Steve Ogrizovic has paid tribute to Liverpool and England great Ray Clemence – the man, he says, made him the goalkeeper he went on to be.
The Coventry City legend was a star-struck teenager when he signed for the Reds as understudy to the goalkeeper who was at the top of his game on the world stage, and who quickly became his Anfield mentor.
“It was an absolute dream and I probably had to pinch myself every day because I was working, in my opinion, with the world’s best goalkeeper at the time,” said Ogrizovic, speaking to CoventryLive about the European Cup, FA Cup, League Cup and two Uefa Cups winner who died at the weekend, aged 72.
“I went in at Liverpool in 1977 and he was England goalkeeper along with Peter Shilton – two fantastic goalkeepers, and how lucky were England at the time to have not only those two who were right at the top of the tree, the best in the world, but there were also plenty of others behind them that never got a look in purely and simply because they were so good.
“I think about people like Phil Parkes, Joe Corrigan, Peter Bonetti… That’s how good goalkeeping was in that age, and I was so very, very lucky to work with him and regard myself as a teammate and friend of Ray Clemence.
“He taught me how to be a goalkeeper, there’s no doubt about that, and I am eternally grateful for that.”
He added: “He was my mentor.
“I was a very raw footballer when I went to Liverpool. I had only played 20 games for Chesterfield in Division Three, as it was, and Liverpool had spotted me and obviously felt there was some talent there, I don’t know why!
“But they wanted me to go up there and understudy Ray Clemence and obviously improve myself under his tutelage.
“And I have got to say that from the very first day when I walked in he and all the Liverpool players were fantastic with me.”
The stellar squad included the likes of Emlyn Hughes, Phil Neal, Tommy Smith, Alan Hansen, Jimmy Case, Steve Heighway, Terry McDermott, Ray Kennedy, Graeme Souness, Kenny Dalglish and John Toshack to name just a few.
“I was star struck when I walked into that changing room because there were League winners, European Cup winners and all internationals and I just couldn’t believe what I was walking into,” said the 63-year-old, who went on to legendary status himself with the Sky Blues, for whom he made a record 601 appearances.
“But they were all fantastic individuals and Ray Clemence, particularly, was the person who took me under his wing and I worked with him on a daily basis.”
Oggy, as he’s affectionately known, says Clemence was ahead of his time in terms of the way he taught and played the game.
“In those days I was always taught that when watching a football match, don’t watch the game, watch the goalkeeper,” he said.
“So the ball might be at the other end of the pitch but I would be watching Ray Clemence and I picked up an awful lot from him in terms of positional play.”
He added: “It’s interesting because people talk a lot about goalkeepers playing out from the back these days, and being that sweeper and coming out of your box, but Ray Clemence was doing it way before people knew about it.
“Liverpool always played a high line, they had pace at the back and went man for man a lot of the time and if the ball went over the top the Ray was there to clear up.
“He was agile, he was quick and he had a good left foot. I used to look at his starting positions and his positivity to actually come out of his area when the ball went in behind his defenders, and I tried to copy that in my career.
“It was the way goalkeepers should play, in my opinion.
“He was more than that; he taught me the techniques, and even in those days he talked about the mental side of the game and the ability to concentrate.
“Because he played in such a good team he was probably regarded as the goalkeeper with the best concentration. He could be inactive for 70/80 minutes of a game and then pull off one or two saves at the death, which invariably happened, and Ray Clemence was always there and always did it.
“And I think that was the strength of him, not just his technique and his technical ability but also his mental capacity to concentrate and produce those world class saves when they were needed.”
Although Ogrizovic rarely got a look-in during his five years at Anfield, playing just four times in the league, Clemence clearly helped mould him into the successful top flight player he became.
“Absolutely he did,” said the ex-pro, who went on to be goalkeeper coach at Coventry for many years before hanging up his gloves last year and turning his sizeable hands to broadcasting, currently part of the BBC CWR commentary team following his beloved Sky Blues up and down the country.
“It was great to be able to train with him on a regular basis. And there’s no doubt about it that I learned how to be a goalkeeper under his tutelage. I couldn’t have wished to have learned from anyone better.
“He was very generous with his advice but, above and beyond that, it’s not just about the footballer, it’s about the person.
“He was a very popular player – one of the most popular you could ever wish to meet. He was funny, he knew when to be serious and when to have a laugh, and he was really, really good company, and I am absolutely devastated by the news.
“I knew he had been battling cancer for a number of years but I was hoping he’d overcome it, and it’s a real shame we have received this news.”
Clemence played against his protege many times during their careers, none more memorable for Oggy than the 1987 FA Cup Final when Coventry City beat Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 in one of the finest cup finals of all time.
And it was that glorious day at Wembley Stadium when Clemence showed his true class.
Ogrizovic explained: “I am not saying this now that he has passed away because I have gone on record many times when talking about the Cup Final and my association with Ray Clemence.
“It was ironic that Ray should be at the opposite end that day.
“I always remember we shared the same glove sponsor in those days, and that was thanks to Ray as well because he introduced me to Sondico as it was then, who I stayed with for quite a number of years, so we had a photograph together before the game.
“And even then he was telling me that it was a big game and to just enjoy the occasion.
“After the game I remember going up to him and they were obviously very disappointed to lose but his exact words were: ‘If I was going to lose I am really, really pleased that I have lost to you, and that you have won an FA Cup medal actually playing the game rather than sitting on the bench,’ which I did quite a lot at Liverpool because Ray Clemence was so consistent and never missed a game.
“So he was absolutely brilliant from that point of view. There were no airs and graces about him.
“The word legend is probably used far too often these days but when you look at his record, the games he played and who he represented and things that he won, he was a true legend.
“Not only that, a thoroughly nice person as well.”