How were Glasshoughton Welfare, Bruce Grobbelaar’s greatest save?
Before Grobbelaar, a European Cup, League and FA Cup winner gets to that, he shared some of his experiences that prepared him for taking to the pitch in Castleford that day writes Steve Bradshaw.
Born in South Africa, Grobbelaar grew up in neighbouring Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe), and served in the Rhodesian Army before he joined the Vancouver Whitecaps of the North American Soccer League in 1979. He gained Liverpool’s attention during a loan spell at Crewe Alexandra during the 1979–80 season, and signed for the Merseyside club in 1981.
We caught up with Bruce recently and he told us several tales about his time in the game:
Bruce had his first meeting with the natives of Liverpool whilst trying to find Anfield. Lost, he flaged down one of the locals who rolls down his window.
‘Do you know where Anfield is mate?’ in his best Liverpudlian-Zimbabwean accent. ‘Sure la, follow me’ and ten minutes later they arrive. Bruce, having followed in his Peugeot, thanks the local. ‘Dat’ll be a tenner, mate’. This was only the start of Bruce’s financial troubles whilst in the U.K.
Bruce then goes on to tell us about some of the managers he played under. Bob Paisley, no messing, direct and would keep you in your place as was demonstrated to an excited sixteen-year-old Irish lad who had scored against West Brom the previous week. The teenager went to Mr Paisley asking for four tickets for his family for the next home game against Man United. ‘My mum, dad and two others are coming over from Dublin’ he said. Mr Paisley sat silent and said – ‘yes, you can have five cos you’re not bloody playing!!!’ That youngster was Ronnie Whelan.
Under ‘smokin’ Joe Fagin, there was the famous ‘spaghetti legs’ in the European Cup Final, Rome 1984.
‘Why did you do it?’ ‘We were all stoned on the bus before we got to the stadium’ We are not sure where Bruce is going with this…. ‘the windows got stoned by Roma fans.’ ‘Ah, ok. ‘Shame that Bruce, as it sounded like a good story’
Bruce then describes the penalty shootout after extra time with the teams tied at 1-1. ‘Smokin’ Joe, who was on his thirteenth ciggy after the final whistle reminds the penalty takers Neal, Nicol, Souness, Rush, Dalglish that they are taking them in that order. Kenny reminds him ‘You subbed me in the eighty sixth minute boss. ’Ah, who came on?’ replied Joe. In the confusion, other players were hiding to avoid taking the last penalty. Lawrenson and Hansen were waving from afar. Sammy Lee is hiding in the thick grass but Alan Kennedy is not quick enough and is chosen. An arm goes around Bruce ‘your team mates, the board, the 10,000 fans and the city of Liverpool won’t blame you if you can’t stop the ball from twelve yards. Try and put them off’, Joe said.
Steve Nicol misses, Roma score (0-1). Phil Neal puts his in to level. Bruno Conti comes to the penalty spot jigging and singing to himself, which riles Bruce. It was at this point the boss’s instructions were put into practice. “Spaghetti legs” was born and Conti skied his kick over the bar. ‘There’s something in this’ Bruce thought. Souness put his in top left (2-1), Righetti makes it 2-2. Rush bobbles his in, 3-2.
Graziani comes up to the spot, arm round the ref. ‘I wasn’t happy with him hugging the ref and I walk to the back of the net and bite it.’ Graziani hugs the ref again, kisses the ball and Bruce gives it an exaggerated “spaghetti legs” – the ball clips the bar and it goes over. ‘I’m going mad, running away and celebrating until I realise we have to score the next penalty to win. Alan Kennedy aims bottom right and it goes top left!!!’ We win 4-2 on pens, the rest is history.
On Kenny Dalglish – ‘Took to management like a duck to water. His transition from player manager to manager was excellent. Why he has not been knighted following Hillsborough, I do not know! Kenny made sure the players supported the families and all players did eight to ten funerals. One day it will be Sir Kenny and not a day too soon.’ Bruce tells us about his version of Kenny resigning.
‘We played Everton and it was 4-4. Kenny went to chairman that evening. We want £2.5m to get a player that will make us the best team in the country for the next ten years.’ Noel White said no. Kenny being Scottish threatened Noel, ‘I may do something that you might regret.’ Bruce looking disappointed says, ‘Kenny resigned and went to Blackburn, bought a player for £3.75M called Alan Shearer. If Kenny had his way, who knows what would have happened with the Shearer/Liverpool partnership.’
On Graeme Souness – ‘the best player I played with bar none. As a manager, he played three keepers during the season, which didn’t work. Let’s move on.’
On Roy Evans – ‘Too nice to be a manager. Roy couldn’t bring himself to tell me that I was going on a free transfer and I found out in the Liverpool Echo on the way to a game of golf’ It was a bit awkward and I said to Roy ‘when were you going to tell me this?’ ‘Errr, after the golf Bruce’ ‘Just too nice was Roy.’
Bruce ended up at Southampton where Alan Ball was the manager. On the 8th Nov 1994 a big story broke where Bruce was accused of “throwing” games.
‘AB asked me six times, did I do it?’ ‘No, I replied each time. I played 80% of games whilst being accused of match fixing.’ AB got asked, why did he not play reserve keeper Dave Beasant if Bruce is throwing games? AB said, ‘I’d rather have Bruce throwing games than Dave Beasant trying to save them!’
The next year, Graeme Souness became manager and I only played 10/15% of games and I was released to Plymouth. From there Bruce went to Oxford when after a few days he was given the opportunity to play for David Pleat at Sheffield Wednesday. David asked, ‘How much do Oxford want to release you?’
‘Oxford told me £10,000 and I went back to David. It will take £30,000 David. £10K for you, 10K for me and 10K for the club. It was done within one hour.’ Bruce laughs. ‘Only joking’ with a wry smile.
So, this brings us to the original question. How were Glasshoughton Welfare Bruce Grobbelaar’s greatest save? Bruce had not played a game for four years and back in April 2007, he was asked by the Glasshoughton club secretary, Lee Beardshaw, if he would do an after dinner slot as they were in financial difficulties (£2,000 in the red) and were about to fold. ‘I don’t like to see clubs folding so I thought, why not?’ Bruce himself had well documented financial difficulties when he was saddled with legal costs of more than £1M in 2001 and so wanted to help Glasshoughton with their plight. Bruce then said, ‘why don’t I play in two weeks’ time?’ ‘That’s what I did and we earned £15,000 for the club.’
Bruce went on to say that ‘To help raise more funds, all the players bought a ticket with the final score line with £500 going to the player with the right score line’ Bruce had 2-1 to Glasshoughton on his ticket. ‘In 80th minute, it was 2-0 to us and Maltby got a corner. I pushed it onto the bar and then headed it in!’ going silent before he howls with laughter. ‘I left them with the money and let them have a good night’. Bruce winks.
That was Bruce’s final appearance in a UK league game of football and what a way to go with his greatest save. A day that Glasshoughton Welfare will not forget and who are still grateful to this day. Bruce finishes by saying, despite all the accusations, his conscience is clear and he has done nothing wrong. He has made peoples dreams come true, he has helped people and he has made great spaghetti in his time!!!
Thanks for the memories Bruce.