THERE’S a tale about Bruce Grobbelaar, perhaps apocryphal, which has become almost legendary over the past 30 years.
It goes something like this – as Liverpool lined up in the tunnel ahead of a crunch league clash sometime in the 1980s, they noticed they were a man light.
A quick head count revealed the missing man to be the Zimbabwean goalkeeper, and a search conducted.
He was to be found in the dressing room, hammering a football against the wall in an attempt to turn off the lights.
Had Joe Fagan not intervened, bellowing at Grobbelaar to “get out before I throw you out”, he would probably still have been there today.
Such tales betray the superstitious streak behind the man who would go on to be the club’s most decorated goalkeeper of all time. One of the game’s true characters, Grobbelaar is eighth on the list of Liverpool appearance makers.
Goalkeepers are big news at Anfield right now – so is bad luck. The superstitious type would wonder whether Reds boss Kenny Dalglish has been smashing mirrors of late.
Following recent red cards to both Pepe Reina and his understudy Alexander Doni, it is likely to be Australian Brad Jones who dons the gloves for Dalglish’s side in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final with Everton at Wembley. It will be his fourth appearance for the Reds.
Welcome to Merseyside.
Grobbelaar has watched recent events unfold with bemusement, but his own Anfield story provides Jones with a reference point. An underdog’s chance is still a chance, after all.
“I wouldn’t think he (Jones) would be apprehensive, not at all,” said Grobbelaar. “If you can’t be excited about the chance to play at Wembley in an FA Cup semi-final against Everton, then you shouldn’t be in the game. It is a chance to put himself in the manager’s thoughts. I had something similar when I first arrived at Liverpool. I would play for the reserves and would alternate with Steve Ogrizovic.
“All I did was give the manager a decision to make as to who would be understudy to Ray Clemence. I managed to get myself in there, and when Ray left I got my big chance.”
He seized it. After making his Reds debut in August 1981, Grobbelaar would go on to make a total of 628 appearances, winning 19 major honours in his 13 years on Merseyside.
Now living in Canada, where he hopes to complete his ‘A’ coaching badges (for the second time) later this year, he retains a fondness for the city which, he says, “shaped my life like no other”.
And as he prepares to watch Saturday’s contest unfold from afar, his thoughts inevitably turn to his own derby memories.
Grobbelaar made his reserve team debut for Liverpool at Goodison Park, and on three occasions – in 1984, 1986 and 1989 – played against Everton in major finals at Wembley.
“The rivalry in those days was great because the two teams were riding high, both at home and abroad,” he remembers.
“The stories from those days, well, you could write two novels on them and still not cover it all! It really was a great period of rivalry. It was intense – it would even extend to the golf course in the close-season!
“We were always competing. In those days you would walk into a pub and you’d see Neville Southall or Kevin Ratcliffe or Peter Reid. The players would all socialise with one another, and after one sip of our drink the banter would start flying. This season’s semi-final reminds me of the 1984 (Milk Cup) final, if I’m honest. Back then, Liverpool were the team to be shot at, Everton were hungry, and it is the same this season.
“They would dearly love to stick one on Liverpool, and in many ways it is make or break for both sides. Whoever loses this game has complete and utter deflation.”
Grobbelaar remembers watching “red and blue walking down Wembley Way together” at that 1984 final, and again two years later.
He admits that friendly rivalry has been eroded in the time since, but says the Merseyside derby retains a unique standing within the game’s history.
“Derbies between Liverpool and Everton are world renowned,” he says. “The rivalry is fierce.
“In my day, I was aware that families would be split. I’m sure it is the same today. Households will be arguing for a week and a half before the game, and probably twice as long afterwards!
“It has changed, but for me it is still unique. The rivalry remains as fierce, but still fans sit together on opposite sides. That is great to see.
“It reminds me in many ways of the rivalries which exist in rugby union. That is a tough sport, where teams go at each other hammer and tong, then go to the pub afterwards, have a drink and a good old laugh about it.
“To me, as someone who has such a great affection for Liverpool, that is something to be extremely proud of. There is nowhere else in the world where that can happen, and it makes the city what it is.
“It is magic for the city to have another occasion like this to enjoy. It has been a long time coming.”