The Full Story of Bruce Grobbelaar's Betting & Bribery Scandal

The Full Story of Bruce Grobbelaar's Betting & Bribery Scandal
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One of the most decorated goalkeepers in the history of English football, Bruce Grobbelaar has had a remarkable life.

Most famously associated with Liverpool, the Zimbabwean international won the 1984 European Cup with the Reds – in thanks part to his ‘spaghetti legs’ routine in the penalty shoot-out – as well as six league titles, three FA Cup medals and three League Cups.

His 628 appearances for Liverpool is the ninth most in the history of one of England’s most successful teams. Yet while being the last line of defence for a huge football club is a pressurised position, it was a stroll for Grobbelaar. He has experienced things few people can comprehend.

Having begun his playing career in Zimbabwe and South Africa, he was then conscripted to fight for the Rhodesia Regiment in the Rhodesian Bush War. Still in his teens at the time, Grobbelaar has since admitted he had to kill and saw friends die.

"You have to live with the consequences for the rest of your life,” he told the BBC in 2018. And while obviously not as serious as fighting in a war, the same quote could be applied to the match fixing scandal involving Grobbelaar which occurred in the mid-1990s.


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Career On The Wane

When it came to football in England, the 1980s had been the decade of Liverpool, and Grobbelaar was a key component of their success. He was their clown prince, walking on his hands around Wembley after another in a stream of trophy wins.

Yet by the 1990s, the club was on the wane. Having gone through the tragedies at Heysel and Hillsborough, Liverpool were not the force they once were when the Premier League came into being in 1992.



The same could be said of their established goalkeeper, who lost his place when the Reds signed David James from Watford. Twelve-and-a-half years after his debut, Grobbelaar made his final appearance for Liverpool in February 1994.

He left the club the following summer to join Southampton, and immediately became their first-choice stopper. In the international break in September 1994, Grobbelaar helped Zimbabwe to a 5-0 win over Lesotho, in a qualifying match for the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations. But two days later, a friend of his back in England made a move which would dominate Grobbelaar’s life for the next decade.

How A Failed Safari Park Helped Bring Down Grobbelaar

As a veteran of the Rhodesian Army, businessman Chris Vincent had plenty in common with Grobbelaar. When he moved to England in 1989, the pair became good friends thanks to their shared love of going out on the town and trying to pull women.

They later became business partners, as Vincent convinced his new buddy to invest heavily into an African game park in their native Zimbabwe. It tanked, and Grobbelaar was left seriously out of pocket.

It was also claimed later that he was angry about how little Liverpool paid him when compared to the rest of their squad. He was reportedly only their 13th best paid player despite everything he had achieved for the club. Did his disgruntlement lead him to try to make additional money on the side?

Grobbelaar still had a £160,000 annual salary to fall back on though, while Vincent was in serious financial trouble and was later declared bankrupt with debts of £90,000. So how could he make some money? Tabloid newspapers are always willing to pay for stories about celebrities, so knowing one was a decent starting point.

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On September 6, 1994, Vincent contacted The Sun about partaking in a sting operation. The paper provided him with recording equipment in order to try to secretly capture evidence of Grobbelaar confessing to match fixing. [1]

As prosecutor David Calvert-Smith later noted when the case went to trial: “If you are a betting man, and wish to tip the odds in your favour, and you are going to approach a single player, the goalkeeper is the most obvious person to approach, because he can have the most dramatic and direct effect upon the result of a match,” he said. “Goalkeepers do make genuine mistakes and therefore the odd deliberate mistake may escape notice.”

While his first attempt to record Grobbelaar failed, Vincent was later able to film conversations on three separate occasions. The final of those was on November 3, six days before the story broke.

It was later revealed Vincent had made £33,000 from The Sun, and could have made more had Grobbelaar been convicted, thanks to a £100,000 deal he agreed with publishers to produce a book on the affair. While he gave evidence at the trial, the fact Vincent was set to make money depending on the outcome didn’t paint his testimony in the best light. Being described by the judge as a “thoroughly dishonest con-man" isn’t exactly a great look.

Not that Grobbelaar looked any better once the contents of Vincent’s recordings were revealed. His tales of “the short man” appeared very damning indeed.

Which Matches Were Allegedly Fixed?

There were five matches – three with Liverpool and two with Southampton – which were deemed to be suspicious based on things Grobbelaar spoke of while unwittingly being recorded.

The earliest example occurred in November 1993, when Liverpool lost 3-0 to Newcastle thanks to a hat-trick from Andy Cole. One of his strikes slipped through Grobbelaar’s legs, and he claimed to have been paid £40,000 to throw the game. According to Vincent, he drove to fellow footballer John Fashanu’s house after the match to collect the cash. [2]

Wimbledon forward Fashanu was allegedly the middle man between Grobbelaar and Heng Suan Lim, a Malaysian businessman whom the goalkeeper nicknamed “the short man”, and who represented a gambling syndicate which was supposedly attempting to fix games.

In one of the most memorable matches of the early Premier League era, Liverpool came back from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 with their bitter rivals Manchester United in January 1994. Grobbelaar was recorded saying he lost £125,000 by making two fantastic saves in the match, almost by accident. "I dived the wrong way and it fucking hit my hand,” he said.

