Bruce Grobbelaar is one of football’s greatest characters, in 14 trophy-laden years at Anfield, he won six First Division titles, three FA Cups, three League Cups and one European Cup. He sat down with Freebets.com to discuss a wide variety of questions.
Were you really offered a baseball scholarship in the United States when you were young?
Yes, I was offered this baseball scholarship after many years playing in Rhodesia. I played for Ralyton Braves as a junior, came through there and got my U13, U14, U15 and U16 colours in Rhodesian baseball. They were scouting me because baseball came to Africa with the American missionaries. They started the sport there and it was one of the top sports in Rhodesia at the time. There was also football, cricket, rugby and tennis too. Baseball was the fourth sport in Rhodesia at the time. My father played baseball and my mother played softball, so during that season, we as juniors played. Going through the years, I played at a very high level and so the American coaches in Africa monitored the people they wanted. Then, when I came out of the army, and into South Africa, they continued to watch me, and that’s where North Adams State College in Massachusetts offered me a baseball scholarship. But I chose to pursue football instead because I didn’t feel it was advantageous for me to go back to school after two years in the army. Playing football and earning money felt like the best route for me instead. So, I turned down the scholarship from North Adams State College at the age of 19 while I was in South Africa. If I chose baseball I would’ve had to go to America, get enrolled in College, and I didn’t know what subjects I was going to do, so I chose football instead. At the time, I was playing my football for Durban City in the place where I was born.
What was it like working with a witch doctor during your time playing for Matabeleland Highlanders?
When we won he was the hero, when we lost the club tried to fire him. If he didn’t give us good muti (traditional African medicine or magic charms), he was the one that was going to be chased by the fans. One of the instances that comes to mind is when the witch doctor once told me to strip naked and stand around a tree with all the other players. He then splashed some water all over us and told us to get our gear on. We went to the stadium and we beat the other side 3-1. He was the hero and not the players!
What was it like to play in South Africa during the 1970s, given the situation in the country at that time?
I started my football career in Rhodesia. Rhodesia and South Africa are two neighbouring countries with vastly different ideologies on how their leagues should run. In Rhodesia, there was a white league and a black league. It didn’t matter if you were white or black, you could put yourselves in the white league or the white teams could go into the black league. At Salisbury Callies, I played in an all-white team in a black league in Rhodesia. Then I went to play for a black team and I was the only white in the team. But South Africa was totally different. It had three leagues, a white league, a black league and a coloured league, which included Indians and blacks. There were three leagues you could play in. During my first six months there, those were three leagues you play in. In the next year, we went into a coloured league. Durban City joined a coloured league because the white league was disbanding. So, you could either go into the black league or the coloured league. Most white teams went into the coloured league. Overall, South Africa was a nice and easy transition. As whites playing in a black league, they looked at you differently, but they treated you fine if you played well. But if you played badly for an African side, you’d be under a bit of strain.
How close were you to signing for West Bromwich Albion in 1979?
When I got a draft letter from the army in South Africa for the South African Defence Force, a friend that I stayed with, a chap called Harry Weir, decided to ask various people in the UK if they could get me a trial with some football teams, so they asked Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Bromwich Albion. Ron Atkinson and Colin Addison his assistant were the ones that offered me a chance to come to the UK on a trial basis at West Brom. I took the opportunity because football then was my first love. I got to West Brom in July, I met the team down at a hotel in Oxford for pre-season and the next day we were out training and they were doing a long cross-country course up and down the hills. When we finished the circuits, the players all got together and said, ‘listen, if you’re going to lap us again in training then we’re going to injure you and you won’t be able to play anymore, because you can’t take the mickey out of us being as fit as you are!’ So, Atkinson and Addison saw my potential in running, and gave me an opportunity to stay at the club for the time I was in the UK, which was five months. But West Brom tried to sort a work permit for me without success, but the opportunity to sign for Crewe then arose.
Not many players move on loan from Vancouver to Crewe, how did that happen?
