in the 1982 League Cup final, Wembley glory beckoned again as Glenn Hoddle’s spot-kick saw off QPR in an FA Cup final replay.

Clemence spent seven years at Spurs before being forced to retire through injury, his last silverware as a non-playing substitute in the 1984 Uefa Cup final, won against Anderlecht on penalties.

By then, his rivalry with Peter Shilton to take up the Gordon Banks mantle as England No1 was over, too.

Yet through much of the 1970s, successive England managers could not choose between them, in the case of Ron Greenwood, quite literally, as he would play them in alternate games.

It probably kept neither happy, although they roomed together, two different but equally professional characters.

It was, of course, Shilton who earned the England record 125 caps but Clemence admitted: “Without him I’d have got 200 caps!” 

Not that all of Clemence’s appearances went well, with a famous nutmegging by Kenny Dalglish at Hampden leading to plenty of stick.

But it was taken with good humour and while he was forced to quit ahead of time, it led to a coaching career with Spurs, Barnet and England.

In his latter years, Clemence came through two battles with cancer, the second, in 2013, forcing him  to retire.

Those who knew him were not surprised at how he took on those challenges.

One of English football’s greats, no question. A sad, sad day.

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