Birthdate: 6 October 1957
Birthplace: Durban, South Africa
Other clubs: Durban City, Vancouver Whitecaps (1978-81), Crewe Alexandra (loan 1979-80), Stoke City (loan 1993), Southampton (1994-96), Plymouth Argyle (1996-97), Oxford United (1997), Sheffield Wednesday (1997), Oldham Athletic (1997-98), Chesham United (1998), Bury (1998), Lincoln City (1998), Northwich Victoria (1999), Hellenic (2001), Glasshoughton Welfare (2007)
Bought from: Vancouver Whitecaps
Signed for LFC: £250,000, 17.03.1981
International debut: 12.10.1980 vs. Cameroon
International caps: Zimbabwe 32/0 - 27.09.1998 + 1 cap for Rhodesia
Liverpool debut: 29.08.1981
Last appearance: 19.02.1994
Contract expiry: 11.08.1994
Win ratio: 57.96% W: 364 D: 156 L: 108
Total games/goals opposite LFC: 2 / 0
LFC league games/goals: 440 / 0
Total LFC games/goals: 628 / 0
An athletic goalkeeper who kept virtually unstoppable shots at bay and is remembered as one of the greatest number ones in Liverpool's history. After earning plaudits in South Africa the 20-year-old was given a trial in the summer of 1978 at Ron Atkinson's WBA. He couldn't get a work permit and was due to return back home five months later when he heard that Tony Waiters, Vancouver Whitecaps' manager, was holding trials in Derby. Grobbelaar impressed and in November 1978 having travelled through three continents in four days and played in two trial games in as many days signed a one-year contract with the Canadian side, initially as a reserve 'keeper to former West Ham star, Phil Parkes. Unable to oust him from his starting place Grobbelaar was loaned to the bottom club of the Fourth Division, Crewe Alexandra, making his English League debut at Christmas 1979 and featuring regularly for the Railwaymen until the spring, saying his goodbyes by scoring from the penalty spot in his last-ever game! With Parkes gone Grobbelaar was finally a regular for the Whitecaps in the 1980/81 season attracting a host of admirers from England, most notably Bob Paisley, Liverpool's manager.
"I will never forget going to see Bruce Grobbelaar play for the first time," Bob Paisley said. "I had an idea that he would become the next Liverpool goalkeeper even before the match had kicked off. He was playing in the Fourth Division for Crewe Alexandra at Doncaster in April 1980. Before the game, he had three of his team mates lined up on the edge of the penalty area firing in shots at him. Bruce was dancing about like a cartoon character stopping every attempt. I turned to Tom Saunders, who was sitting next to me and said, 'We can go, 'I've seen enough'. Tom Saunders and I had to travel to Canada to make a final check on him. He was playing for Vancouver Whitecaps in the North American league, but the saves he was making belonged in the First Division. And yet when we signed him in March 1981, we already had the best goalkeeper in Europe. Ray Clemence had 470 first division appearances and 56 England Caps to his name. His reputation and standing amongst the world's keepers was virtually unrivalled. Bruce walked into Anfield and told the world he was after Ray's jersey. And he said it so Ray could hear!"
Clemence left Liverpool for Tottenham five months after Grobbelaar's arrival two weeks before the start of the 1981/82 season. The Zimbabwean was thrown in at the deep end having only featured in three reserve games for Liverpool. Grobbelaar made some errors along the way, but grew slowly into his role as Liverpool's custodian. Grobbelaar remembers it as a baptism of fire. "One old man wrote to me regularly. He said that he had been watching top-class football for 32 years and if Tommy Smith had still been captain he would have already broken my legs three times. That was one of the more pleasant letters. I also began to hear the obscenities yelled from certain sections of the crowd and I took them to heart. It hurt that they were from from our own supporters." It speaks volumes for Grobbelaar's talent that he kept his place in goal from his Liverpool debut on 29 August 1981 to 16 August 1986, playing 310 consecutive games in the most successful team in England. With half of Grobbelaar's debut season gone Paisley took the newcomer aside for a serious talk. "We ended up at Boxing Day thirteenth in the League, 13 points behind the leaders," Grobbelaar said. "That Boxing Day we lost 3-1 to Manchester City and Bob Paisley pulled me into the bath area in the dressing room and he just said to me: 'How do you think your first six months have gone?' I said: 'It could have been better.' And he said: 'Yes, you're right. If you don't stop all these antics you'll find yourself playing for Crewe again.' And he walked out. It dawned on me I couldn't do all these things I used to do; sit on the crossbar and walking around the pitch on my hands and mess about. He made me realise my mistakes and made sure I put them right."
