Monday, 3 November 2008

Bruce Grobbelaar Interview

The ex-Liverpool star speaks about his time at Anfield and sets the record straight about the match fixing allegations.

From 1981 to 1994 in his thirteen years at Liverpool Bruce Grobbelaar won 13 medals, including six League titles, a European Cup, three FA Cups and three League Cups.

He began his professional football career in 1979 playing for the Vancouver Whitecaps, under the management of former England and Blackpool goalkeeper Tony Waiters. Grobbelaar was loaned to Crewe Alexandra and whilst playing in the UK, was spotted by Liverpool's talent scout Tom Saunders.  Waiters paved the way for the transfer, and the then twenty-four year old was signed for £250,000.

In his first season at Anfield, Liverpool were champions so naturally, expectations were high.  He was initially signed as a reserve keeper, but a few months later, Ray Clemence left to join Tottenham so the pressure was on, not only from manager Bob Paisley, but also from the fans.

“Liverpool fans are very, very fickle if I may say so,” Grobbelaar says. “If they take to you, they love you forever, so it was very difficult for me because Ray Clemence had been there twelve years, he had won twelve medals, and he was the highest-paid goalkeeper Liverpool had ever had."

"Then I came along, he left to go to Tottenham and the other goalkeeper moved to Shrewsbury. So I went from number four in the pecking order to number one overnight so it was a hard adjustment, but Bob Paisley had faith in me.”

“In the first six months of the season I had a really terrible time. Liverpool were thirteenth in the league and thirteen points behind first place, which at the time was West Ham. Bob Paisley said to me; ‘If you want to mess about, go play for Crewe; if you want to be serious, stay here.’ In the second half of the season we only lost one game, and ended up winning the league by three points.”

Grobbelaar was there in the last few years of Bob Paisley's management, and describes him as a tough manager whom everyone respected. 

“Everybody who was signed by Bob Paisley had a very close relationship with him. He was one of those people; everyone had a special bond with him. But you never had a run-in with him otherwise you were out the door.”

"He was a man of very few words, but he always got his point across. For instance, one of the players came up to him and said that he was getting sore knees and ankles. Bob said; ‘Is that when you go up the stairs of your house?’ The player said yes, and Bob said, ‘Well buy yourself a bungalow then.’ And the player did."

"That was his attitude, but Bob Paisley was the only man who could watch a person running and tell that person if he was inured or not and where the injury was, just by watching him run. That’s how good he was.”

There is no doubt in Grobbelaar’s mind that Paisley was the best manager Liverpool has ever had, and believes he deserves the accolade of one of the most successful managers in football history.

“As a player, he was captain of Liverpool, and then as manager he won the Champions League, the FA Cup and umpteen European Cups. The man’s just there; he’s there in history. He will go down as the greatest manager Liverpool ever had. A lot of people say Bill Shankly is, well Shankly started the whole thing so we mustn’t forget that. He put Liverpool on the map in the beginning, but Paisley took it further and added something.”

During his time at Liverpool Grobbelaar witnessed two of football's greatest tragedies - the 1985 Heysel Stadium disaster in Brussels, and the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.

“When you see tragedies unfold right there, and you are a part of it, your mind is not on football anymore. At the Heysel disaster, we couldn’t do anything to actually physically go and help, but there were four or five of us who took buckets of water across to the emergency services, and some were getting people towels from the showers. They were the only things we could do.”

“We all thought we weren’t going to play, but we ended up playing the game. It was a game I don’t even remember, it went so fast. From when the first whistled came and then the final whistle went, it felt as if it was only about five or six minutes. You just wanted to blank your mind out, get on with the game, get off the field and get out.”

“Hillsborough was a totally different scenario. In the aftermath of Heysel, everybody went back to the hotel, nobody said anything, and the next day we got back on the plane and went back to Liverpool. Hillsborough was different. We were in our country, we were in Sheffield.”

“We were ready for the game when the referee asked us to wait another fifteen minutes because the fans were not in the stadium. We waited another fifteen minutes, and still there were no people at the two end tiers of the pitch, only people in the middle section.”

“The referee blew his whistle for the start of the game. I could only see people there in the middle, right behind the door, and it was getting crowded. The balls were going over, the whistle going, then all of a sudden there was a scream from the back. But still, nobody was going to the outer ends - they were empty except for just one or two.”

“The game started for four and half minutes, the ball goes into the kop. I had to go round into that area, and I could actually see people’s faces squashed against the mesh. Someone said to me, ‘Please, please will you open the gate?’ So I asked the police man. ‘I am not allowed to,” he said. So I kicked the ball up, it came back, went out for a throw in and that’s when I went up to the referee and asked him to have a look. He opened the gate and people spilled out onto the pitch, and that’s when the referee stopped the game.”

“It was all so completely unnecessary. We got the news that ten people had gone, fifteen people had gone, twenty had gone, and you think, my goodness gracious me, that should never have happened at a football game.”

In the aftermath, Grobbelaar was impressed at the way Kenny Dalgleish handled it.
“Dalgleish organised it so that the footballers had to go and counsel the bereaved families, and in a way, Liverpool actually counselled each other. We counselled ourselves, we learnt how they felt, we learnt how the fans were, and I think we showed strength in getting everybody together, and in doing so, we actually healed each other."

"It was a fantastic thing that Liverpool Football Club did, and it might not have happened at any other club.”

Grobbelaar will be remembered for many things throughout his football career, but in particularly, the dramatic 1984 European Cup Final penalty shoot-out where his infamous goal-line ‘wobble’ made Roma’s Graziani miss, and his spaghetti eating imitation had the same effect on Conti. It has been said that Grobbelaars love of playing to the crowd prompted this behaviour, but he tells me that wasn’t what happened.