I never knew that I could’ve applied through ancestral visas because of my great grandfather being in the royal fusiliers. I only found that out when I was with Crewe Alexandra in 1979/80, as that’s how I got my work permit to play in the UK. I rang my mother and asked her the circumstances about how I could get the work permit, and it was sorted out.
Vancouver was a beautiful place for a 19-year-old to live, but going to Crewe Alexandra, goodness gracious me! We lived in the dormitory in the Royal Hotel. Me and two of my teammates lived up in the attic. I never knew that there was a chap following me for three weeks with a flat cap and every time I went to a restaurant to order food, he’d sit down and watch what food I was eating and then he’d follow me when I had a nightcap or beer at the bar and see what time I went to bed. It was only when I went to Liverpool and saw the same fella - it was one of the scouts, Peter Dee, and he was sent by Liverpool to go and watch me for three weeks while I was at Crewe.
What was it like playing against Pele and Cruyff at Vancouver Whitecaps?
The first year I only played three games for the first team, my first game was against Johan Cruyff. I was understudy to a former goalkeeper from Wolverhampton Wanderers called Phil Parkes. He was injured at the time, so I took over for three games. There was just one league game against Los Angeles Aztecs with Cruyff playing. I also played against Pele, who was at New York Cosmos, and they had other stars like Giorgio Chinaglia playing for them. I also played against the Neeskens brothers and Franz Beckenbauer too. It was quite daunting playing against these icons, but I did well. Cruyff said ‘this goalkeeper is going to go somewhere because I saved a penalty from him’, one of my teammates told me that. There were big names playing for various teams in the North American Soccer League (NASL) across the States and in Canada, where there were two clubs – the Toronto Blizzards and the Vancouver Whitecaps. We would go down to the States for three games on a 12-day road trip. The NASL wanted to make the league more professional, but unfortunately the administration at the time wasn’t up to scratch. Then they disbanded and reopened as another entity years on, which is now called the MLS. It was a process of them starting a league for the millions of kids that played soccer in the 1970s, 1980s and early 90s. It was a place where professional footballers that had been let go in Europe could go and earn money in another place to see out the end of their careers. At the opposite end of the scale, youngsters would go there to learn and play alongside these icons. It was a mixture of the two. It was fascinating because it was a quite a good league and if I put it against the English league structure today, I’d say it was on a par with the bottom half of the Championship/League One level. It was a growing league and you see the benefits of what’s happened with the MLS today and how it’s sustained itself by not having an astronomical amount of money to pay players. No player can earn more than a certain amount of money, which is not a bad thing.
They say keepers are mad. You scored a goal at Crewe Alexandra prior to your Liverpool heydays… what was the closest you came to it after that? Any Alisson Becker like moments nearly chalked up?!
I can set the scene of that Crewe goal perfectly, because the manager Tony Waddington came to me before the game and said: ‘we’ve done the business’ and I replied. ‘what do you mean?’ He said we’re not 92nd in the league anymore, we’re 86th. So, he said he’d make me captain and if we get a penalty, I could take it if we’re two up. But we were one up at the time and were awarded a penalty. Even though we weren’t 2-0 up, I took the ball out of the striker’s hands, and the goalkeeper said to me ‘don’t make me look like a fool, which side are you going to put it?’ I said, ‘just dive to the right.’ So, he dived low to the right and I hit it a little higher, meaning the ball hit the underside of the bar and went in. Thank goodness for that because if it was another inch higher, I would’ve had to scramble back because the ball would’ve landed on the halfway line!
After that, the nearest I came to scoring was in Northern Ireland in a pre-season friendly against Home Farm. It was a rainy and windy night, I punted the ball up field, it bounced over the goalkeeper’s head and hit the crossbar.
How big was the change when moving from Vancouver Whitecaps to Liverpool? Did anyone in particular help ease the big move?
