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Peggy Simonian and [in]famous soccer star Bruce Grobbelaar -Photo by Terry Miller
By Terry Miller
Former Liverpool football (i.e. soccer) legend and colorful character Bruce Grobbelaar visited Lucky Baldwin’s in East Pasadena Sunday night. Grobbelaar, 57, is the current goalkeeper coach for Ottawa Fury FC of the North American Soccer League. He made a personal appearance Sunday evening to the delight of his fans of all ages. Many remembered the controversy of his past but few brought it up.
Grobbelaar represented Zimbabwe at the international level and a number of clubs, most prominently Liverpool, during a professional career spanning more than 20 years. He is remembered for his gymnastic-like athletic ability, unflappable confidence, and eccentric and flamboyant style of play. Grobbelaar was born in South Africa but raised in neighboring Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe). He gained Liverpool’s attention during a loan spell at Crewe Alexandra during the 1979-80 season, and signed for the Merseyside club in 1981. Making 628 appearances for Liverpool over the next 13 years, including 440 in the League, he won the League championship with the club six times, as well as three FA Cups, three League Cups and the 1983-84 European Cup.
Grobbelaar left Liverpool for Southampton in 1994, transferred to Plymouth Argyle two years later, and thereafter played for an assortment of English lower-league teams, never for more than a few games. In the latter part of his club career Grobbalaar represented Zimbabwe notably under coach Reinhard Fabisch. He last played for Zimbabwe in 1998.
Bruce Grobbelaar insists that Brendan Rodgers’ faith in goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, not the sale of Luis Suarez, is at the heart of Liverpool’s problems this season. The often outspoken and controversial Grobbelaar noted that Liverpool conceded 50 goals in the Barclays Premier League last season as they finished second, two points behind Manchester City who let in 13 goals fewer.
Those defensive woes have continued this season with 18 goals already conceded by Mignolet in 12 games and Grobbelaar – one of the greatest goalkeepers ever to play for Liverpool – told BBC Sport that the Belgian is the problem.
According to London’s Daily Mail, “The Zimbabwean said: ‘Any team that lets in 50 goals should never be in second position in the first place. That was masked and brushed over by the brilliance of Suarez and [Daniel] Sturridge scoring so many goals.’
“Grobbelaar added: ‘You’ve got to shore up at the back, get yourself someone in goal that can only let in 30 goals a season, or less than 30 goals a season.’
“Asked if he thought Mignolet – who Rodgers signed from Sunderland two years ago – was the problem, Grobbelaar responded: ‘I’ve always said that. I’ve said that he doesn’t command his area.’
“He went on: ‘I have likened him worse than Dracula, because at least Dracula comes out of his coffin now and then. He seems to stay on his line and that’s it.
“‘That whole area – not the six-yard area, the 18-yard area – is the goalkeeper’s, and in this day and age, in modern goalkeeping, if you come out and catch the ball and you get smacked you are going to get the foul.”
“‘It’s not rocket science, and he is a big lad. As soon as that ball is in the air – get out, come for it.
“‘You’re going to get a lot more fouls for you and less are going to go in the back of the net.'”
In 13 years at Liverpool, Grobbelaar won six titles, three FA Cups, three League Cups and one European Cup.
Grobbelaar was vital to the triumphs of Liverpool’s greatest era, and was also present on its most tragic occasions: the night in the Heysel stadium when 40 Italian fans were crushed to death before the start of the 1985 European Cup final, just as the team was preparing to defend the title they had won for the fourth time the previous year; and the spring afternoon at Hillsborough in Sheffield four years later when 94 of the Anfield club’s supporters suffered a similar fate before an FA Cup semi-final.
According to London’s well-respected Guardian newspaper… “Barely a year after removing his kit from the Liverpool boot room for the last time, Grobbelaar became the central figure in a scandal concerning allegations of match fixing.” Soon there were “love rat” revelations in the former News of the World tabloid, made by a Zimbabwean barmaid and a “leggy Liverpool fan,” both of whom dressed up in replica goalkeeping kit for the photographs accompanying the story. But the match-rigging affair, involving Far East betting rings and Grobbelaar’s business partner, looked as though it might shake the game to its foundations.
However, the colorful character Grobbelaar emerged victorious and won a long-running battle to clear his name over match-fixing allegations. But it was a hollow victory. The Sun (owned by Rupert Murdoch) newspaper was ordered to pay him damages of £1 by the Law Lords, who condemned his conduct.
One of them said the former Liverpool goalkeeper had ‘destroyed the value of his own reputation.’ Grobbelaar, then 44, was left with legal costs estimated at more than £1million.
The Lords overturned an Appeal Court decision to quash a libel verdict in his favor.
They reinstated the earlier verdict of a High Court jury that the paper had libeled him in November 1994 when claiming he had taken “bungs” for match fixing. However, they declined to reinstate his original £85,000 damages award.
Their ruling said that while it had been proved that Grobbelaar had accepted bribes, it had not been shown that he had let in goals to fix results. It was for this reason that the original jury had found in his favor, according to London’s Daily Mail.