Trying to compare the great All Black t' />

It's a favourite late night pastime for the tired and emotional, a refuge for this country's rugby pedants.

Trying to compare the great All Black teams of yesteryear with the current vintage can be fun, but is ultimately irrelevant.

So Ray Clemence, former Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and England soccer goalkeeper, winner of 61 caps for his country, how would your great Liverpool team of the late 1970s stack up against the Manchester Uniteds and Arsenals of today?

"We'd cope very well with it," the 56-year-old said, perhaps unsurprisingly.

"If we had the advantage of better boots, better ball, diet and nutrition - and the pitches now are like playing on bowling greens - the expertise given to them, there's so many pluses for them now that we didn't have. If we had all those pluses I'm sure we could have coped and played in this era."

Of course they would. Any team boasting legends such as Graeme Souness, Alan Hansen and Kenny Dalglish would always be a match for the best.

Clemence is in New Zealand for speaking engagements, and spent a day with the country's leading goalkeeping coaches working towards international licences.

He looks among the more sprightly 56-year-olds around, and clearly loves the fact that he continues to be involved with a game he first embraced as a professional almost 40 years ago.

Now part of the England management team as head goalkeeping coach, Clemence has come a long way from his first job, a deckchair attendant in his home town of Skegness, in Lincolnshire.

The potted biography reads: joined Liverpool in 1968 from lowly Bury, stayed until 1981, winning five league championships, three European Cups, one FA Cup, one League Cup, two UEFA Cups, five Charity Shields (contested by the winners of the previous season's FA Cup and league championship); then joined Spurs, winning another FA Cup and another UEFA Cup, before retiring in 1987.

He did some coaching at Spurs, managed lower division Barnett for a couple of years, then joined the England staff.

Clemence was an England player for 10 years, sharing the job for much of that time with his country's most capped player, the 125-cap Peter Shilton.

The only gap on the Clemence resume is the World Cup.

England did not qualify for the 1974 and 1978 tournaments and he thought he was the preferred choice for the 1982 cup in Spain.

But shortly before the opening game, manager Ron Greenwood called him aside to tell him Shilton would be starting.

More than 20 years have passed, but the disappointment shines through as he relives the experience.

Still, mustn't grumble it's been a good life and his son Stephen is carrying on the family name, as a midfielder at premier division Birmingham City.

When Clemence was in his prime the sound of a non-British accent on a first division pitch was as rare as an honourable politician.

So what does he make of the overwhelming non-British influence in the modern English game?

First, a startling statistic. On the opening day of this season's premier division, spread among the 20 teams were between 100 and 120 (he's unsure of the exact number, but you'll get the drift) English players.

Of those, no more than 50 would be good enough to be considered for international selection. Choosing a World Cup squad of 23 from a maximum of 50 players?

"It's not ideal," he said. "But the good foreign players have been a great asset to the English game. They've definitely lifted the standard of the premiership and also helped the young English players look at the way they behave on and off the field.

"The other side of the coin is the one or two who have come for a payday and brought one or two things we don't want to see in the game."

Clemence does not begrudge modern players the money they make.

He's seen enough older players struggle after soccer to appreciate that if enough money can be made from a short life so the future is financially secure "that's fantastic".

And how to handle the excesses of the popular press in Britain, which thrives on sensationalising the off-field exploits of the players?

"It depends what the story is," Clemence said. "If it's something involving drugs, obviously some action has to be taken.

"If it's a girl saying she'd been to bed with a player, he might be a single fellow and, if you like, it's part of life these days."

There's an element of world-weary acceptance from Clemence.

"You just have to accept that's the way the world is."

And it's a long way from doing the deck chairs run at Skegness.


England legend Gordon Banks.

"I just loved the man for the simple reason he made the difficult things look easy. In any walk of life anybody who can make their job look easy means they are totally in charge and in control of it. He was always capable of the exceptional but never made anything look over-spectacular."


After honourable mentions to George Best, Pele, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Diego Maradona and Gerd Muller among opponents, and Kevin Keegan and Graeme Souness among his team-mates, the finest player he played with and against is Scotland and Liverpool great Kenny Dalglish.

"He was a dream to play with and a nightmare to play against. Kenny could always come up with something new.

"He scored great goals, he created great goals and he wasn't afraid to do the dirty side of football to help us defensively. He was just excellent."