I met Bob Paisley with Peter Robinson the Liverpool secretary in Birmingham, and they asked if I’d like to play for Liverpool, and I said ‘absolutely, yes.’ They said ‘thanks very much, you can go now’, and that was the end of the meeting. I knew from that day they were interested in me. I never knew how much bureaucracy they had to go through in signing me. Both The FA and the British Government really didn’t want me there. That was because I was a Rhodesian, but on a South African passport. It was easier to travel to Britain on a South African passport rather than a Rhodesian one, because Rhodesia made a UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence). The FA were also said that there were a lot more British-born goalkeepers that were just as good as me as an argument to stop the move. It went on for about 18 months to two years for me to get a work permit. For myself, Bob Paisley was a huge figure in that and he really wanted me at Liverpool. It was a massive shock to see how much of a struggle it was to bring me to the club. I only found that out when I was researching my book and I saw the letters of correspondence between Liverpool and the Home Office.
Tony Waiters sorted out my tickets from Vancouver to London, and he told me to get packed up because my flight was that night. I went home, got changed and because they bought me for £250,000, a record for a goalkeeper at that time, I thought someone might’ve collected me up at the airport- they didn’t. I had to get to Manchester, and when I got there I thought they may come and pick me up as it was 36 miles down the road. They didn’t, so I had to phone through to the Liverpool secretary when I was in Manchester and all she said was ‘do you know where Liverpool is?’ and puts the phone down. So, I got to Liverpool and the gates were shut at Anfield, so I drove around trying to get into town with no availability at the hotels. I eventually got in at the Adelphi Hotel and I asked the woman if she had any rooms for tonight and she said no, and as I turned around I saw Tom Saunders give Bob Paisley a £1 note saying ‘I never thought he would get here.’ That’s how I got to Liverpool. There was no limousine. Bob told me why he did it. He wanted to see if I could find my way to Liverpool, which I did, and that was something which told him about my character.
Moving to Liverpool itself was a huge culture shock because Vancouver was such a beautiful place. A person who helped me out in my initial settlement in Britain was my old captain at Crewe Alexandra, Bob Scott. He advised me not to buy a house in Liverpool if I get signed by the club, and to buy one where he lived in Wales. I asked him why and he said it’s because it gives you a home base away from the distractions of the city. It gives you more time to reflect on things too when you’re making the journey back and forth. It took me 55 minutes to get to Liverpool from my place in Wales. Bob also said to me, ‘if you don’t buy a house in Wales, then you could end up like George Best.’ Not a truer word a man could’ve spoken. It gave me the impetus to remain grounded, and I lived away from the city until an incident just before the 1981 Intercontinental Cup in Tokyo. We were supposed to be at Liverpool airport for a certain time in the morning and it snowed the night before. The weather and the length of the journey meant it became quite a challenge to get to Liverpool airport on time, and I was 15 minutes late. I had a friend of mine called Graham with me, and he parked the car after I threw him the keys. As I was running through to the airport, I saw a bus outside the airport and Ronnie Moran shouted through the door ‘hey, ****head, come on!’ So, I turned around got on the bus and Bob Paisley sat me down next to him and asked, ‘where do you live?’ I said ‘Wales’ He said, ‘Wales?! Buy a house in Liverpool, get to the back, you’re lucky that we hadn’t taken off, because if we had, you would’ve never played for Liverpool again! That was a warning for me, so I swapped a house in Wales for one in West Derby village – a suburb of Liverpool.
How daunting was it, in not only joining a great Liverpool side, but also having to take over from the legend that was Ray Clemence?
