Triumph and despair: Bruce Grobbelaar

The former Liverpool keeper, still bitter about the charges of match-fixing, recalls his army years in the African bush

During the period in the 1990s when I was accused by the Sun of fixing football matches and then stood trial for the same charge, I did wonder if it would be better to place a gun in my mouth and shoot my brains out.

Some of the friends I fought with during the Rhodesian war of the Seventies had done this. But that would have been the action of a guilty person who does not want to go through the consequences. Or a coward.

I joined the Rhodesian army in 1975, having trained for six weeks outside Bulawayo. On border control at Christmas, we were mortared by 'freedom fighters' [forces fighting for black-majority independence against Ian Smith's whites-only government]. It was my first experience of live bush war. Our shelters became bunkers with sandbags over our heads. It was frightening. Two colleagues were injured very badly and the school that we were guarding was destroyed. After that I became a tracker, working in groups of four that would be airlifted ahead of our units to areas where there was direct contact [with the enemy].

Live action is scary, but we believed we were fighting for our country and against forces who were terrorising their own people. We all felt the pressure. One colleague wanted to drive off the top of a mountain - we had to block him with a jeep. Two men in my unit went into the toilet and blew their brains out. You never forget something like that. For the people who fought in that conflict, it is a bit like the Vietnam veterans in America. It was a stupid war.

Of course, the enemy were human beings; I remember returning to my mother's house on leave and the house-boy's son told me he had joined the freedom fighters. I said to him: 'If we meet in the bush I'm going to have to shoot you. Make sure you go well.' And he said: 'I will have to shoot you too.' He was killed and I survived.

After this terrifying experience, my years in football were a dream. Liverpool manager Bob Paisley signed me from Crewe in 1981. We were the champions in my first season and I went on to win many honours. The biggest memory I have is the 1984 European Cup final against Roma and my 'spaghetti legs' routine during the penalty shoot-out that won us the trophy. People said I was being disrespectful to their players, but I was just testing their concentration under pressure. I guess they failed that test. In contrast to those great achievements, there were also the dark days of Heysel and Hillsborough in 1985 and 1989, respectively, tragedies in which many football fans lost their lives.

I enjoyed 13 successful seasons at Anfield, becoming the most decorated goalkeeper in league history. But I believe the match-fixing scandal arose because the press did not like this person they perceived as arrogant and who had a reputation for clowning around in games. Goalkeepers aren't supposed to do that.

I maintain that I did nothing wrong. My business partner at the time, Chris Vincent, went to the Sun and sold his story. I had lost money to him previously in a venture in my own country. Our relationship did not really break down, however, until I realised what he was really like.

All I regret now is not telling someone in the beginning what I was doing [in 1994, Grobbelaar was caught on video by the Sun accepting £2,000, supposedly to throw a match for his new club Southampton, and appearing to admit throwing a 1993 match against Newcastle]. I had a close friend who was a police inspector in Manchester, another who was with the dog unit in Merseyside. I should have confided in them. Why didn't I? Because I was returning to my days in the bush. As a tracker, you are out in front, doing your own thing, trying to find people. There was support behind, but they would not know where you were. Only when you found trouble did you inform them. By accepting the money, I was doing the same - attempting to discover exactly what was occurring with Vincent.

But it did not happen that way and I was charged with match-fixing and conspiracy to corrupt, and tried in 1997. I was acquitted [on one count, following a retrial; the prosecution then offered no evidence on the second after the jury could not agree on a verdict]. I was then awarded £85,000 libel damages in 1999. But what happened next had never occurred in British law and I doubt ever will again. Two years later the court of appeal overturned the jury's decision and my award, but when the law lords reinstated the former, they awarded me just £1. And I had to pay the Sun's costs. As a result, I was left bankrupt.

Can I understand why some thought it was an incredible tale? Well, ask my friends in Africa because then you will receive the truth. I did it because I needed to know [what Vincent was up to]. I was not going to tell anybody until I found out because that was the method the army taught me. Did the army also not teach that I should be able to cover my back if something goes wrong? Well, that's the gangster way, the mafia way. And I'm not part of any big family.

Now, life is difficult. I am not currently working in football, having resigned from my last job with Umtata Bushbucks, in the Eastern Cape, over a disagreement. But I believe I still have much to offer football. Maybe one day I will be able to coach my national team again. [He was Zimbabwe caretaker manager for five games in 1998.]

They - the press, Vincent and the legal authorities - were against me, but I am still here, the same person I have always been. But to be placed in that category where people believe I may have done something wrong, or in the future could do something wrong, is disappointing.

The life facts

Bruce Grobbelaar was born in South Africa in 1957. He made his Liverpool debut in 1981 and completed more than 600 appearances for the Anfield club in 13 years, winning six League titles, a European Cup and the FA Cup and League Cup three times. Since retiring in 1999, he has coached in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited

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