Football meant I never saw enough of my children

It is when the conversation moves to cancer, to the brutal, debilitating side-effects of chemotherapy, that Ray Clemence reflects on his decision to retire.
We have just spent the best part of two hours recalling some of the highlights of an amazing career.
On 47 almost unbroken years in football. On three European Cups with Liverpool, on Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley and Bobby Moore, and more than 300 England games between playing and coaching. Not to mention the Rolex watch he is wearing — a present from the England players, complete with an inscription on the back — that he received last month. ‘It was very touching,’ he says.
Champion: Ray Clemence celebrates with the European Cup after beating Borussia Monchengladbach
Champion: Ray Clemence celebrates with the European Cup after beating Borussia Monchengladbach
But earlier this year a sick man was staring back at Clemence in the bathroom mirror. The hair loss, the weight gain, the feeling of utter wretchedness all over his body.
‘My wife said she didn’t care if I was fat so long as I was still here,’ he says with a smile.
It still took him six months to walk away from the FA after 17 years on the staff. Six months of talking the decision through with director of football development Sir Trevor Brooking.
Six months of listening to his three children, not to mention his wife, Vee, telling him to slow down.
‘I have three wonderful kids, but as a father I didn’t see as much of them as I should have because I was busy being what I wanted to be,’ he explains. ‘Now I’ve got nine grandchildren and if I’m not careful I won’t see much of them either.’

Clemence had beaten cancer once. In 2005 he was diagnosed with the disease in his prostate but no sooner had the prostate been removed than he was back at work, coaching England’s goalkeepers.
This time last year, however, he discovered a lump on his neck, an MRI scan revealed a tumour at the base of his spine. ‘It was a shock,’ he says. ‘Chemotherapy is so hard.
‘You feel ill everywhere. At the start of this year I’d lost most of my hair and felt dreadful. I’d put on that weight too. But I like to think it helps that I’ve been a goalkeeper.
‘As Joe Hart’s finding out now, you have to have a thick skin, a strong personality. You have to be strong to come through the difficult times as a goalkeeper and that’s the way I’m approaching this.
‘I was right in the middle of the woods but now I’m on the outside of the woods. I’m not out completely yet. I’m in remission and the tumour, the last time they looked, had reduced by 50 per cent.
‘In a couple of weeks I’m hoping there will be more good news. I’m on fantastic tablets now. It’s still chemo, but they just attack the bad cells.’
Joe Hart, Fraser Forster and John Ruddy training for England

He looks well, even if we are sitting in the cafeteria of a hospital in Boston, Lincolnshire. He and Vee are here, however, for Clemence’s father Bill, who at 92 is being booked in for an eye operation.
Ray is taking care of Bill the way that Bill used to take care of Ray, back in the mid-Sixties when Clemence was a young goalkeeper at Scunthorpe United on £9 a week.
‘Nearly half of that went on my digs so I couldn’t afford a car,’ he recalls. ‘My parents would drive up from Skegness to watch me play before taking me home.’
Growing up in Skegness he was a reluctant goalkeeper, preferring to play, like most lads his age, outfield.
As a kid at Skegness Town, at a time when George Raynor — the Englishman who guided Sweden to the 1958 World Cup final — was the manager, he had played as a left back. ‘Had I stayed there I never would have progressed beyond non-League football,’ he says.
But he was also playing in goal for his local youth club team, and when they reached the county youth club finals he was spotted and recruited by Scunthorpe. From there, at 16, he almost went to Notts County, but a six-game trial concluded with a rejection letter. It left Clemence wondering if he would be better served using his talent for mathematics for a career in accountancy.
By 18, however, he was playing first-team football at Scunthorpe, behind manager and centre half Keith Burkinshaw, and hearing rumours of interest from Liverpool.
‘The last game of the season, a local derby against Doncaster, and as we pulled into the car park I saw Bill Shankly,’ Clemence recalls. ‘I thought, “S**t, he’s here to see me”, and I had an absolute nightmare.