For me, growing up I saw Liverpool as one of the top teams in Britain at the time and would be living my dream if I got a chance to play for them. However, I was taking over from the best goalkeeper in the world at that time in my opinion, so it was a daunting task. I got there in March 1981 and played three games, only for the reserves and then I went back to Scotland on holiday during the off-season. From there I went to Hawaii and it was while on a golf course there my agent and lawyer said to me that I had a chance of making the first team because Ray Clemence had gone to Tottenham Hotspur. So, when I got back to Liverpool, there was myself and Steven Ogrizovic, who were the goalkeepers that played the last six games for the reserves – he played the home games, I played the away. We were fighting it out in the end, but I played all the pre-season games. He didn’t like it and said to Bob Paisley that he should be playing. Bob said that he could play every weekend, but from next weekend because Liverpool had swapped him for a goalkeeper from Shrewsbury in Bob Wardle. Bob Wardle then became my understudy. My debut was against Wolverhampton Wanderers and we lost away from home 1-0 with a far post header. When I made my debut, Liverpool gave three other people debuts around that time. There was Ronnie Whelan, Craig Johnston and then Mark Lawrenson came in. It was like an overhaul of the engine, out comes the old and in with the new. For the first six months I struggled. I thought it may have been because of my exuberance, which included walking on my hands and swinging from the crossbar. It wasn’t going well until Boxing Day when Bob Paisley dragged me down into his office after we lost against Manchester City. He asked me how I thought I had done and I replied: ‘maybe I could play better and stop walking on my hands, swinging on the crossbar and chatting to the fans behind the goal.’ He said ‘yes, if you don’t, you’ll find yourself back at Crewe!’ That switched a light on in my mind and thought to myself that maybe in Africa or Canada you can do that sort of stuff, but not in Britain. So, the only time I walked on my hands was when we scored a goal. We went on a run and won the league at the end of the season.
I would say that the £250,000 price tag did weigh heavily on me, as well not understanding the aspects of playing in Britain and trying to learn the aspects of the English game very quickly. But that chat with Bob Paisley was a wake-up call for me and made me cut out what I was doing, stay focused on the game at hand and make sure my lifestyle off the pitch was good too. We all did that, Craig Johnston, Ronnie Whelan and Mark Lawrenson. The only thing he changed after Boxing Day 1981 was to change the captaincy from Phil Thompson to Graeme Souness. From then we only lost one game and drew six to win the league. It was a brilliant comeback after being 13th and 13 points behind the leaders at that stage.
How did it feel to win your first league title for Liverpool in 1982?
During the latter part of the season, we won the League Cup against Spurs at Wembley. It was against Ray Clemence. After the final, we shook hands and hugged and he said: ‘listen, be yourself and you’ll be okay, don’t try and be me.’ That was all he said. These were great words from a great goalkeeper and a great friend from someone I looked up to. When he says something like that, it lives with you. He was such a nice man. It was a great time, we won the League Cup, which gave us impetus to win the league. When we won it, we won it on the Saturday, but we had a game to spare. In the end when we played that final game, we won the league by four points because we drew with Middlesbrough away. But we didn’t get our medals there and then. We got them on the first day of pre-season training the next season. Ronnie Moran walks in with a cardboard box and he puts it on the massage table in the middle of the dressing room and said: ‘take one if you think you deserved it last season.’ So, if you played a certain number of games, you took a medal, and that’s how it worked. It was to keep us grounded, and we celebrated in pre-season instead.
Was the “jelly legs” routine during the shoot-out in the 1984 European Cup final premeditated, or something you thought of on the spot?
It was something that Joe Fagan said to me just before the penalties when I was walking towards the goal, he put his arm around me and said: ‘don’t worry about anything, we shouldn’t be in this position at this stage, we should’ve taken our opportunities and no-one is going to blame you if you can’t stop a ball from 12 yards.’ I walked away and said, ‘thanks boss’ and then he added: ‘try to put them off.’ That was the thing which stuck with me, so the two people I looked at were Bruno Conti, who came there skipping with enormous twinkle toes singing to himself, ‘I’m Bruno Conti, I crossed the ball for (Roberto) Pruzzo to score and now I’m going to score a penalty.’ He was skipping, so I went on the line and put my hands on my knees, did a 60s dance, he looked up, put the ball down, took two paces and I did it again and he blasted the ball over the bar. That’s when I thought it might work. Then I did it to (Francesco) Graziani after that, only because he put his arm around the referee and started chatting to him as he was walking to the penalty spot, so I did the spaghetti legs, which he saw, and when he crossed himself (sign of the cross), I did it again and then knew where he was going to go, but he changed his mind, scuffed it and went over the bar. That’s when I went running around the field like an idiot because I was supposed to take the fifth penalty!
How does he feel about being the inspiration to goalkeepers like Dudek to have crazy antics on the line to put off opposition players whilst trying to save a penalty?
I’ve always said that he only did it because (Jamie) Carragher went up to him. I don’t know if he ever thought about me because Carragher said to him: ‘Jerzy, do a Brucey’, and he replied: ‘Who’s Brucey?’ Then Carragher replied, ‘Grobelaar.’ I don’t know if that inspired him, but I’m sure he did it on his own accord and I will give Jerzy all the credit, because it was nothing to do with me. I never saved any of the penalties, whereas Jerzy saved two. All the credit goes to Jerzy Dudek, not to me. If I had a little bit of inspiration for him to try that then I’m quite happy, but it was all his doing. I have spoken to him about it in the Legends Lounge at Liverpool, and I said, ‘wow, well done you did it all on your own.’ He said, ‘I just thought about it on the spur of the moment.’ I said, ‘snap, so did I!’ What a goalkeeper he’s been for Liverpool.
I also watched the Australian keeper (Andrew Redmayne) and he just carried on doing it in their World Cup play-off against Peru this year. If he had done it and saved three penalties, then all kudos to him. But he saved the last one, so you think, ‘why not try it?’ I’ve coached kids around the world and some of the coaches say the kids do the spaghetti legs all the time. I asked them if it works and they say ‘yes and it’s worked in a penalty situation.’
What was it like being in the Liverpool team on that night at Heysel in 1985?
It was a glorious day with sunshine, and when we were travelling through Brussels you could see Liverpool fans playing football against the Juventus fans and having drinks together. It was quite pleasant and when we got to the stadium, we saw chicken wire around the perimeter with pens made out of chicken wire at the end of the athletics track. We looked at that and didn’t think it was right. The Juventus side of the stadium was awful and we looked at our side and we only got a quarter of that space. I don’t think fans took to having less opportunity than Juventus to support the team. I remember coming out for the warm-up and then going back inside and hearing a loud crack and fall because we were the dressing room nearest to the stand that collapsed. We went out onto the track, had a look and people came to us asking for buckets of water and towels. Myself and Alan Kennedy went back and forth from our dressing room giving out buckets of water and towels. Joe Fagan then asked us to stay inside. We didn’t hear anything more until he went out. Phil Neal tried calm the people down, and in the end UEFA asked us to play the game. We didn’t want to, but we went and played the game. (Zbigniew) Boniek was brought down 10 metres outside of the penalty spot, but his momentum carried him into the penalty box and he dived two metres to get into the area. The referee gave a penalty which (Michel) Platini scored, and that was it. UEFA banned English clubs from competing in Europe competitions, and that hampered them winning three more European Cups, in my opinion. It was a sad day, we don’t forget the 39 that have gone.
How good was the 85/86 team compared to the 87/88 team?
You can throw the 81/82 team into that category as well. If you come back from 13 points behind to win the league and the way that we played in that season resonated how teams carry on in Liverpool’s evolution. That’s what reflected Liverpool’s dominance in that time. There were some great teams throughout the 1980s, and it’s impossible to say which was best. The only way you’d find out, is if you put those teams into a computer and have a game against them all to find who’s at the top. You could throw the present side into that realm as well. I’d say they’re all equally good as each other.
How confident, honestly, were Liverpool going into the FA Cup Final in ‘88? Were you thinking we are going to walk this easily?
We were the dominant force in that game and had we scored that penalty (John Aldridge penalty saved by Dave Beasant), we would’ve won the game quite easily. John Aldridge took the ball away from John Barnes and missed the penalty. Had John Barnes taken it and scored, we would’ve gone onto to win. That’s the way it is. It was one of the biggest shocks in football, but that’s what the game is about. You look at Wimbledon’s players, that’s their biggest and best time playing for the club by far. You’ve got to give it to them and let them have their glory.
You were obviously closest to those poor fans at Hillsborough that terrible afternoon & must have witnessed & heard some horrific things. How did you learn to deal with the enormous emotional trauma and emotions afterwards? I very much hope you’ve found peace with it now.
