Grobbelaar goes home to a hero's welcome

Such is the adulation Bruce Grobbelaar commands in football-crazy Zimbabwe that had Fifa, the sport's governing body, decided to ban Southampton's goalkeeper from playing for his country in tomorrow's international match against Zaire, a distinct danger existed of riots on the streets of the capital, Harare.

As it was, the news late yesterday afternoon that Fifa had decided to suspend judgment on Grobbelaar's alleged involvement in match-fixing was greeted by Zimbabweans with relief and celebration. Fifa will instead await the results of an inquiry by the Football Association in England.

An official of the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) had warned earlier that a Fifa ban would not be taken lightly by his countrymen. ``If they banned him, with 60,000 fans there in the stadium, who knows what might happen? He is a hero in this country.''

Grobbelaar flew in from London early yesterday morning determined to milk the affection of Zimbabwean fans for all it was worth. Adamant that he was innocent, resolved to press libel charges against ``two British newspapers'', beating the patriotic drum, he was insistent that the scandal generated in Britain by the bribery allegations against him would not undermine his performance. The game against Zaire is regarded as one Zimbabwe must win to stand a chance of qualifying for the finals of the African Nations Cup.

``I just want to put the allegations behind me until at least the game is over,'' he said during a training session yesterday morning at Harare's National Sports Stadium. ``I'm more determined than ever to play well. My mind is focused. I'll give 110 per cent for my country.''

As if home had provided him with a refuge from the raging controversy, 6,000 miles north, he looked happy and relaxed. He was his old clowning self among his team-mates, who took him instantly to their collective bosom when he arrived at the stadium.

For the benefit of the photographers, he and his colleague from the English Premiership, Coventry City's Peter Ndlovu, proceeded to fool with the mask Grobbelaar had recently donned to protect a facial injury. And then Grobbelaar, fresh from the 10-hour London flight, all but took charge of the training session, shouting instructions to his team-mates, among whom - at 37 and with the vast experience accumulated at Liverpool - he was clearly something of a father figure.

His actual arrival just after dawn at Harare airport had provided few clues as to the jollity that would follow. At first, everything indicated that relations with the posse of British media waiting for him would remain as tense as they had been on Tuesday evening at Gatwick, when the eager attentions of Sun reporters forced him to delay his homecoming by 48 hours.

In scenes evocative of the colonial Rhodesian past, the police and security personnel at Harare airport proved no match for the British television crews. The moment Grobbelaar stepped out of the aircraft door, five crews rushed on to the tarmac, prompting him to accelerate down the plane's steps towards a waiting Air Zimbabwe van. The driver, terrorised by the spectacle of the charging pale faces, slammed his gear stick into reverse and broke the world's backwards land-speed record in his effort to safeguard Zimbabwe's most prized asset.

As for the reaction among ordinary Zimbabweans, a salesman at an electronics shop in Harare seemed to sum it up yesterday afternoon. ``We think he's the victim of a smear campaign. But even if he took the money, well, it was a lot of money and everybody loves money. What matters is that he is one of us, we are proud of him and we will stick by him.''

Kelly's appeal, page 48

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory