Bruce Grobbelaar is both a Liverpool legend and a controversial figure. The 1990s witnessed one of the biggest scandals to rock English football: the Grobelaar match-fixing scandal. But what is the true story and behind the incident and the outcome? We’ll look into it here.
Grobbelaar’s journey began in Zimbabwe and South Africa, where he honed his goalkeeping skills through the horrors of war. As he once stated, “You have to live with the consequences for the rest of your life.” Little did he know that a different kind of battle was waiting for him later in his career.
In the glory days of the 1980s, Grobbelaar was the clown prince of Liverpool, celebrated for his ‘spaghetti legs’ routine during a memorable European Cup penalty shootout. However, in the 90s, Grobbelaar’s fortunes waned, and he lost his starting spot to David James at the club. In February 1994, he made his final appearance for Liverpool, ending a 12-year stint at the club.
The Beginning Of The Scandal
It was during his time at Southampton, in September 1994, that things turned. His friend, Chris Vincent, had a shared history in the Rhodesian Army, and the two became partners in a failed African game park venture, leaving Grobbelaar with heavy financial losses. A desperate Grobbelaar allegedly sought extra income, possibly out of resentment towards his low salary compared to his Liverpool peers.
While Grobbelaar retained a safety net of a £160,000 yearly income, Vincent found himself grappling with severe financial woes, ultimately declaring bankruptcy with debts totalling £90,000. So, how could he generate income? Obviously, by capitalising on the craving of tabloid newspapers for celebrity gossip.
In dire financial straits, Chris Vincent saw an opportunity and contacted The Sun on September 6, 1994. This was in relation to initiating a sting operation against Grobbelaar. They equipped him with recording devices to capture any incriminating evidence. David Calvert-Smith, the prosecutor, later remarked on the choice of targeting a goalkeeper, saying, “Goalkeepers do make genuine mistakes, and therefore the odd deliberate mistake may escape notice.”
Vincent’s initial attempt to record Grobbelaar failed. However, he eventually managed to capture incriminating conversations on three separate occasions. The last of these occasions was on November 3, 1994, just days before the scandal broke. Vincent profited £33,000 from The Sun and had a potential £100,000 book deal awaiting him if Grobbelaar was convicted. However, his financial motivations cast doubt on his credibility.
Secret Investigation Exposed By The Sun
The matches under scrutiny included three Liverpool fixtures and two Southampton games. In November 1993, the earliest incident saw Liverpool lose 3-0 to Newcastle, with Grobbelaar alleging he received £40,000 to throw the game. Wimbledon’s John Fashanu acted as the intermediary between Grobbelaar and Heng Suan Lim, a Malaysian businessman representing a gambling syndicate. In a memorable 3-3 draw against Manchester United, Grobbelaar claimed to have lost £125,000, a loss he attributed to a “freak” save. A trip to Norwich for a 2-2 draw also raised suspicions.
During a Southampton match against Coventry City on September 24, 1994, Grobbelaar’s actions were covertly recorded as part of an operation. He confessed to pushing the ball into the net to ensure his team fell behind, suggesting he would have earned a substantial sum had they lost 1-0. In his final recorded interaction, Vincent handed Grobbelaar £2,000 cash as a down payment before Southampton’s 3-3 draw with Manchester City.
The scandal erupted when journalists from The Sun confronted Grobbelaar at Gatwick Airport, publishing their exposé the following day. The FA and the English public were shocked as match-fixing allegations hadn’t emerged in British football since the 1960s.
Bruce Grobbelaar Stands Trial
Grobbelaar, Segers, Fashanu, and Lim were charged with conspiracy related to match-fixing in July 1995. Grobbelaar maintained his innocence, claiming he had pretended to be involved in gathering evidence for the police. Despite incriminating recordings, Grobbelaar’s defence was supported by former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson. The ex-Arsenal goalkeeper found no evidence of wrongdoing in the matches under scrutiny.
The first two trials ended without a verdict, and a retrial began in June 1997, resulting in another deadlock. In August 1997, the accused were acquitted of all charges. Grobbelaar, however, faced a different battle. He sued The Sun for libel, winning £85,000 in a 1999 trial but eventually losing the case when it reached the House of Lords. The Sun’s win resulted in a £1 award and compelled him to cover their legal expenses, leading to bankruptcy.