A business deal for Grobbelaar to regret

`Grobbelaar received treachery and lies in return for giving Vincent his time, money and friendship'
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For the rest of his life Bruce Grobbelaar, the Clown Prince of football, will regret the day in July 1992 when he walked into a Chester wine bar to meet businessman Christopher Vincent.

It was their business deal and resulting friendship which was to lead to the allegations of match-fixing against Grobbelaar and spark off nearly three years of investigation culminating in two trials .

Although cleared yesterday, the case has been, financially at least, a Pyrrhic victory. He faces legal bills of tens of thousands of pounds, the case has coincided with the final stages of his soccer career - he left Plymouth Argyle at the end of last season - and put tremendous pressure on both his personal and business life.

Grobbelaar, an ebullient personality who achieved super-hero status on Merseyside in a Liverpool side full of heroes, had gone into business with fellow Zimbabwean Vincent. Knowing his playing days were numbered, he aimed to set up his future financial security. Even after court victory, that dream seems shattered.

The goalkeeper was to lose pounds 70,000 when their safari company Mondoro collapsed in 1994, but the personal fall-out was even more spectacular. Feeling hurt, and seeking money and "revenge", Mr Vincent went to the Sun newspaper with a remarkable story: that the Liverpool and Southampton goalkeeper, one of the biggest names in English soccer, had been trying to fix the result of Premier League games for a Far East gambling syndicate.

The newspaper used Mr Vincent to set up a "sting", in a series of interviews with his old friend in October 1994 which were secretly videotaped. It was these tapes which formed the charge that Grobbelaar took pounds 2,000 from Mr Vincent as a bribe to influence football games for another - invented - syndicate, and on which he was formally cleared yesterday.

The footballer claimed later that he had been stringing Mr Vincent along, suspecting that his former friend may be trying to set him up.

The re-trial jury also spotted that a crucial line from the video tape had been missed by both prosecution and defence and did not appear in the transcript; that when Grobbelaar picked up the pounds 2,000 offered by the non-existent syndicate it was only after Mr Vincent, referring to the cash, said to him, "I don't have a jacket, you carry this."

The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the charge against Grobbelaar and the judge entered a verdict of not guilty.

Mr Vincent, the key prosecution witness, was attacked by the defence.

Rodney Klevan QC, Grobbelaar's counsel, said the player had given Mr Vincent his time, his money and his friendship. "In return he has received treachery and, more importantly, he has received lies," he said.

The defence highlighted Grobbelaar's reputation, from boy soldier with the Rhodesian army to the man who comforted the families of victims after the Hillsborough tragedy.

His remarkable, and sometimes lighthearted approach to football, came from his experiences on national service. "Losing a game is not a tragedy after experiencing border raids and having to eat beetles because you are out of rations."

A string of impressive expert witnesses, including 1966 World Cup heroes Gordon Banks, former Arsenal goalkeeper and television pundit goalkeeper Bob Wilson, and the goalkeeper's manager at Southampton Alan Ball, testified to Grobbelaar's performances .

Grobbelaar yesterday movingly thanked the fans who had stood by him.

Their attitude was summed up by a front page headline in a Liverpool newspaper when the allegations were first made. It ran: "We stand by our man".