Clemence was a fresh-faced 18-year-old at Scunthorpe United when Bill Shankly brought him to Anfield in June 1967. Despite his young age, he had still made 46 appearances for the third division club. Shankly even told him Lawrence was over the hill and he would be in the team inside six months to convince him to join. Clemence had to serve a two and half years’ frustrating apprenticeship in the reserves apart from being selected for a League Cup tie against Swansea in September 1968. Clemence’s second and third game came one year after his debut but he could hardly showcase his talent as Liverpool conquered Dundalk 10-0 and 4-0 in the European Fairs Cup. As the 60s moved into the 70s, Shankly was starting to break up the team which had brought him so much success, and Clemence was given his full League debut at Nottingham Forest on the last day of January 1970. Tommy Lawrence’s last appearance for the club was in an awful FA Cup quarter-final defeat at Watford the next month and seven days later Clemence was one of a number of changes made for the visit of Derby County and he had established himself firmly as first-choice ‘keeper by the end of that season. Clemence only missed six League matches in the next 11 years!
In the 1970/71 season, Clemence only conceded 22 goals in 41 First Division matches, a record which was surpassed in 1978/79 when just 16 goals were conceded, with Clemence an ever-present for the sixth time. It was no coincidence Liverpool were the best team, they had the best defense: Clemence, Neal, Kennedy, Thompson, and Hansen. Clemence kept 28 clean sheets and only conceded four goals at Anfield in 21 games! His positional sense and quick reactions led to England caps galore and his tally would have been even higher had Peter Shilton not been around at the same time. One of very few players over the whole continent to have won three European cup winners’ medals, Clemence’s crucial save from Stielike when the Rome final in 1977 was tensely balanced at 1-1 helped Liverpool achieve perhaps the most memorable result in the club’s long and illustrious history. Just as important saves in the Anfield quarter-final with Saint-Etienne in the same season had paved the way for that first success in Europe’s premier club competition and his penalty save from Jupp Heynckes prevented Liverpool from losing the 1973 UEFA Cup final on the away goals rule. Another brilliant save from a spot-kick at Dresden in the UEFA tournament three years later also prevented a quarter-final exit and the Reds went on to win the cup that year as well. What is not remembered so well but what was just as vital to all the success the club enjoyed during the 1970s was Clemence’s remarkable consistency and athleticism which turned many a draw into a victory and many potential defeats into draws and wins.
Clemence’s final game for Liverpool was appropriately on the sort of grand stage to which he had become accustomed and he kept a clean sheet as Real Madrid were beaten by Alan Kennedy’s late strike in Paris as Liverpool and Clemence lifted their third European Cup. It was a shock for Liverpool’s management as well as fans when Clemence, who was approaching his thirty-third birthday, declared he wanted to leave the club as newcomer Bruce Grobbelaar staked a claim to the number one jersey. Some claimed Clemence was running scared as he felt threatened by Grobbelaar, but Clemence says nothing could be further from the truth. “At the start of my career, I had Tommy Lawrence underneath me once I got into the side so I had the pressure of him. Frankie Lane came from Tranmere, McDonnell came from Oldham, Ogrizovic came from Chesterfield so I always had somebody putting pressure on me and that was part of Liverpool’s way getting you to play well was always having somebody to threaten your position. Therefore you always had to play well. Bruce was no different from any other goalkeeper I had underneath me before.”
Clemence moved to Tottenham and his first competitive match against his former teammates was at Wembley where, despite his heroics, Liverpool retained the League Cup by three goals to one. Clemence enjoyed a new lease of life at Tottenham, playing almost until he was 40 and eventually making over 1000 appearances in total in his fantastic career. Clemence played 336 games without missing a single match from 9 September 1972 until 4 March 1978. Only two players have made more first-team appearances for the club; Ian Callaghan and Jamie Carragher. In Clemence’s distinguished career at Liverpool, he kept 323 clean sheets in 665 appearances. A few weeks after joining Tottenham, he traveled to Anfield with Liverpool needing a win to secure their thirteenth League Championship. As Clemence ran towards the Kop goal at the start of the second half he received a fantastic ovation from the crowd. “The first half I was playing at the Anfield Road end and they were still chanting: ‘England’s number one to me’ so that was nice. I could never have envisaged when I came out at half-time and ran down to the Kop, the reception I would get. The whole stadium stood up and every single one in the Kop. It’s probably the most emotional I have ever been at a football ground. It definitely brought a lump to my throat because I could not believe the reception from them. It was just one of the best moments you could possibly have.”
Since retiring from playing in 1988 Clemence has had coaching roles at Spurs, managed Barnet from 1994 to 1996, and been part of the England set-up, overseeing youth development. He retired from his FA role in 2013 but still occasionally does media work.