Reflections of another tragedy that we went through for Liverpool. It’s not just Liverpool Football Club, but for the whole of Liverpool because people that passed away at Hillsborough were sons and daughters of Evertonians. It didn’t only hit Liverpool fans, it was the whole of the city. We’ve got to realise that what happened there, had nothing to do with a bad mob of fans, it was down to the incompetence of the security and the police. If they had policed it properly with exits and entrances instead of just in two areas, then this tragedy wouldn’t have happened. Two years previously, Tottenham went there and wrote a letter to The FA that Hillsborough shouldn’t be used because something tragic was going to happen. In the year beforehand, the warning signs were there as well. The tragedy happened following the warnings they had in the previous two years. I don’t know why it’s been so hard for people to get answers and things were just brushed under the carpet, even with the inquiry.
What did it mean to win the 1989 FA Cup, so soon after what had happened a month earlier?
On the day Everton should’ve had their finest glory getting to the FA Cup final, it was overshadowed by what happened at Hillsborough. It was a sobering matter for Evertonians that getting to the FA Cup final was marred by this tragedy. Fittingly we had to play against Everton and that match was for the city. If The FA had any type of respect they maybe could’ve let each club have the trophy for six months, which in my opinion, would’ve been the most humane thing to do. But we had to play it and ended up beating our rivals, which they probably didn’t take too kindly to. Now the rift between Liverpool and Everton is growing bigger. Whereas in the past it used to be quite united, and fans of both clubs used to sit next each other at derby games. Now you cannot do it, which is quite a tragedy.
How did it feel when Michael Thomas snatched the title away from you in the last minute of the season in 1989?
In 1989 we had already won two trophies and we were going for a domestic treble. It was fantastic. Going into the last game of the season we needed just to hold on, and a 1-0 loss meant we would’ve won the league.
I can remember the game as if it was yesterday. It was one of Kenny’s oddest team talks before we went out because we were sitting there as champions and thought he maybe would say something like: ‘we’re sitting here as champions, go and show them what we are.’ But instead, he said: ‘listen, take it easy, because they have to score two goals, so just hold them off.’ It was the most bizarre thing that he said. He said if they score then they’ll have to get another one. Then they scored in the first half through Alan Smith, which we thought was a handball, but they didn’t have VAR in those days. With one minute to go John Barnes had the ball in the corner, and everybody has moved forward. Steve McMahon put his finger up showing there was one minute left. Then John Barnes lost possession and the ball ended up in John Lukic’s hands. He threw it out to Lee Dixon, who passed it to Alan Smith halfway in the Liverpool half. He then chipped the ball through to the onrushing Micky Thomas. Alan Hansen looked up and went, ‘oh s***’ and got caught too far up. The ball ricocheted off Steve Nicol into Micky Thomas, and I was backing off knowing before he shot that there’s only one place to put it, which was by my left-hand side. So, I went down on my left and he somehow clipped it over me and into the net. We lost the league, how did we feel? Incredibly downhearted and I went into the dressing room where there were two cases of champagne underneath the table, I pulled out a bottle and it said: ‘1989 First Division Champions Liverpool Football Club’ and I pointed that out to Kenny Dalglish and he said that I’d have to give that to George Graham and Arsenal and apologise about the label. I agreed, but said I would get a friend of my first wife’s husband, who was an Arsenal fan. He was a detective sergeant of Surrey Police. So, I went down to the players’ lounge, brought out Sergeant Cook and told him to carry this crate, he knocked on the door, George Graham came out to answer it. I said ‘Mr Graham, these bottles are for you, but I have one stipulation, this gentleman is a sergeant of the Surrey Police Constabulary and he’s an Arsenal fan, he’ll get the other crate if he can have a drink with you and the players.’ He said ‘come in,’ they shut the door and I didn’t see the fella for two hours. I was already showered and changed with his wife and my wife in the players’ lounge. He then came out, his hair was dripping wet. I asked what happened to him. He said: ‘I would only get a glass of champagne if I got in the bath with them!’ So, he had a bath with the Arsenal players.
