Grobbelaar and his `game of three halves'

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The Independent Online
EVEN IF football is a "funny old game", the legal process surrounding the Bruce Grobbelaar libel trial has had some surprising and intriguing twists and turns of its own.

Yesterday's High Court victory for the former Liverpool goalkeeper over The Sun followed two criminal cases in which Mr Grobbelaar, 41, along with fellow football stars John Fashanu and Hans Segers and a businessman, Richard Lim, had been accused of match fixing. The first ended in deadlock, the second with all four being cleared.

Yesterday, clutching the hand of his wife Debbie, Mr Grobbelaar said that he had been vindicated. He had finally "nailed the lie" that he had taken bribes to throw matches and he had had pounds 85,000 in damages to show for it - plus his legal costs of pounds 400,000.

But, this "game of three halves", may not yet be over. The Sun immediately announced that it would appeal, holding out the prospect of another rehashing of allegations about the alleged corrupt actions of the colourful player.

Mr Grobbelaar was known as a showman during his football career. He partly ascribed this to the 18 months he spent as a corporal in the conflict which led to the end of white-ruled Rhodesia and the emergence of Zimbabwe.

Mr Grobbelaar always said he would remember to his dying day seeing one of his best friends shot five yards from where he was standing.

"If war teaches you anything, it is an appreciation of being alive. Losing a game is not a tragedy after experiencing border raids and having to eat beetles because you are out of rations," he said. "I will never apologise for laughing at life and enjoying football."

The case against Mr Grobbelaar was presented by The Sun with the help of Chris Vincent, who was paid pounds 33,660 by the newspaper, but not called as a witness for the defamation action. The goalkeeper claimed he was the victim of a "classic scam" and that Mr Vincent had wanted to get even over a failed game-parks venture.

The central allegation was that Mr Grobbelaar had taken pounds 40,000 to make sure Liverpool lost 3-0 away to Newcastle in November 1993. It also said he had blown his chance of pounds 125,000 more in a game in January 1994 against Manchester United, which ended in a 3-3 draw, by accidentally making a sensational save in a match he was trying to lose.

Mr Grobbelaar insisted he had never tried to throw a game in his life and would never do anything to let down the fans. His counsel, Richard Hartley QC, claimed the newspaper, which secretly videotaped Mr Grobbelaar apparently going along with Mr Vincent's bogus syndicate, had cynically gloated over crucifying a great sporting hero. He said The Sun had taken no proper steps to check out Mr Vincent - a man who "hated Grobbelaar's guts" and was desperately short of money.

Mr Grobbelaar said he was trapped while innocently trying to gather evidence of Mr Vincent's corruption to take to the authorities. He described the high-risk strategy as "the worst decision of my life".

He said he was "flabbergasted" when Mr Vincent asked him if he was interested in "throwing matches" and made it clear he would not.

Mr Grobbelaar distrusted Mr Vincent, who had never explained what had happened to pounds 67,000 the footballer had given him for a safari project. But he pretended to entertain the idea - including accepting a pounds 2,000 "retainer" which he did not intend to keep - to gain Mr Vincent's confidence.

The Sun had claimed Mr Grobbelaar took the money believing it was the first of a series of 17 fortnightly payments for him to throw a game of his choice, which would net him a further pounds 100,000. The newspaper's case turned on a videotape of the two men talking in a hotel room on the goalkeeper's birthday in October 1994.

The newspaper claimed that the intimate details of his personal life, which Mr Grobbelaar confided to Mr Vincent, showed they were "two mates together". It was "truly amazing", said George Carman QC for The Sun, that Mr Grobbelaar's own words on the tapes confirmed the story the journalists had been given.

Mrs Grobbelaar listened as her husband's voice was heard in the courtroom saying: "I've been in trouble with my missus. My missus has been shit."

It went on: "It's a separation job.... She's thought she's found out, through a mate, that I've been fucking around...."

Earlier on the tape, Mr Grobbelaar is heard making a call on his mobile phone to a woman called Wendy arranging to meet up the following week and ending: "Butala needs you. Cheers. Bye."

Mr Grobbelaar also talks of "some fucking fresh" - a slang expression for an attractive girl - in the hotel bar and said that was why he and Mr Vincent were going there.

The goalkeeper said he told Mr Vincent what he wanted to hear. "He liked all the macho image," he said. "I had my own agenda to elicit information from Mr Vincent. I had to treat him as a mate to get his trust."

Mr Grobbelaar was said by Mr Carman to have "lived something of a lie with his own wife" - keeping his closeness and "intrigues" with Mr Vincent from her.