CORNER BROOK — Bruce Grobbelaar isn’t afraid to mention he is one of the two most decorated goalkeepers in the history of English football. Nor does he shy away from conversation about the match-fixing allegations that plagued him, forever tarnishing his reputation in the minds of some, in the mid-1990s.
Now residing in Corner Brook, Canada, the former Zimbabwe international doesn’t really feel like he needs to be remembered as anything, other than a quality keeper and, hopefully, someone who can do anything he can to help the sport of soccer grow even more on the west coast.
A certifiable legend during his 14-year tenure with Liverpool FC, as storied a franchise as there is, Grobbelaar (52) was known for an offbeat, acrobatic style and a knack for winning the big game.
Between 1981-1994 he collected six Premier League title medals, three FA Cup winner’s medal, three Football League Cup winner’s medals and a European Cup winner’s medal, along with five Charity Shield winner’s medals and a Screen Sport Super Cup winner’s medal.
The son of a father who played goal in soccer and a mother who did the same in field hockey, Grobbelaar figures he was destined to stand between the sticks, doing so since the age of seven. It wasn’t his only love — he was offered a baseball scholarship in the United States as a teenager, but wanted to pursue his dream of one day playing goal for Liverpool FC.
“When I was in the army [with the Rhodesian National Guard during the Rhodesian Bush War in the late-70s] I actually said to a few of my colleagues, ‘One day I’d like to play for Liverpool,’ and they told me, ‘Tomorrow we might be ambushed and you’ll get shot,’ … but I made my dream come true.”
It wasn’t a direct path, not by any means. His first big break came when he was signed by the Vancouver Whitecaps of the now-defunct North American Soccer League in 1979 — his first stint living in Canada.
“I have beautiful memories of Canada,” he said. “When I was in Vancouver … I thought Canada was one of the best countries in the world and I still believe it is.”
His play with Vancouver led him to Liverpool. Originally tabbed to backup starting goalkeeper Ray Clemence — the other of the two most decorated goalkeepers — the main job became his upon Clemence’s departure in the middle of the 1981 season.
After 14 glorious years, Grobbelaar finished with the club in February of 1994, bouncing between a handful of squads, including the Zimbabwe national team, at various levels until around 1998.
Of course, not everything about his career was so celebrated. During his time with Liverpool, Grobbelaar was one of four men accused of match-fixing. He pleaded not guilty and was cleared of all charges, although it may have cost him a large part of his legacy and, due to an appeal by a newspaper he sued, all his financial assets.
The allegations did nothing to destroy his ties with the Liverpool club, however, and even now, Grobbelaar has no regrets about how it all went down.
“What it did to me has made me realise the people that actually stuck by me are still with me today. The people that didn’t are gone,” he said.
Grobbelaar filled his time by taking on different coaching gigs and maintaining his presence, albeit a diminished one, in the global soccer community. Then, three years ago he came full circle and returned to Canada for a golf tournament at the Humber Valley Resort.
Enamoured with the community and, most importantly, realising the job opportunities for his wife Karen, an anaesthetist, the former Premier League great decided to move to Corner Brook. He has lived in the Curling area of the city since October 2, the same night his daughter Roten was born a true Newfoundlander at Western Memorial Regional Hospital.
While he knew almost nothing of the province or the city before his first visit, he quickly found out the passion for soccer exists here, the same as it might in any English town.
He acknowledges the recruitment efforts of some local players and is aware the area of town in which he lives prides itself on being the Liverpool FC, perhaps, of the Corner Brook Molson Men’s Soccer League. He insists he won’t be taking a page from another ex-Premier League player, Ian Marshall, and compete in the league this summer.
Lending a hand with coaching and instruction, however, is another story.
“I will assist wherever I can,” he said, mentioning possible goalkeeping and coaching clinics over the Canadian summer. “I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes because I know Ian has camps running in the summer.”
He’ll also follow up on his old love affair with baseball and plans on trying to make one of the teams in the Corner Brook Molson Senior Baseball League in the spring.
Mainly, he’d just like to enjoy his surroundings and the peaceful nature of the new part of the world he now calls home.
“I’m not going to be a big wig,” he said. “I’m here to make my life here and if I can help anything along, I will.” —The Western Star