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The following month, Liverpool were in Norwich for a match. Vincent claimed he and Grobbelaar drove to London the night before the game, to collect £1,500 from Lim, with the goalkeeper claiming he’d have earned £80,000 had his side lost. Yet they twice came from a goal down to draw 2-2 at Carrow Road.

By the time the next suspicious match had rolled around, Vincent’s secret filming plan was already in action. On September 24, 1994, Southampton – whom Grobbelaar now played for – beat Coventry City 3-1. His team conceded the opening goal though, and he was recorded saying he’d pushed the ball into the net to make sure they went behind. Grobbelaar also claimed he’d have made a small fortune had the Saints lost 1-0.

And whatever the truth of what went on, this illustrates a clear flaw in any match fixing attempt in football. Even if one player can be successfully paid off, there’s 10 others who will be giving everything they can to earn a positive result for their club.

On Vincent’s final video recording, he could be seen giving £2,000 cash to Grobbelaar as a down payment. Two days later Southampton travelled to Manchester City for a match in which both sides had trailed and led but ultimately ended 3-3. The Saints were only a goal down for approximately one minute, but Grobbelaar said on tape that he would have made £50,000 had that been the final outcome.

Whether the claims of fixing were genuine or not, the plot ended here. Four days later, Grobbelaar was confronted at Gatwick Airport by journalists from The Sun, who published their expose the following day.



What Happened Next?

The football world reacted with shock to the allegations. There had been a match fixing scandal in 1964, which saw 10 players jailed, but little hint of any similar impropriety in the British game in the intervening three decades.

Ian St. John, a former Liverpool player and popular television personality, spoke to ITV News and said “you just can’t credit it, that a goalkeeper would actually do it for money.” Southampton’s Director of Football Lawrie McMenemy said he fully supported the player, and that there was no question of suspending him while the claims were being investigated. Indeed, Grobbelaar played the next 15 league matches in a row.

However, the Zimbabwean was charged with conspiracy related to match fixing in July 1995, along with Fashanu, Lim and Hans Segers (another goalkeeper, who played for Wimbledon) and the case went to trial 18 months later.

The Defence For The Goalkeeper

Grobbelaar maintained his innocence throughout, and continues to do so to this day. While the secretly recorded footage suggested otherwise, he claimed he had been stringing Vincent along with lies about what he had done in order to later report him to the football authorities.

In a 2005 interview with Observer Sport Monthly, Grobbelaar stated he regretted not telling anyone about what he was doing, but compared his actions with Vincent to how he would’ve behaved during his army days. “As a tracker, you are out in front, doing your own thing, trying to find people,” he said. “There was support behind, but they would not know where you were. Only when you found trouble did you inform them.”

He also admitted that he had considered committing suicide when under the pressure which came from the fixing investigation. “Some of the friends I fought with during the Rhodesian war of the Seventies had done this. But that would have been the action of a guilty person who does not want to go through the consequences. Or a coward,” he added.

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And as much as the video recordings looked bad, Grobbelaar was aided at the trial by the testimony of former Arsenal and Scotland goalkeeper Bob Wilson. He had reviewed the footage of the matches in question and had found nothing untoward in what he had seen. Saves which Grobbelaar had made in the games were variously described as “excellent”, “truly outstanding” and “of the highest order at any level in the world” by Wilson.

As for any money which changed hands, Lim admitted that he had paid Segers £45,000 and Grobbelaar between £8,000 and £9,000, but only for forecasting matches, not fixing them. [3] The jury were unable to reach a verdict, so a retrial began in June 1997, only for the same outcome to occur once again.

The accused all walked free in August of that year, and though Grobbelaar was fined £10,000 by the FA for breaking betting regulations, that wasn’t the end of the saga.

Aftermath

While Fashanu and Segers were content to leave the match fixing scandal behind them, Grobbelaar decided to sue The Sun for libel, and after a 16-day trial in 1999, he won. He was awarded £85,000 and his sizeable legal bills were covered too. "It is a day that we can all relish and we got the verdict that we wanted," he said afterwards. "It was not the money I was after, I was just trying to clear my name in football and that I have done today."

But the remarkable story had still not reached its conclusion. The Sun appealed the libel verdict in the House of Lords, and it was their turn to claim a victory. [4] Their specific allegations regarding match fixing may not have been proved correct, but as there was evidence of dishonesty Grobbelaar’s libel award was slashed to £1 – the lowest permissible under English law.

Far more importantly, he was now ordered to pay The Sun’s legal costs, and being unable to do so Grobbelaar was declared bankrupt. He had successfully negotiated the first three trials but was ‘knocked out’, to use football cup parlance, by defeat in the fourth.

And despite everything that went on, Grobbelaar seemingly has no major regrets from his remarkable life and the match fixing scandal which cost him everything.

“They were fantastic days at Liverpool but whatever happens now in my life I can’t complain too much,” he told FourFourTwo in 2007. “I came to this country with £10 in my pocket and after the Law Lords had finished with me, I had £1. That’s quite some life I’ve had on £9!”


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