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How football saved Grobbelaar's life

by AFP.
03 Oct 2018 at 07:18hrs | Views
Former Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar has spoken about how football "saved" him after his horrific experiences as a soldier in the then Rhodesian army, also recounting the trauma of the Heysel and Hillsborough disasters during his playing days.

The Zimbabwe football team legend, who visited the country early this year after a decade long self-imposed exile, is looking forward to having a future probably as an ambassador of sport.

Grobbelaar believes the country is poised for a great revival under the new dispensation led by President Mnangagwa. He had been away for about 11 years, but with the country' politics taking a new direction towards democracy, the ex-Zimbabwe national team goalkeeper wants everyone to put behind the past and move forward for the betterment of all the Zimbabwean people.

Having been part of the Rhodesian war in the 1970s, the ex-footballer recalls some of the events with great resentment. The 60-year-old told Britain's Guardian newspaper in a frank interview yesterday that the impact of the fighting in Zimbabwe's war of Independence in the 1970s was such that two soldiers took their own lives when they were told to do another tour of duty.

"They killed themselves simultaneously in adjoining toilets in the barracks. They couldn't face it," said Grobbelaar.

The goalkeeper, renowned for his eccentricities at Anfield, believes football "saved" him, adding: "It kept me away from the dark thoughts of war." The Rhodesian army were fighting to preserve minority rule, but Grobbelaar was different to most white soldiers.

Football had made him a cult hero in the black townships in Zimbabwe. "The fans called me Jungleman. They said this young guy's not white. He's black in a white man's skin." Grobbelaar told how one of his fellow white soldiers mutilated the bodies of black (freedom) fighters. "This guy would cut an ear off every man he killed," Grobbelaar said.

"He kept the ears in a jar. And he had quite a few jars. His family had been brutalised so he wanted revenge." Grobbelaar only stops chuckling when he reveals that the President of Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa, called him recently.

"He said: 'Hello, Jungleman, how are you?' I'm going back (to Zimbabwe) in November. As I told him, I would love to be the ambassador to sport, recreation and reconciliation. I still have a lot of hope for Zimbabwe and I would like to make a difference."

Grobbelaar was Liverpool's goalkeeper when they last won the league title in England in 1990. The African Jungleman celebrated by walking the lap of honour on his hands. Could he have believed then that, 28 years later, Liverpool would be waiting for their next title?

"No. I blame the witch-doctor who came to Anfield because he's the one who put stuff on my goal and said: 'If you don't have Jungleman, you're not going to win again.' They haven't." He laughs when asked how the witch-doctor's spell can be broken.

"The only way is to urinate on all four posts. I've done two but I got caught going down Anfield Road and removed. That's when Liverpool came second (in 2014). If we don't win the title this season I'm going down Anfield Road and doing those two other posts."

The Zimbabwean was at Liverpool during the most successful spell in the club's history but the 1980s were also marked by two tragedies - the 1985 Heysel disaster, when 39 Juventus fans died before the European Cup final and the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, which resulted in the deaths of 96 Liverpool supporters.

"It (Heysel) was worse (than war)," said Grobbelaar, who won six league titles and a European Cup while at Liverpool from 1981 to 1994. "In the bush you knew what could happen. At Heysel it was innocent people. To hear the crumbling wall and the falling bodies was terrible."

Grobbelaar was also hit hard by the tragedy at Hillsborough, where he was close to the Liverpool fans' end.

"I was near gate number 13 and there was this soft sound - like air coming out," he said.

"I saw the faces squashed against the fence. I went to get the ball and shouted to the policewoman: 'Open the effing gate.' She said: 'I haven't got the key'. When the ball came back a second time, I shouted again. I saw they had a key and people spilled onto the ground.

"I kicked the ball out and ran to the referee. That's when the barrier went over and the bodies came down. I could hear the air coming out of them."

After he played for clubs in Durban and then Vancouver, he fulfilled his dream of finding his way into English football. He was transferred to Crewe and yet, hearing that Bob Paisley was coming to watch him before possibly signing him for Liverpool, he did not temper his warm-up routine.

Grobbelaar ran out with an umbrella, walked on his hands and jumped on the crossbar. Why didn't he compromise and at least leave the umbrella? "It was raining. I asked the tea lady, Mavis, if I could borrow her umbrella."

Grobbelaar was devastated when Crewe's manager, Tony Waddington, told him Paisley had left the ground in disbelief before the game even started. Yet Liverpool's scouts were so impressed by the madcap keeper they badgered Paisley into buying Grobbelaar.

Despite winning six league championship medals, three FA Cups and the European Cup, Grobbelaar was derided often as a clown. Yet he was a good goalkeeper at his most concentrated and Liverpool would have discarded him if they did not believe in his talent.

Source - AFP.