How big of a shock was it when Kenny Dalglish quit as manager?
He quit after we drew 4-4 at Everton. We drew 4-4 on the Wednesday and on the Thursday we were travelling down to Luton Town and we didn’t know anything until we went to Anfield to catch the bus that day. We were sitting in the dressing room and he said: ‘I’m not going to be your manager anymore – I’m resigning. It’s got nothing to do with you guys, it’s because of someone else in the club.’ He walked out and it was Alan Hansen who followed him about three minutes later. We were all sitting in the dressing room until we heard these footsteps coming up and Alan Hansen stood where King Kenny told us he was resigning. He said that the club wanted to have an interim manager and that manager was going to be him. He looked at me and said ‘Hey Bruce, if I’m going to be a player-manager, are you going to stay on your line? You’ve got to stop running around on the field.’ He went around the whole team criticising every part of it. Then he walked out of the dressing room down the corridor and two or three minutes later, in walked Noel White and behind him was Alan Hansen. Alan sat where he normally sat and Noel the chairman at the time, said: ‘Listen Kenny has resigned, we’ve tried to ask him to come back, but he’s adamant he’s got to go, so we’ve got to have an interim manager.’ Then he paused. Everyone then looked at Alan Hansen before he said: ‘That interim manager is going to be Ronnie Moran and he wasn’t too pleased with what Alan Hansen had been saying! In the end, Ronnie got up there and said ‘thank you, but we’ve got to go to Luton.’ We lost and then a week-and-a-half later, they appointed Graeme Souness.
If you and McManaman were in a real fight…. who would win?!
I’m not going to answer that directly. We were teammates, and I wasn’t after Steve McManaman, I was after the person that turned his back on the shot that went in the back of the net. McManaman was in the wrong place at the right time. When I was going after this fella, ‘I was thinking don’t do it because the newspapers will portray you as a bad man.’ So, I said to Steve McManaman, ‘If I say kick the ball away don’t kick it into play, kick it into the stands!’ It was like handbags sort of stuff and wasn’t anything too bad. It was the year that referees were told that if players start fighting you can book and send both of them off. So, the referee was coming up to us afterwards with his book out, but I told him we had sorted it out and he put his book away. We were lucky to get away with it.
You played with Graeme Souness at Liverpool, why do you think it didn’t quite work out for him as manager?
Graeme was a fantastic chap off the park and a brilliant fella. On the park, he’s dynamic. As a manager, he tried to change everything too quickly. He was the catalyst to get rid of the boot room, and changed what we could and couldn’t eat. Everything was happening too quickly. He got rid of a few great players and substituted them in for mediocre ones. Therefore, the level of our consistency dropped and we didn’t have the same levels as under previous managers. That’s why it happened like that.
How hard was it to leave Liverpool, after 628 appearances and six league titles?
Yes, it was very hard. I went out on loan to Stoke because I had a disagreement with Graeme Souness. I left and went back to Africa and when I got back, he put me out on loan to Stoke. Because of the disagreement we had, I was at Stoke for four games, and could’ve played five, but knew that if I played five I would’ve had another medal. Stoke City won their league to get promoted for the next season, and I missed out on that medal.
How did you find your time at Southampton?
Southampton was brilliant. The late Alan Ball, I played with him at Vancouver and he asked me to go to Southampton with him and Lawrie McMenemy. They were brilliant, the club were excellent in a difficult time in my life where I was accused of match fixing. They looked after me very well down in Southampton.
You had a number of spells in the lower leagues after that, which was your favourite?
After leaving Liverpool, Southampton was my favourite place. Then going down the leagues, I had a brilliant time at Plymouth and then I was flitting in and out of teams. I went to Oxford for a week, and then I went to Sheffield Wednesday and Oldham with the manager that was at Plymouth – Neil Warnock. Then I went to Bury, Lincoln, Chesham and Northwich Victoria. Lincoln was quite good because I helped them a little bit. Oldham was another great place where I enjoyed playing, Plymouth I always enjoyed that. I always gave 100% for the teams I played for and I enjoyed my little stints at those clubs.
