The Brian Viner Interview: Clemence still keeping his counsel

`The best goalkeepers not only make it look easy, not only make great saves, they make great saves at important moments'

RAY CLEMENCE, England goalkeeping coach, was one of the few Englishmen entitled to leave Wembley with a feeling of satisfaction following Saturday's tame 0-0 draw with Sweden. If he walks out of the national stadium in Sofia this evening with a similar sense of achievement, and if, at the other end, England's forwards manage to fire on all cylinders - as opposed to their collective impersonation four days ago of a Robin Reliant with a dodgy starter motor - then England might yet reach the finals of Euro 2000. Worryingly, it is a biggish pair of ifs.

Still, having kept goal 61 times for England, spanning two unsuccessful World Cup qualifying campaigns, Clemence is no stranger to challenge and disappointment. He made his debut against Wales in Cardiff on 15 November 1972 at the same time as his Liverpool colleague, a certain K Keegan. "We got dropped together, too, a couple of games later," recalls Clemence, with a merry laugh. He is an amiable sort, belying a fearsome reputation still in so-called friendly matches. "At Liverpool I always played out of goal in five-a-sides, and had a reputation for being a bit reckless," he says. "They used to call me `The Assassin'."

He grew up in sunny Skegness, vaguely supporting Manchester United, although the first top-level football match he saw was at Filbert Street, Leicester City v Chelsea, and featured a modestly talented pair of goalkeepers in Gordon Banks and Peter Bonetti. Young Ray, however, preferred to play at centre-forward, before moving to centre-half and then settling, so he thought, at left- back.

"Goalkeepers tended to be the little fat fella with glasses who couldn't play anywhere else," he says. At 15 he was a little miffed, therefore, when his sports master at Lumley Secondary Modern stuck him in goal. But then his youth club, the exotically-named Skegness Cosmos, won a prestigious cup final 4-3 at Scunthorpe United's ground, and the Scunthorpe coach saw some promise in the skinny Skegness keeper. In 1965, aged 17, Clemence turned pro. Less than three years later, Bill Shankly paid pounds 18,000 to take him to Anfield.

He played for the reserves for a couple of years, but when Liverpool lost to Watford in the quarter-finals of the 1970 FA Cup, Shankly decided that the spine of his team needed surgery. "He took out Tommy Lawrence, Ron Yeats and Ian St John, and replaced them with me, Larry Lloyd and Dougie Livermore."

Yet it was not until he got his own kit that Clemence knew his place was secure, ahead of the chubby Tommy Lawrence, affectionately known to the Kop as "the Flying Pig". "For the rest of that 1970 season I was wearing Tommy's jersey, which was a bit big for me. When it was wet it came down to my knees."

Clemence, like all Liverpool players of his generation, has been asked a million times to recall his mentor, Shankly. Let's make it 1,000,001. "All the stories are true. He was a fantastic character, who moulded our lives as well as the way we played football. If you look at the majority of players who were managed by him, whether they have stayed in football or gone into other walks of life, they have been successful. He set such high standards.

"He didn't mind us enjoying ourselves but actually he didn't like golf, because he had this theory that when the body was geared to doing something quickly, golf could interfere with that. Tommy Lawrence and Roger Hunt were real golf nuts, but Shanks used to phone them up every Thursday afternoon, to make sure they weren't out on the course two days before a game.

"The other thing about Liverpool in those days was that there was always a great blend of youth and experience, and the older players were expected to do their bit. I remember being one of the subs on a European trip, and after the game the lads were all down in the bar having a drink. After about 45 minutes Tommy Smith came over to Dougie Livermore and myself and said, `Right, you two, off to bed. You haven't done enough to be in here celebrating.' " I suspect Clemence is paraphrasing. Whatever, they left the party, pronto. As Clemence readily acknowledges, when Tommy Smith told you to do something, the words `up yours' did not spring to mind.

In 1971 Shankly put another pounds 35,000 Scunthorpe United's way, this time for Keegan. "He is quick and enthusiastic and has a great chance of doing something special in the game," said the Liverpool manager, though even he could hardly have realised how those words would resonate decades later.

Keegan was earmarked for the usual apprenticeship in the reserves but Clemence remembers him shining against the first team shortly before the 1972-73 season. "On the Tuesday before the opening Saturday, Shanks put him in the first team in the traditional match against the reserves. We won four or five-nil and he scored a couple, so Shanks picked him against Notts Forest and he never looked back. He was full of charisma, even then."

