The icon that was Bruce Grobbler

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A story about a man who bent history

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself but each of us can work to change a small portion of events and in total of all those acts will be written in the history of this generation”-Robert Kennedy. Not only did Bruce Grobbelaar change his own small events in Zimbabwean history, but he indeed carried the greatness to bend it. Born in Durban on the sixth of October 1957, Grobbelaar was raised in colonized Rhodesia.

His youth was traumatized as he was conscripted into the Rhodesian army as a teenager. He fought in the Guerrilla war of liberation and is still distressed by the events that took place at that time. In an interview with The Guardian’s Donald McRae, he talked about how some of his fellow soldiers had killed themselves after they had completed their conscription and we’re still required to kill more people. He talks about the sickness he feels each time such memories come back to him. He claims he was helped by football as it saved him from succumbing to depression after such traumatic experiences.

Grobbelaar began playing for Highlanders FC in Bulawayo around 1973-1974.He later joined the Durban City football club where his talent was not exactly given the credit it deserved. It is alleged that this was due to fact that he was the only white player in a mostly black team. Apparently racism happened the other way around for him. He left and was forced to go to war due the fact that the white settlers were outnumbered by the black majority they were fighting with.

After serving two years instead of the promised 11 months, Bruce was finally able to leave and go back to the love of his life, football. He played for the Rhodesian national team in 1977 and created a name for himself in the local townships. He was loved by the black majority which claimed that he was a black man trapped in a white man’s body. They named him the ‘Jungle man’.

In 1979, he joined the Vancouver Whitecaps under the management of Tony Waiters the former England goal keeper. He played for one more football club before being signed to Liverpool in 1981.for the fourteen years he played for Liverpool, he won six league titles, three FA Cup winner’s medal, three Football League Cup winner’s medals and a European Cup winner’s medal. Until 2007 he had worked many clubs including Hellenic, Southampton, Oxford United and Lincoln City. As a coach with some of them. Over the years he played for the Zimbabwean national team over 32 times.

His career was not all successes, He also had his fair share of scandals. On 10 November 1994 Grobbelaar was accused by the British tabloid newspaper The Sun of match fixing during his time at Liverpool. It is alleged that this was done to benefit a betting syndicate. He had been caught on videotape discussing match-fixing. He was charged with conspiracy to corrupt, along with the Hans Segers , striker John Fashanu and a Malaysian businessman, Heng Suan Lim.

In his defence,the goalie said he was only playing along so as to gather evidence for when he reported the issue.They were cleared 3 years later and Bruce filed an action against the newspaper for defamation.He lost his case on appeal and was awarded £1 with an order to pay for the newspaper’s costs.He failed and was declared bankrupt.Though this led to a drop in his popularity,he still continued with his career ,later branching into coaching which he still considers today.
So how did Grobbelaar “bend “history?

Here’s how. The situation in Rhodesia at the time Grobbelaar began his football career was hostile. There were issues of white supremacy, racism and it was a time of war. Soccer was one of the few things that brought joy to the townships and ghettos, in the surbabs and country sides.

What made him stick out was his love for the people. He was able to use his talent to dim the line between blacks and white at that time.Everyone was Zimbabwean when it came to supporting him inspite of race.He brought unity for those moments,a thing that was almost impossible to accomplish.

He brought joy and hope to Zimbabweans at a time when they needed it the most. Together with legends like Peter Ndlovu, he inspired many young people to dream despite the circumstances.

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