‘We lost 3-0, two of the goals were my fault and I remember telling my parents my big chance had just gone straight out the window.
‘That summer, because I was still on only £11 a week, I took a job on the deckchairs at Skegness beach.’
Down on the beach a few weeks later, a chap from the council comes running towards him.
‘My mum had phoned the council to send someone to find me,’ he says. ‘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.’
With an £18,000 fee coming Scunthorpe’s way — a great deal of money back in June 1967 — the chairman drove Clemence to Anfield in his Rolls-Royce.
There was no agent to accompany Clemence. ‘There was no negotiation either,’ says Clemence, laughing.
‘To be fair, Shanks could have offered me less than I was getting at Scunthorpe and I still would have signed.
Big move: Clemence left Scunthorpe and signed for Liverpool after he was given a tour of Anfield
Big move: Clemence left Scunthorpe and signed for Liverpool after he was given a tour of Anfield
‘But he completely conned me. He gave me a tour of Anfield, explained to me about the Kop and the institution I was joining, and then took me to Melwood and pointed out the pitch where all these great players trained every day. Hunt, Callaghan, St John, Smith. Then we went back to Anfield, to the boardroom.
‘He offered me a two-year contract on 30 quid a week, and told me that I’d be in the big team within six months. He told me Tommy Lawrence was now in his 30s and past his best. I remember telling my parents that night, back at home, that even though I was still only 18 I’d soon be playing first-team football at this great club.
‘Of course, we start pre-season training a couple of weeks later and I discover Tommy Lawrence is actually 27 and at the peak of his powers. I was in the reserves for two-and-a-half years!’
Joe Fagan was reserve-team manager. ‘He was a huge influence on me,’ says Clemence. ‘A fantastic man who was brilliant at making you feel important, playing in the Central League. We won it both years I was in the reserves, with the rest of my time watching and learning from Tommy. He was the first sweeper keeper, and I had to make sure I was ready when my chance finally came in 1970.’
Life was good. He would meet Vee at a local church, where Monday night, she says, was ‘folk music night’.
And as a goalkeeper he was growing in stature under Shankly.
‘The best motivator I’ve ever known,’ says Clemence, who would be a pall-bearer at Shankly’s funeral in 1981.

‘He was brilliant at building you up and knocking down the opposition. Bob Paisley was fantastic in a different way. With Shanks it was about simplicity, and motivating players. Bob, at his first meeting with the players as manager, said, “I’m not going to change anything but let’s just try to do it better”. I thought that was very smart. But I’d have to say Shanks was the finest manager I worked with.
‘Bob was a quiet, unassuming Geordie. He could make difficult decisions when he needed to but he was very different to Shanks. Bill came alive talking to journalists.
‘Bob just wanted to work with his players. They both had an incredible skill for buying players. Think of the players they bought for relative peanuts.’
Most of them played with Clemence during an Anfield career that spanned 14 years, more than 650 games, and included those three European Cups as well as five league titles, two UEFA Cups, an FA Cup and a League Cup. In that time he missed only six games, even though he would finish training sessions playing as a striker in their seven-a-side games.
‘I would do the work I needed to as a goalkeeper and then I wanted to have a run around,’ he says.
‘I’d always play up front, although they wouldn’t let me the day before a game. I was known as The Assassin because I did have a bit of a reputation for clattering people.’
The finest player among his team-mates at that time? ‘Tommy Smith was a great captain,’ he says. ‘There wasn’t a bad player in the team.
‘Kevin Keegan was incredible. His performance against Berti Vogts in the ’77 European Cup final . . . Vogts was probably the best man-to-man marker in Europe at that time and Kevin just tore him to bits.
‘But Kenny Dalglish had everything, and if I had to pick one from all those players it would be him. I remember him arriving at the club. A year earlier he’d nutmegged me at Hampden Park. He shook my hand to introduce himself and said, “Keep those legs closed”.’

