Sharuko On Saturday
THERE is a constituency, including some desktop spin doctors, which believes it’s a romance whose roots were with the Dream Team — a product of a combination of both rejection and frustration.
One born out of convenience rather than necessity.
When the sun was beginning to set on the career of this maverick goalkeeper, nicknamed the Jungleman, when age was beginning to catch up with Bruce Grobbelaar.
The rejection, they believe, had come from a powerful clique of conservatives in the English football of the ‘80s — a people who didn’t believe a wild goalkeeper, who grew up in a rebellious African colony, could be converted into one of their Three Lions.
The frustration, some claim, had come from the rigidity of FIFA’s stance that he simply just could not play for England, on the basis he now held a British passport.
He reveals in his latest book, “Life In The Jungle,’’ there were repeated attempts, by some English officials, to try and woo him to play for the Three Lions in the ‘80s.
But, the more they tried, the more they failed as, now and again, they kept driving into the same barrier, which FIFA had erected.
Because, Bruce had been a Warrior before, it complicated matters in any transition, to try and convert him into one of the Three Lions.
After all, he had been part of the pioneer group of Warriors, when it comes to representing Zimbabwe just six months after independence, in a competitive football match.
That was on October 12, 1980, and their mission was to try and qualify for the ‘82 World Cup finals in Spain.
Bruce was 23.
After receiving a bye in the first round, those gallant Warriors came across the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, in the second.
And, they appeared to be holding out well until 10 minutes from time when Jean Manga Onguene, soon to be honoured with the African Footballer of the Year award, thrust the hosts into the lead in the 80th minute.
Gregoire M’Bida scored five minutes later, to double the lead, and the Indomitable Lions won 2-0.
A month later, on November 16, the Warriors hosted the Cameroonians at Rufaro, in an historic match — the first time either a World Cup or AFCON qualifier was played on local soil.
Grobbelaar was again in goal.
And when David Muchineripi, another of domestic football’s finest who is usually ignored, when people discuss about local greats, fired the Warriors into a 29th minute lead, a rainbow of hope appeared in that second leg battle.
But, this was a strong Cameroonian side, which would end their World Cup finals in Spain unbeaten two years later, and they found a way to frustrate the Warriors and win 2-1 on aggregate.
To really understand the strength of those Warriors, one probably also needs to appreciate the pedigree of those Indomitable Lions.
They had crushed Malawi 4-1 on aggregate, in the first round of those World Cup qualifiers, thrashed the DRC 6-2 on aggregate, in the third round and hammered Morocco 4-1 on aggregate in the final round.
It gets even more interesting when one considers what those Indomitable Lions did at the 1982 World Cup where they found themselves in the same group as Italy, Poland and Peru.
They drew 0-0 against Peru, drew 0-0 against Poland and held Italy to a 1-1 draw, finishing unbeaten.
To illustrate the toughness of this group, it produced the team which won that World Cup, Italy, and the team which finished third, Poland.
The Indomitable Lions and the Poles were the only two teams, at that showcase, to avoid defeat against the Italians.
THE FIRST DANCE, IT’S AN ERA TIME APPEARS TO HAVE FORGOTTEN
For Grobbelaar, and his group of pioneers, in the era of Independence, time appears to have forgotten them.
But, that’s the way it is, when it comes to local football.
The past, it appears, never matters and, there are even some, among today’s desktop spin doctors, who still believe Bruce’s romance started with the Dream Team.
That’s why, now and again, they dismiss him as an opportunist, accusing him of only remembering his Warriors roots, once his hopes to be part of the Three Lions had been dashed.
They accuse him of turning his back against his country, at a time he was probably the best goalkeeper in the world in the ‘80s, because of the lure of the glamour of being part of the Three Lions.
An adventure that would have guaranteed him a possible dance at the World Cup finals – either in Mexico, in ’86, or at Italia ‘90.
The one who would probably have been the other part of the story of Diego Maradona’s infamous Hand of God moment in that quarter-final showdown.
The one who would possibly have been in goals when Gazza shed his tears, and instantly started a love affair with his country, in that penalty shootout semi-final defeat to Germany.
Instead, it was Peter Shilton who was in goals that night in Turin and the Germans scored all the kicks they took from the spot to go into the final, which they won.
That’s why, when the debate related to who is the Greatest Of All Time, when it comes to Zimbabwean footballers, Bruce’s name hardly features at all.
Maybe, as if to give an impression that the finest footballer can never be a goalkeeper.