Liverpool fans can no doubt easily recollect their favourite Grobbelaar moment whether it was a moment of madness, showboating or a save that displayed his breathtaking ability. Grobbelaar was a man for the big occasion as proved in the 1986 FA Cup final when Alan Hansen's clearance was headed straight at goal with Grobbelaar hopelessly out of position. "I got back as quick as I could and made a real kangaroo leap to reach the ball. It's something Craig Johnston taught me. If I'd tried to catch the ball I would have gone into the net with it," Grobbelaar said. Johnston certainly appreciated that moment, "Brucie was a great goalkeeper and that save was out of this world," the South African said." Grobbelaar's most memorable moment came in the European Cup final of 1984 when his antics on the goalline in the penalty shoot-out put off the most experienced players. "Joe Fagan had his arm around me when I was going to the goal and said: 'Listen, myself and the coaches, the chairman and the directors, your fellow colleagues and the fans are not going to blame you if you can't stop a ball from 12 yards," Grobbelaar revealed. "That gave me the great lift, there was great weight off my shoulders. As I walked away he said: 'Try to put them off.' So that's what I did. There were two players that I tried to put off and they were both Italian internationals, Bruno Conti and Graziani."
Unless he was out injured or suffering from meningitis, as in the 1988/89 season, Grobbelaar was a regular fixture in Liverpool's goal until England's u-21 goalkeeper David James took his place in 1992/93. Grobbelaar went out on loan to Stoke in the last couple of months of the season but reclaimed his place at the start of the following campaign. James made the number one jersey his own from February 1994 onwards and Grobbelaar left for Southampton before the start of the 1994/95 season. He moved to Plymouth Argyle in League Two where Neil Warnock was in charge and later joined Warnock at Oldham and Bury and continued to play League football into his 40's. After being released by the Saints at the end of the 1995/96 season his life was overshadowed by allegations of match fixing. Grobbelaar was said to have been paid £40,000 pounds by a Far East betting syndicate for throwing a match against Newcastle in November 1993 which Liverpool lost to an Andy Cole hat-trick and also accused of trying to influence games after he moved to Southampton in 1994. Arsenal great and television soccer expert, Bob Wilson, was brought in to review tapes of the Newcastle game as well as Liverpool and Manchester United in January 1994, Norwich and Liverpool in February 1994, Coventry - Southampton in September 1994 and Manchester City - Southampton in November 1994. Wilson told the jury he had seen no evidence of match fixing as in the Newcastle game Grobbelaar had virtually no chance with the three goals and he had made three excellent saves. In the Manchester United game, which resulted in a 3-3 draw, Grobbelaar had made two saves that were of the highest order at any level in the world, which had kept his side in the game. He could not have saved the two goals scored against him by Norwich and made a "truly outstanding'' save. Grobbelaar was found not guilty on all accounts.
Grobbelaar's clownish antics made him lovable but some felt that he was too lighthearted on the field that led to him occasionally making incredible mistakes. In fact, Grobbelaar took his craft close to heart and was furious with himself if he made an error. He had acquired a different perspective on life when he was fighting in the jungles of Africa. "I never did get used to killing other men even if they were hell bent on on doing me as much harm as possible," Grobbelaar revealed about his two years in the National service in his autobiography "More Than Somewhat". "I still dream about another encounter which happened shortly before the end of my first year while we were supporting a Dad's Army unit (made of 35-55 year-old reservists) when we were fed the information that a dozen terrorists were close at hand. We selected the killing ground and laid our claymore mines in the rocks and then set our two sticks of four in ambush positions. The mines killed the first three and the rest we caught in lethal crossfire. There was just enough moon for me to see the white teeth bared in horrific screams that still ring in my ears when I have those awful dreams. Nightmares really are made of that sort of stuff as my wife and a few footballer roommates will testify having seen me wander around in the middle of the night before a big game. If war teaches you anything it is an appreciation of being alive and I will never apologise for laughing at life and enjoying my football."
Bob Paisley was in no doubt that Liverpool found a worthy successor to Ray Clemence: "Bruce is a natural between the posts. When you consider his reflexes, his agility and his co-ordination, you wouldn't swap him for any keeper you care to name past or present. The one aspect of his make-up that everybody questions is his personality. He is a man who insists on living life to the full. If he wasn't enjoying what he was doing, I think he would stop. So he plays his football with sense of fun and bravado. When the Kopites sing ‘Brucie, Brucie, give us a wave’ he waves back. He doesn't wish to disappoint them. He wants them to enjoy their afternoon at Anfield as much as he's doing. Everybody has an opinion about Bruce Grobbelaar, but it's the opinion of the men who play in front of him that matters most. If they lost confidence in him, he wouldn't last five minutes. But Liverpool defenders have always had a greater appreciation of him than anybody else. Brucie's record with Liverpool speaks for itself, and his handling skills, his athleticism, his alert distribution and quickness off his line have all become shining examples that future Anfield goalkeepers will be hearing plenty about."