Clemence delights in telling that story, just as he does in recalling the 1978-79 season when he conceded just 16 goals in 42 First Division games, giving the club’s official website good reason to consider him the finest goalkeeper in Liverpool’s history.
He regards Alan Hansen and Phil Thompson as the best central defensive pairing he played with. ‘They would start as many attacks as they would stop,’ he says.
He also recalls his England debut, under the leadership of Sir Alf Ramsey, and a first opportunity to play with the masterful Moore. ‘We were playing down in Wales,’ he says. ‘I was a baby and I was so nervous it was untrue. But I had Bobby Moore in front of me and he just made it so easy for me. We won 1-0 and he led by example. He was in total control of the game. He was a bit like Hansen. When Alan first joined and he had the ball in what I felt was a dangerous area I’d shout at him to get it away. But then you came to realise how comfortable he was on the ball and you stopped worrying.’
When Clemence reflects on his own contribution, he focuses not on the spectacular but the significant. The penalty save to deny Jupp Heynckes in the first leg of the 1973 UEFA Cup final and the save he made in Rome 1977 in a one-on-one with Uli Stielike. ‘It came off my knee, but it was 1-1 in a European Cup final,’ he says. Liverpool went on to beat Borussia Monchengladbach in both finals.
For England, too, Clemence had his moments. He collected 61 caps in the 12 years he spent sharing the job with Peter Shilton and ranks captaining his country against Brazil at Wembley as his proudest moment.

He liked Shilton. ‘We were room-mates for seven years,’ he says. ‘And we helped and supported each other. In those days you didn’t have goalkeeping coaches.
‘To be fair the ball didn’t move around as much as it does these days.’
If the job is more difficult today because of the modern balls, Gordon Banks remains the greatest goalkeeper he has seen.
‘He made the difficult things look easy,’ says Clemence.
There was a time when Liverpool made winning in Europe look easy, and it was a third European Cup in 1981 that convinced Clemence it was time to move on.
‘I remember sitting in the dressing room in Paris after the game, and thinking, “We’ve just beaten Real Madrid; it’s never going to get better than this”.
‘It was the last game I ever played for Liverpool because I went to Tottenham that summer for what I felt was a fresh challenge.’
There were some immensely talented players there too. ‘Hoddle, Ardiles, Villa, Perryman,’ he says. ‘If there was a disappointment it was not winning the league one season. We’d won at Anfield for the first time in 70 years and I thought we had a real chance.’
Clemence would play until he was 40, in more than 1,100 games, and then joined the coaching staff at Spurs before a two-year spell as manager of Barnet.

‘I enjoyed being a manager,’ he says. ‘But when Glenn (Hoddle) invited me to join England I couldn’t turn that down.’
At the FA he would work under a succession of England managers, but after an achilles injury during Euro 2012 suggested his then 63-year-old body needed a break from physical exertion, he concentrated on his administrative role as head of the development teams.
‘It has been tough for some of the lads,’ says Clemence.
‘Paul Robinson had that one that bounced over his foot against Croatia. It could have happened to anyone, but he was so heavily criticised he was never the same goalkeeper again.
‘And Scott Carson. I felt even more sorry for him. He had that final qualification game against Croatia. I followed him for six weeks after that, and at every ground the fans would chant, “You f****d our summer up”. You could see his body language... he hasn’t been the same since either.’
Clemence thinks Hart is made of sterner stuff, however. ‘The stronger ones do bounce back, and learn, and are better goalkeepers for it,’ he said. ‘I know Joe and he will come through this.’
For Clemence, the focus is now on his family. On his son, Stephen, once a player at Tottenham and now coaching at Hull. And Sarah and Julie, daughters who ignored his advice by marrying sportsmen.
Sarah is married to Bolton boss Dougie Freedman — at one time signed by her father at Barnet — while Julie is married to golfer Brian Davis. ‘I’ve been so lucky,’ says Clemence. ‘My family, my career. Today it’s all about being positive, about enjoying life.
‘But if the time does come and I have to look back, I’ll be able to think, “Well, I did most of the things I wanted to do”.’

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