Ray & Stephen Clemence: football, family and facing the future together
Former England goalkeeper Ray Clemence has been living with advanced prostate cancer since 2005. A long-time ambassador for us, we met up with him and his son, Stephen – a first-team coach at Aston Villa at the time – to talk about the impact prostate cancer has had on their relationship, following in eachother's footballing footsteps, and why they’re the best of friends when they’re not on the golf course.
Ray Clemence 1948-2020
How did your diagnosis come about?
Ray: It came out of nothing, really. When I went to the toilet, the flow of urine wasn’t as strong as it used to be and I never felt like I emptied my bladder. I was a coach with the England team at the time so I spoke to the physio, and he immediately said I should get a PSA test as I was over 50.
When you first hear the word ‘cancer’ you think: oh my God, this is a big problem. But after that initial shock you think about how you’re going to deal with it. I’m very fortunate that I have a very strong wife who has suffered me for 46 years. She knows me inside out and had cancer herself 19 years ago and came through it. I also have three fantastic kids, who have always supported me. They’re strong, so I was honest with them from the start and they know everything that’s going on in terms of my treatments.
How did it affect you watching your dad go through it all?
Stephen: It was obviously a difficult period. He’s had a tumour on his brain, chemotherapy and lots of radiotherapy. I remember my son was born the day after he was in for his first operation [which included a prostatectomy]. It wasn’t nice seeing my dad in intensive care, cut from his chest right down to his stomach with tubes coming out of him.
So, he’s been through a hell of a lot but he’s a strong, strong man. It’s been tough on him mentally, but he doesn’t really let anyone see that. My sisters and I try to be there and be as positive as we can – not just for my dad but my mum as well, because it’s difficult for her too. We are a close family.
Has it drawn you closer together as father and son?
Stephen: I think we were very, very close before that. We’ve always had a great relationship. A lot of people see him as this England, Liverpool and Tottenham legend, but to me he’s just my dad. I went on to have a career nowhere near as good as him, but he’s been very helpful to me throughout it. I’d always phone him before a game. We also play a lot of golf together.
Ray: He regularly beats me now! We’re both just so competitive that if you walked around with the two of us on the course you’d think we hated each other.
It’s fantastic what Stephen’s done in football. I’ve been lucky enough to have many, many big moments in the game, but the most emotional one at Wembley was with my wife to watch Stephen play for England schoolboys. To see my son, at 15 years of age, walk out with an England shirt on to play against Germany at a place that I’d played 50 times – that takes some beating.
I’ve always said our relationship isn’t a father-son thing. We’re mates. And if a father and son can be mates then that’s special.
Do you worry about your son’s increased risk of prostate cancer?
Ray: Obviously, I would like him not to have that risk but unfortunately, it’s a fact of life. My father had it so it does pass down the chain. I don’t think it’s something to worry about, though. You’ve just got to be aware and make sure you’re checked early. Then if there’s anything wrong, it can be sorted out before it’s gone too far – which in my case, it had done.
Are men more open about prostate cancer now?
Stephen: I think that Prostate Cancer UK has really helped to raise awareness and it’s a subject that is more talked about now, especially at my football club. Coaches and staff get checked on a regular basis. The younger players in their 20s are still enjoying life – and rightly so. But I think there is an awareness that once you get over 40, or especially 50, you have to get these things checked out. I do try to tell my friends to get checked too and all members of my family are aware of the disease.
Ray: In my era, nobody spoke about it. Men are macho and don’t want to think we’ve got anything wrong with us – unless it’s a cold, obviously. That’s serious. But we do need to talk. It’s amazing when I play in Prostate Cancer UK’s golf days and people realise that I’ve got it, they will come up and talk about little doubts in their mind. They want to speak to somebody who’s actually been there to tell them it’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s something you’ve just got to confront and go and get tested.
Since appearing on the cover of our magazine in 2013, are you pleased with how much football has embraced our cause?
Ray: I think it’s great that the English Football League (EFL) have taken it on board. You never see an interview without the manager having the [‘Man of Men’] badge on. All the lads are wearing it on Sky Sports, too, and Jeff Stelling is a massive help giving publicity to prostate cancer. I think there is genuine awareness now which five years ago, certainly 10, there wasn’t at all. It’s amazing really.
How do you feel about the future living with prostate cancer?
Ray: It’s a mental thing, for me. As long as I can be strong mentally, I’ll get through it. There are days when I don’t feel the best, but hopefully it’s when nobody’s around. I just want to give a positive attitude to everybody who has a connection with prostate cancer, whether they’re helping to find cures or they’ve got it.
There’s lots of talk about men like me only lasting five or six years with it. Well I’m 13 going on 14 years now, and I’m doing all the things that I want. I’m a survivor, basically, and I want to continue enjoying life for as long as possible.
Stephen: Dad is one of the most positive people I’ve ever known, but there are times I can see he’s not quite right. He wouldn’t show that to the general public, but my mum, my wife and my sisters – we see that and it’s our job to try and pick him up. He’s still got a lot to look forward to in his life, and that’s what we try to tell him.
This interview was conducted by the late Ralph Ellis (pictured with Ray and Stephen above), a freelance sports journalist who, like Ray, had stage-four advanced prostate cancer and sadly passed away on the 15 September 2018. Read about his prostate cancer story and the amazing support he gave us.