In 1977, Keegan left for Hamburg. Four years later, Clemence left, too, amid some lurid speculation about his private life. So let's have it straight, Ray. Liverpool had just won the European Cup again. Why did you leave? He blushes slightly. "There were some scurrilous rumours, but the truth is that after that European Cup final against Real Madrid in Paris, I sat in the dressing-room with a paper cup full of champagne and the feeling that it was just another game. I made the decision there and then. I thought, `If you can't be on the ceiling after winning the European Cup, it's not the place to be.' Before the game, it hadn't occurred to me to leave. They'd just brought Bruce Grobbelaar to the club, so it wasn't like there was no challenge for me. But I had seen players stay and stay and then move to clubs with no chance of winning anything. Roger Hunt went to Bolton. Stevie Heighway went to America. I didn't want that."

Three days later, Clemence handed his transfer request to Bob Paisley, who tried forlornly to dissuade him. Southampton and Tottenham both offered terms, and Clemence chose the latter, wisely as it turned out, for Spurs won the FA Cup in his first season there. He played for six more years, stayed on the coaching staff for a further five years, and his 21-year- old son, Stephen, is a highly-regarded Spurs midfield player. Yet Clemence still looks for Liverpool's results first.

"I had 14 great years there and the fans are fantastic. It's so sad that they're not performing at the moment." Perhaps he might get a chance to remedy the situation himself. He was, after all, a reasonably successful manager with Barnet before his former Tottenham colleague Glenn Hoddle invited him to coach for his country. Unlike other Hoddle lieutenants, principally John Gorman and Peter Taylor, Clemence has survived the change of regime. He still looms large - although at a whisker under six foot, not as large as you might expect - in the England camp.

We are in the heart of the England camp now, at the Buckinghamshire hotel where the destruction of the Swedes was plotted, evidently with a broken crayon on the side of a small carton of Puffa-Puffa Rice. But Clemence, as I say, did his job as well as anyone. He is sparing with the details of his training sessions. "Even if I thought David Seaman had a weakness, I wouldn't tell you," he says. "David wants to do lots of reaction exercises, so that's what I concentrate on with him. But I've had four goalkeepers to work with this past week. We've brought in this young lad Stuart Taylor, who's done very well."

Seaman, adds Clemence, "is a fantastic goalkeeper who, like Schmeichel, has the respect not only of his own team but also the opposition. The best goalkeepers - and I'd have to say that Gordon Banks is the best I've ever seen - not only make it look easy, not only make great saves, they make great saves at important moments. Saves that can influence the result, at 0-0, or when you're 1-0 up, or 1-0 down. Schmeichel did that in the European Cup final." But was the Great Dane not partly responsible for the Bayern Munich goal? "Well, there was so much movement in front of him. There was a hole he could see through and then Nicky Butt stood in it, so he readjusted to see the ball and got caught with his weight on the wrong side. He'd be disappointed with that, yes."

Clemence picks his own best saves from the significant rather than cat- like category. "I saved a penalty at the Kop end from Jupp Heynckes in the first leg of a Uefa Cup final against Borussia Monchengladbach. We were 3-0 up at the time, so it didn't seem to matter that much, but over there we were 2-0 down inside 20 minutes, and managed to hang on. Then in the 1977 European Cup final, also against Monchengladbach, I managed to block out Stielike just after they'd equalised. If we'd gone 2-1 down, I'm not so sure we'd have come back."

As for the nightmares, he let in seven in his fourth game for Scunthorpe, in a derby to boot, against Grimsby Town. And with Liverpool at Villa Park, when Andy Gray was in his pomp, Aston Villa once stuck five past him before half-time. "Actually, it was the kick up the backside we needed, and we went on to win the title," he recalls.

The goal he is most associated with, however, was Scotland's second in their 2-1 victory over the auld enemy at Hampden Park, when Kenny Dalglish impudently steered it between his legs. "That was in 1976, and still people talk about it. Wherever I go, there always seems to be at least one Scot who brings it up. Gordon Banks is remembered for his save against Pele and I'm remembered for that."

So let us not dwell on it. Let us instead recall Clemence's most emotional footballing moment, which occurred not when he was being handed one of his 19 medals, but when his lad Stephen trotted out at Wembley five years ago, representing England Schoolboys. He didn't fill buckets like Mrs Clemence, but there was, he admits, a tear in his eye. How nice it will be if David Seaman and Co give him cause for even half as much pride in Bulgaria today.

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