Where and how did the curse against Liverpool occur?
When you come from Africa and lived and played for teams with witch doctors, you don’t disbelieve anything that they do. When he did it at Anfield, I thought it was a joke and didn’t think he was a proper witch doctor, but he was. Over the years with me living in Canada and Liverpool never winning the league, I’m thinking it’s something I have to do to get rid of this curse. I remembered it from when I was playing in Africa.
Did you really have to urinate on each goalpost at Anfield to lift a curse that prevented us winning the league?
I remember from my time in Africa that if there was a curse on the pitch, you go and pee on the posts. So, when I came back to live in England, I was asked to go and play a game at Anfield in a Corporate Cup game. I told the story to Tage Herstad (a well-known Liverpool fan) who asked me to play for his team and he said ‘Bruce, you’ve got to do the business’ and I said: ‘yeah, I’ll try and play well’, to which he replied: ‘no, you’ve got to lift the curse!’ So, I peed in a bottle and poured the pee down the posts and crossbar on both sides. I then saved a penalty at the Anfield Road End for us to win the Corporate Cup. Then we went on a huge undefeated run at Anfield and won the league to lift the curse!
What was his best save during his time at Liverpool?
There are ones in my first derby game at Goodison, like the one from Graham Sharp. There was also the one from Brian McClair’s overhead kick at Old Trafford for us to win 2-1. The save against Everton at Wembley, there were quite a few.
Which was your favourite: being part of the Anfield Rap, or appearing on Brookside?
Brookside was a cameo. The Anfield Rap was my roommate’s brainchild. It was only myself and Mark Lawrenson that didn’t sign the contract, and if we had done that we would’ve got some money, but Craig Johnston got all the royalties. Now we are after him for our share!
What was the greatest moment for him in a Zimbabwe shirt?
In my time with the national team, I’ve been one game away from qualifying in three separate World Cups. In 1980, we played Cameroon and got beaten 2-1 on aggregate. In 1993, we played Egypt to get through to the final game, but having lost, we were told to replay it. We played in Lyon and drew 0-0. Then we played against Cameroon and got beaten 3-1, meaning they went through to the finals. Then in the next campaign we played against Cameroon, but they went through again. On every single occasion for Zimbabwe, it was Cameroon that went through.
People have difficult experiences in military service, and Bruce was involved in the Rhodesian war. How did he go from a soldier to a spaghetti legs hero?
The Rhodesian War wasn’t something I signed up for. We signed up to do our national service as patrolmen on the border and then six months into it, the real war started. For the next six months, our Captain Taylor, who became a Major Taylor in the first year decided to make us into a mobile unit. We had to go for tracking courses, medical courses and observational courses for six weeks. I learned my trade as a tracker with 11 other people. We were used as a fire force, which means you have sticks (groups) of four men. That’s what you went around with, and if there’s any contact, you get lifted up by the helicopter and dropped in the middle of the action.
In 2018, you came out of retirement at 60 to play for Matabeleland at the CONIFA World Cup, did you enjoy it?
I was asked by the coach and manager if I would be the goalkeeping coach and try to help them out. I did it because you had these lads that came from all over Zimbabwe, and half of them didn’t even have any boots. So, I asked New Balance to send me some boots that they could wear and I gave them a couple of pairs and some trainers each.. Our first-team goalkeeper got injured, and then the second goalkeeper got injured and I was sitting on the bench. In the third game we were playing against the Chagos Islands. We didn’t have a goalkeeper, so I was asked if I wanted to play in goal. I said to the guy that got injured if he could play 20 minutes, he said yes. Then we drafted in another goalkeeper coach and asked if he could play 20 or 30 minutes, he said yes, so I ended up playing 40 minutes in the first half, giving the other player 20 minutes and the other 30 minutes. We ended up winning 1-0, so I became the oldest goalkeeper in a World Cup situation at the age of 60, which was four-and-a-half years ago.