Ray Clemence thought there could never be another Bill Shankly, that they broke the mould when the gravel-voiced Scot who was the architect of the modern Liverpool walked away from Anfield.
So the highest praise you could find for Jurgen Klopp as his club stand on the brink of their first Champions League final in 11 years is that Clemence, the goalkeeper in Liverpool’s greatest European era, is thinking again.
Clemence has found himself mesmerised not only by the whirlwind brand of attacking football Klopp has produced, but the way the Kop has become a wall of sound again.
Ray Clemence (centre) looks back on a glorious football career with Sportsmail’s Ralph Ellis
In 665 appearances over 12 seasons for Liverpool, Clemence won three European Cups
‘If you ask me to compare them, I thought Shankly was a one-off, but then I’d have to say that Klopp is the nearest thing,’ he says. ‘The relationship Klopp has with the players and fans, it is exactly what Shankly had.
‘He pulled the club together so it was one strong unit that would do anything to help each other out and Klopp has revived that.
‘You only have to look at the last Champions League games, Manchester City and then Roma, the atmosphere in there was as it used to be when I played. Special nights. You can’t understate just how hard that is for a manager to achieve, and the bigger the club the more difficult it is.
‘At any level it’s tough these days for managers because everybody wants success yesterday, and at a club the size of Liverpool there are so many factions you have to try to bring together. He appears to have done that and it’s a priceless achievement.’
Clemence (right) explains how he feels Jurgen Klopp has revolutionised Liverpool
Ray Clemence is backing Prostate Cancer UK’s Football March for Men on July 22 by awarding medals to finishers at Wembley. To sign up or find out more visit: prostatecanceruk.org/march
Clemence, now 69, has never lost his love for Liverpool. Signed by Shankly from Scunthorpe in 1967, he went on to play 665 games over 12 seasons, winning five First Division titles and three European Cups.
And the thought of this side heading to Rome for tomorrow’s semi-final second leg, with a 5-2 lead and the prospect of starting a new era of success, brings the memories flooding back.
The Eternal City, the Olympic Stadium. That was where Liverpool won the first of the five European Cups their fans love to sing about when they beat Borussia Monchengladbach in May 1977.
‘We had three or four months where we were going for the league title, the FA Cup and the European Cup, and so every three days we had to win a game,’ he says. ‘There was no respite. In the final 10 days we won the league on the Saturday, lost to Manchester United in the FA Cup final the following Saturday, and then four days later we had the European Cup final in Rome.
The former goalkeeper hailed Klopp the best thing at Anfield since Bill Shankly
The 69-year-old explained how Klopp has revitalised the Anfield supporters
‘Of course we were down. Going to the stadium we had been told there were going to be 11,000 fans there, which was incredible considering all the expense, but we went out to look at the pitch and there were 26,000 there.
‘Half the stadium was red and white, they had come from all over the world to be at Liverpool’s first European final. When we went back in, nobody really spoke, but we were all looking at each other and thinking the same thing, ‘We cannot let these people down, we have to perform’.
‘That team had so many big personalities — Tommy Smith, Emlyn Hughes, Jimmy Case. I’ve always said you need one to wear the armband, and three other captains, but that side had seven or eight leaders.
Clemence (right) celebrates a European Cup triumph in Rome, 1997 with Kevin Keegan
‘The way up to the pitch was a dark tunnel, with some steps just before going out. We were looking at each other, thinking we had a disappointment four days ago and we’re not going to have another.
‘There was no shouting or anything, there was just a sense that we knew what each other was thinking and we just had to be concentrated. We needed to be at our best and we were — Kevin Keegan in particular was being marked by Berti Vogts, who was the best man-for-man marker in the world at that time and Kevin ran him to death. We finished up winning and winning in style.
‘There was an incredible party after — which I don’t remember a lot of — and then we went back to Liverpool and 3million people. It took us three hours to get from the airport to the centre of Liverpool. Great days and you’d love these boys now to sample some of the same.’
The Liverpool legend was diagnosed with prostate cancer 13 years ago
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These days the mental strength which won all those trophies is used in another battle. Clemence was diagnosed 13 years ago with prostate cancer and he’s defying a disease which kills one man in Britain every 45 minutes.
‘It came from nothing,’ he recalls. ‘I didn’t feel ill, but basically when I went to the toilet the flow was not as strong as it used to be. I was with England as a coach and I spoke to the physio Gary Lewin. He immediately said, ‘You are past 50, have you ever been tested?’
‘I was oblivious to all of that, as too many men are. That’s why there are campaigns to get people to be tested early. I went to the specialist and it was confirmed I had cancer, I had to have the prostate taken away, and then the tablets. The last few years it has got more difficult.
‘I have had three sets of chemo, I’ve had a tumour in my back, and a brain tumour which they managed to get rid of. There are days when I don’t feel the best but I just want to be positive.’
We meet at Aston Villa’s training ground where his son, Stephen, is assistant to Steve Bruce. Ray looks a picture of health despite his ongoing issues and the bond between father and son is obvious.
Clemence’s son, Stephen (right), explains how his father’s positivity is key to his success
‘My son was born the day after my dad had his first operation and he is one of the most positive people I have known,’ says Stephen. ‘There are times I can see he’s not right. My mum and sisters, we see that. And it is our job to pick him up. He still has a lot to look forward to in his life.’
‘I’m a survivor, basically,’ says Ray. ‘There is lots of talk about people only lasting five years with it, well I’m going on 14 years now and I am still doing all the things I want to do. I say to people that it is a physical illness but it is a mental fight.
‘If you give in and get weak I believe it will have you, but if you are strong mentally you can give it a good fight. That’s where I am. I know it is never going to go away, it is how long I can fight it and the wonderful staff can give me the treatment that will help.’
Things to look forward to include a World Cup this summer, and a man who won 61 caps believes England are blessed with the best choice of goalkeepers for years.
‘People say it’s a problem position for Gareth Southgate but I disagree,’ he says. ‘Joe Hart has 70-odd caps, but he hasn’t had a strong challenger and now he does have. Now he has Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford, Angus Gunn at Norwich who is coming through. Then there’s Nick Pope at Burnley. We are better than we have been for many years.’
Bill Shankly would have loved all that optimism. Much, you suspect, like Jurgen Klopp.
He even believes Gareth Southgate has the best English goalkeepers for years at his disposal