Because, the desktop spin doctors have, for years, pushed the narrative that Bruce only appeared on the scene during the Dream Team era, and ignored the Warriors when he was at the peak of his athletic powers, it has, in a way, created this resentment towards him.
Something like, you know, he isn’t really one of us, so why should we talk about him when he wasn’t there when we needed him most, when he was at the very peak of his athletic powers?
Of course, the story of why Bruce didn’t play for the Warriors, for about seven years, will always be a controversial one.
He claims his attempts to renew his passport were unsuccessful because authorities, back then, would not allow him to hold dual Zimbabwean/British citizenship.
“I wonder how many games I would have played if my passport wasn’t taken away from me between 1985 and 1992,’’ he wrote in his latest book.
“Maybe, they could have reached the World Cup if they had allowed me to play.
“As much as playing in a World Cup had been a big dream of mine — even though I was shut out of Zimbabwe and lost my passport, even though I was not able to play for my country during my peak years — Zimbabwe is my home and will always be.
“I wanted to manage my country; I’ve managed my country five times. But I still dream of taking Zimbabwe to a World Cup before I get too old — I would love a last dance with the Dream Team.’’
IT’S EITHER HE IS ONE OF US OR HE ISN’T ONE OF US, AS SIMPLE AS ALL THAT
Because, beyond all that controversy, including allegations by The Sun newspaper that he was allegedly involved in match-fixing during his time at Liverpool, which were thrown out by a judge after twice, the jury couldn’t reach a verdict, there was a genuine football superstar.
One who played for the Warriors during in a qualifier for the ’86 World Cup in Cairo, Egypt, on August 28, 1984 before flying back to his base in England.
The tight fixtures meant he had gambled to play for Liverpool on a Saturday and then catch a plane to fly to Harare to play on Sunday.
Of course, Bruce didn’t make it for the return leg, which ended 1-1 at Rufaro, after the Air Zimbabwe plane he had planned to take was grounded after blowing a tyre on landing as it came in from Harare.
And, that appears to dismiss the theory he wasn’t committed to the Warriors, when he was at the peak of his career, which some have used to overlook him as one of the country’s greatest footballers of all-time.
What isn’t in dispute is his class because to play for Liverpool, who were probably the best football club in the world in the ‘80s, one really needed to be very, very good.
To be retained by Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish, three of the greatest Liverpool managers of all-time, as the number one goalkeeper in that all-conquering Reds side, provides confirmation of how special he was as a footballer.
To win six English league championships, three FA Cups, three League Cups, five Charity Shields, one European Cup, becoming the first player, who has represented an African national team to win world football’s greatest club trophy, can’t be done by someone who isn’t really, really special.
To play 628 matches for Liverpool, including 440 league games, in which he featured in 310 consecutive matches, spread over 13 years, is something which can only be done by a football god.
He could probably have won more European Cups with Liverpool, had the English sides not been banned for hooliganism, after the Heysel Stadium disaster of 1985. That Liverpool haven’t won the league championship, since he left, provides us with another sub-plot to his amazing story.
We can’t cherry pick the occasions when we accept Grobbelaar as one of us — embracing him as our hero when he was guarding goal for us in our first World Cup qualifier, as an independent nation in Yaounde 40 years ago, and during those beautiful Dream Team years.
And, treating him as an outcast, as someone who isn’t part of us, on the occasions when we discuss who is our Greatest of All Time, in our football.
Ignoring his achievements at Liverpool, where he remains the only Zimbabwean to win the European Cup and the English Championship.
And, embracing him as one of us, on the occasions he was fighting for our cause with the Dream Team in in those World Cup/AFCON qualifiers.
Some have even chosen to question his dedication, to his country’s cause, something he addresses in his latest book.
“Representing Zimbabwe made me proud. Looking back, thinking about the dreams I was carrying as a kid, I am happy with what I have conquered in life,’’ he writes.
“I wanted to play for Liverpool and made that dream come true. I wanted to play for my country; I have played for the Dream Team.
“Wikipedia says I played 32 games but there were also a lot of unofficial matches, which takes me to a figure of close to 50. Zimbabwe lost me at my peak.’’
After all, all Warriors are Zimbabweans but not all Zimbabweans are Warriors. Bruce is both.
And, it’s about time we give him the respect, and acknowledgement as one of our all-time greats, which he clearly deserves.
To God Be The Glory!
Peace to the GEPA Chief, the Big Fish, George Norton and all the Chakariboys in the struggle.
Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Bruno, Bruno, Bruno, Bruno, Bruno, Bruno!
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