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By Chris Rowland.
When Shankly signed a gangly Skegness-born keeper from Scunthorpe United for £18,000 in 1967, there was no hint of the scale of what was to follow, and no inclination that Shanks’ signings from ‘unfashionable’ lower league clubs [that also included such as Emlyn Hughes (Blackpool), Kevin Keegan (also from Scunthorpe) and Phil Neal (Northampton Town)] would actually be key building blocks in a new dynasty that was unfolding.
Clemence was to take over from Tommy Lawrence, the keeper known by the Kop as the ‘flying pig’, who’d been in the side that won two league titles and an FA Cup in the mid 60s. Ray made his Liverpool debut as early as September 1968, but as was the Liverpool Way he served his time as understudy, not making his full League début until the last day of January 1970, at Nottingham Forest. Later that season, in early March, came a pivotal moment for the club – an awful FA Cup quarter-final defeat at lower league Watford. It persuaded Shanks it was time to be ruthless, and that most of the old guard had to go.
Seven days later, Clemence was one of a number of changes made for the visit of Derby County. Clemence, along with Emlyn Hughes, John Toshack, Larry Lloyd, Steve Heighway and the aforementioned Keegan and Neal, were to become the core of Shanks’ reconstructed side for the 70s and the club’s first European champions. Only local one-club men Tommy Smith and Ian Callaghan were retained as key parts of Shanks’ Act II Scene I.
By the end of that season, Clemence had established himself as first-choice ‘keeper. He went on to miss only six League matches in the next 11 years, and played 336 consecutive games between 9 September 1972 and 4 March 1978. 336!
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