The majesty of Ray Clemence at LFC, and Alisson’s chance to set a new benchmark

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Liverpool play at Anfield for the first time since the passing of their greatest-ever goalkeeper, Ray Clemence, on Sunday, with Alisson tasked with carving a new legacy.

Green jersey, red shorts, red socks. That’s the image in my mind when I think of Ray Clemence.

It’s also the image of Clem that’s depicted on the mural on the side of a house on Wylva Road as he celebrated yet another Liverpool success. It’s how a Liverpool goalkeeper should look.

It won’t happen. The rules no longer allow it. But what a tribute it would be to Clem if Alisson ran out onto the Anfield pitch on Sunday or Wednesday wearing red shorts and red socks instead of all-black.

Not since 1993, when a rule change meant goalkeepers must wear completely different colours to their outfield team-mates ahead of the second Premier League season, has a Liverpool goalkeeper worn red shorts and socks for a league game. Or any game at all, that I can remember.

Since Clemence moved on to Tottenham in 1981, only Bruce Grobbelaar, Mike Hooper and David James kept goal for Liverpool until that 1993 change, so there will be a sizeable number of you reading this who have never seen our goalie were red shorts and socks.

Liverpool goalkeeper Ray Clemence celebrates the equalizing goal

It would, therefore, in my eyes anyway, make for a fitting tribute to one of our club’s greatest-ever legends – a visually striking way to honour Clemence, something that has never been done before.

I never saw Ray play for the Reds. My first real memory of him is playing for Spurs in the 1987 FA Cup final against Coventry City and the footage of him on the Official Liverpool FC History video.

His penalty save from Jupp Heynckes at Anfield in the 1973 UEFA Cup final first leg against Borussia Moenchengladbach and the incredible ovation he got from the Kop in 1982 – surely the greatest ever afforded to a returning Liverpool player – are the bits that stuck with me.

You don’t have to have seen a legend play with your own eyes to know how good they were. You only need to listen to the stories of those who trod the terraces or watched at home before you.

Everyone – and I mean everyone – who saw Ray Clemence play for Liverpool, including his successor Grobbelaar, is unanimous that he was the best. He’s the first pick in our greatest-ever XI and will be for a long time, unless Alisson Becker can do something about it.

Grobbelaar was my hero when I was a kid. Pepe Reina was the best Liverpool ‘keeper I’d seen since first going to Anfield in 1987. Alisson is better than both of them.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, September 28, 2020: Liverpool’s goalkeeper Alisson Becker celebrates as his side score the first equalising goal to level the score 1-1 during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

Like every goalkeeper he makes mistakes. Some goals go in and you think ‘he could he have done better there’, but supporters of every club at every level look at their ‘keeper and think the same. In Alisson, we have the most consistent and least erratic goalkeeper I have ever seen play for LFC.

Rarely does he misjudge or flap at a cross. Bar one red card at home to Brighton, his reading of the game and knowing when he needs to rush out of his penalty area or stay put has been exceptional and allows a higher defensive line to facilitate Jurgen Klopp‘s high press.

He’s vocal, a physical presence, makes big saves in big games and, absolutely crucially, if he does make an error he gets over it quicker than he can baptise a centre-forward.

Look at the goal he conceded at Leicester during his first season. He took too long on the ball, got tackled and the Foxes scored. A stupid error like that, so soon after arriving at a big club for a massive transfer fee, cranks the pressure up.

One mistake can lead to another and all of a sudden there’s a lack of faith in your goalkeeping ability that ultimately undermines your confidence and your career a la Kepa Arrizabalaga at Chelsea.

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson acknowledges the fans after the Premier League match at the King Power Stadium, Leicester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday September 1, 2018. See PA story SOCCER Leicester. Photo credit should read: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.

But Alisson put that faux pas behind him, hasn’t made the same mistake twice – even if there has been the occasional near miss – and other than Virgil van Dijk is arguably the Liverpool player you fear getting injured the most.

Alisson‘s injury record is a nagging concern, especially during a season when I fully expect Caroline at the AXA Training Centre to be ruled out of canteen duties with strained soup-serving hand anytime soon, but he also tends to recover quicker than anticipated.

Given a bit more luck on that front, the Brazilian can become another all-time great.

You can’t directly compare Clem and Ali. Clemence didn’t even wear goalkeeping gloves for the early part of his Liverpool career, but the standards he set remain what Alisson is judged by. It’s something Jordan Henderson touches upon in his Official Matchday Programme notes.

“In my first few years at Liverpool, I often heard people say that it must be hard for the current players because we would be judged by the achievements of the players of the past, but I never saw it that way,” wrote the Liverpool skipper.

“When I look at what someone like Ray did in his famous green shirt, it inspires me rather than intimidates me.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 17, 2020: A mural of former Liverpool and England goalkeeper Ray Clemence on the gabel end of a terrace house in Anfield pictured before the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, the 237th Merseyside Derby. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“That is the legacy of people like Ray. Whether they are at the club or not does not matter. Once they have been here, played their part and set new standards, they leave a legacy that stands everyone that follows in good stead.

“There are no negatives in this. Yes, it might create a pressure, but it is a positive pressure.

“If you are lucky enough to play for Liverpool you should relish being held to the very highest standards and that means looking at what legends like Ray achieved and using that information as a benchmark.”

Hendo is right. Players who fear trying to live up to the standards set at Liverpool will never be standard-bearers. Winning matches and trophies now is far more important than trying to outdo a predecessor who left the club almost 40 years ago, but it is another incentive.

Leave a legacy. Be the new benchmark. Be remembered by a new generation of Kopites as the best they ever saw.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, October 27, 2020: Liverpool's goalkeeper Alisson Becker during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Liverpool FC and FC Midtjylland at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

If Alisson Becker stays at the club for a decade or more he has the ability, mentality and class to make himself at least understudy to Ray Clemence as Liverpool’s greatest goalkeeper.

I’m not sure anyone will ever truly surpass Clem, but if league titles and European Cups continue to stack up with Alisson in goal then maybe it isn’t out of the question, whatever the colour of his shorts and socks.


Chris McLoughlin is Senior Writer for the Liverpool Matchday Programme. The Liverpool v Leicester City edition is in tribute to Ray Clemence. You can order a copy here.

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