Few Liverpool fans will ever forget the glorious night of May 30th 1984 when Bruce Grobbelaar’s trademark antics helped snatch the European Cup from the grasp of AS Roma.
It was during a penalty shoot-out at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico that Grobbelaar’s clowning around in goal got the better of Italian forwards Bruno Conti and Francesco Graziani.
Grobbelaar’s intervention was sorely needed. The Reds had gone behind on penalties after the European Cup final had ended in a 1-1 draw after extra time.
Steve Nicol had sent his penalty over the crossbar and Agostino Di Bartolomei had scored before Phil Neal levelled for the Reds.
Crucially, Liverpool had taken two penalties to Roma’s one when Conti moved up to spot. Grobbelaar decided to bite the back of the net as if he was eating spaghetti while giving a confident smile to the cameras.
Like Nicol, Conti put his shot over the bar. Graeme Souness scored for Liverpool and Ubaldo Righetti then netted for Roma. Ian Rush then made it 3-2 to the Reds.
Up stepped Graziani, who had been a threat the whole match, and Grobbelaar’s diversionary tactics came to the fore. He wobbled his legs in the Liverpool goal as if he was shaking at the knees at the forward’s approach.
The ploy may have distracted Graziani just enough to make him place his penalty over the bar.
Alan Kennedy then sent Roma ‘keeper Franco Tancredi the wrong way to give Liverpool their fourth European Cup.
Grobbelaar’s eccentricities became the stuff of Anfield legend – and were widely emulated. The fans loved them too, especially when they rattled opposition teams.
For all his humour, the joker in the pack proved himself a serious weapon in the arsenal of three successive Liverpool managers from 1981 to 1994.
Born in Durban, South Africa, in October 1957, Grobbelaar’s family emigrated to Rhodesia when he was two months old after his father had secured a job on the country’s railways.
Grobbelaar played football for Highlanders FC in Bulawayo, but was also a talented cricketer. He even turned down a baseball scholarship in the United States.
Back in South Africa, Grobbelaar transferred to Durban City before crossing the Atlantic to Vancouver Whitecaps in 1979. His manager there was former Blackpool and England ‘keeper Tony Waiters.
A loan period at Crewe Alexandra followed, during which Grobbelaar caught the eye of Liverpool’s head scout Tom Saunders.
The Reds made their move for Grobbelaar once he’d returned to Vancouver. Waiters helped agree a transfer deal for £250,000 and Grobbelaar became the Reds’ reserve ‘keeper in March 1981.
After first-choice goalie Ray Clemence had moved to Tottenham, the way was clear for Grobbelaar to make his senior debut for Liverpool. It came in an away league match against Wolverhampton Wanderers on August 28th 1981. The Reds lost 1-0.
Also making their debut in Bob Paisley’s team that day were future Liverpool stalwarts Mark Lawrenson in defence and Craig Johnston in midfield.
After languishing mid-table at Christmas, the Reds stepped up the pace in the second half of the 1981-2 season to win both the League Cup and First Division title.
The 3-1 League Cup final victory over Tottenham marked a major turning point for Grobbelaar as former Red Ray Clemence was in goal for Spurs.
Grobbelaar established himself in the Reds’ goal at the start of a run that would see him notch up 627 appearances for Liverpool.
He was supremely confident and almost gymnastic in the penalty box, springing about to make save after save. He was voluble too, often berating team-mates if he felt they didn’t come up to scratch.
Grobbelaar’s athletic abilities helped Liverpool win six league championships as well as three FA Cups and three League Cups.
Midway through 1992, Grobbelaar faced stiff competition for his place when future England ‘keeper David James was signed from Watford.
He went out on loan to Stoke City for four matches in the 1992-3 season, but returned to regain his first-team place at the start of the 1993-4 campaign.
Grobbelaar made his final appearance for the Reds on February 19th 1994 in a 2-0 league defeat at Leeds United.
After that, he joined Southampton and then played for a raft of clubs before ending up at Yorkshire side Glasshoughton Welfare for one match in 2007.
He won 32 caps for Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, from 1980 to 1998 and played once for Matabeleland in 2018.
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