“The manager, Joe Fagan said to me; ‘Listen, we aren’t going to blame you for not stopping the ball,’ but as I was walking away he said, ‘Try and put them off.’  And that stuck in my head." 

"I didn’t try and put off any of the run-of-the-mill players.  I made sure I picked the internationals, who played for their country Italy. I thought if Conti and Graziani were internationals, they shouldn't bottle it, and as it happened, they are the two who did really bottle it, missing the goal completely.”

“I am not proud of what happened afterwards. Graziani went into a lunatic asylum and went completely off the rails. He was admitted to a psychiatric ward for three months because he missed a goal, that’s how passionate the Italians are. It’s not a nice thing, but football is not everything; it’s not life and death. It’s a game and you shouldn’t get that emotional about it. So I am not really sorry for Graziani, but I will say sorry to him because of his own mind.”

The Liverpool victory secured Grobbelaar's place in the record books as the first African to win a European Cup winning medal. He also holds the record as one of two the most decorated goalkeepers in history.

“I am proud of the fact that I am one of two goalkeepers who have won thirteen medals in thirteen years. Ray Clemence was the other one, but he got his thirteenth medal at Tottenham which means he did it in two clubs. I’ve done mine in one, which is a fair old feat.”

Of course Grobbelaars career was tainted by the match fixing allegations made by The Sun newspaper in 1994.

“It was a misunderstanding. A former partner of mine put me in a position, and he put me in that position because I had stopped the funds for our joint-venture game farm. I was putting the money in and he was putting it into his pocket so I stopped it. He didn’t like it, so he came over here and gave the newspapers a story.”

“He sold the story to the highest bigger, and of course The Sun ran with it, because this man is a professional con man, and he got his story out very carefully by looking at phone records between myself and John Fashanu."

"The Sun didn’t know why I was talking to Fashanu because it hadn’t been made public yet, but the Zambian National football team had been shot out of the sky, and we were trying to organise a match with a European-based African side to raise money for the bereaved families of the team. That is the reason for the telephone conversations that I had with John Fashanu. The other partner Heng Suan Lim could finance that football match lock stock and barrel form Malaysia, and that was the whole sequence of events.”

“The Crown Prosecution Service ran with it because they thought they had something to run with because of the phone calls. So they put one and one together, got three, and had to charge us.”

“It was a horrendous ten years in court. The first jury was a home jury.  You needed a 10:2 majority for acquittal, but there was only a 10:1, because one person had been taken off the jury for a misdemeanour, so there were only 11 jurors at the first one. So we got 9:2, but we needed another one to make ten. In the second trial we were acquitted - but this is where the hindsight comes in.”

“When these allegations had first started, I had sued The Sun the night before they printed them. Because I sued them the day before it became a penal trial, and the law suit still carried.   Then when I was acquitted at this trial, my team of lawyers asked me if I wanted to sue The Sun? I said, 'Yes, absolutely.'" 

"Now in hindsight, I had won in court so maybe I should have said no. But I did it on principal because it had started off as a libel trial, then it went to a criminal trial. In the first court case I had won some money, but then The Sun appealed. It was then ruled that I should pay their legal costs, so I appealed and it went to the House of Lords. We beat them in the House of Lords, but because the nature of the allegations had left a bad smell in the air, they said I should pay three quarters of The Sun's costs. There was no way I was going to do that, so I declared myself bankrupt."

Today Grobbelaar is still a firm favourite amongst the Liverpool fans and in 2006 was voted seventeenth in the poll 100 Players Who Shook The Kop, on the official Liverpool Football Club website. Over 110,000 Reds worldwide voted for their best 10 players in the Anfield club's history, and Grobbelaar came in second in the goalkeeping stakes.

He still plays in the Liverpool old boys team with Alan Kennedy, John Barnes, John Hargreaves, Ian Rush, Steve McMahon and David Johnson among others.

“We started this to promote the club and to raise money for the older players, so that when they get ill, we can pay their costs. We go and play with former players around the world, so it's very competitive. This year we will be going to Ireland, Northern Ireland, Denmark and Norway so we are playing about eight games. This was the first former players' association, and slowly the other clubs are doing like-wise."

Aside from football, Grobbelaar is a keen golfer with a handicap of two, and this sport is the theme of his latest interest, Golf ‘n’ Game, a travel company organising holidays that combine safaris and golf in South Africa.

“My partner and I started it up two years ago and we run golf safaris to South Africa, because we can guarantee a week or two of virtually no rain, at any time of year. If you go in July or August, I wouldn’t send you to Cape Town for instance, where it is the middle of winter and raining, because it would be exactly the same as the UK. I would send you to Durban where it’s dry, or to Johannesburg which is crisp and dry in the winter, without rain.  If you come at Christmas then you’ve got to go to the Cape, and travel the Garden Route.”

"If a group of guys take their wives, if the ladies prefer, they can go to the spa and do a bit of shopping for the day whilst the guys play golf, so there’s something for everyone.”

“So you go from game reserve to golf course. You can't go into the golf clubs at the weekend, because in South Africa, they are all fully booked, so that’s the perfect time to take the party into the bush to see the big five. A lot of people say you must go to Kruger, but that is only good in winter, otherwise there are too many mosquitos and too much malaria. There are so many new game parks you can go to in South Africa now; there Shamwari in the South, Aquila in the Western Cape, you can fo to Madikwe on the Botswana border, and my favourite, Entabeni, which is a place on a mountain, with beautiful lodges, a golf course, the big five and it's malaria free."

For further information about Golf 'n' Game or to book a holiday visit

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