‘First time I killed someone, pulling trigger…images live with me forever’: Bruce Grobbelaar opens up on harrowing experiences in Rhodesian Army

Bruce Grobbelaar

From clown prince to allegations of match-fixing, Bruce Grobbelaar’s life off the field has been as eventful as his career on it, as he reveals in his brilliant new book…

I still remember the first time I had to kill someone. I can still see his eyes. I’d been conscripted into the Zimbabwean Army and thrown into the Bush War — an uprising against the white farmers in my native Rhodesia.

We’d been in the bush for about three months. I was a tracker and the corporal and leader of my group. We were dropped out in the bush and had to go and follow the enemy — the freedom fighters. You search in there to pick up the spore. Instead of following four, five or six sets of footprints, it could come down to two, where two have gone one way and four have gone the other way.

Bruce Grobbelaar's (pictured) new book, 'Life in the Jungle', is out later this month
Bruce Grobbelaar’s (pictured) new book, ‘Life in the Jungle’, is out later this month

Now you’ve got to pick up what that really means. Do you follow these tracks, or the main pack? This day we followed the main pack.

You had to be careful when the tracks splintered, as they could try to ambush you and this is what happened this day. When we rounded the rocks he stepped out with his rifle, wearing camouflage. I looked at him, my pulse pounding in my ears and the first thing I had to do was just pull the trigger, then drop, because there were others hiding in the bush.

I felt nothing but relief that I shot him before he shot me. But if he had been in normal clothes, it probably would have been different. From my right my best army friend, Stewart ‘Stooge’ Ayre, hit someone and then he turned and there was one behind me too and he killed him as well. I owe my life to him.

What haunts me are the images burnt into my memory when we went into a raid in Mozambique. There were 16 of us against probably 200 of them. People got shot and maimed. We found out that they were burrowing and they had to come out somewhere and we worked out that was on the Pafuri River. We called for air strikes. They came and dropped the bombs in the river and killed most of them.

This is the image that haunts me most. We had to go into the river to get the bodies out, to see how many people had been killed. But their corpses attracted crocodiles, so while we were taking them up from the river, we had to put our guns under the water and shoot at the crocodiles.

The Zimbabwean was conscripted to the army and says the experience still haunts him
The Zimbabwean was conscripted to the army and says the experience still haunts him


Bob Paisley’s Liverpool was a hard world. My first four months involved the antics which earned the nickname ‘Clown Prince’. Paisley came in and gave me a hooked finger, meaning ‘come to my office’ after a dreadful 3-1 home defeat by Manchester City on Boxing Day 1981. That crooked finger meant you were either going to get dropped, or to work hard to convince him you were worth persevering with.

‘Grobbeldy-jag,’ said Paisley, who never got to grips with my name. ‘How d’you think that you’ve played so far?’

I said things had gone reasonably well since my move from Vancouver, when my only English football experience had been on loan at Crewe. ‘In North America they entertain. Here, we win,’ Paisley told me. ‘If you don’t play better you’ll be back in Crewe. Now go and think about it.’


I’d arrived at Liverpool full of confidence. Soon after my arrival Ray Clemence and I were interviewed jointly by a journalist, who started by asking Ray how much longer he envisaged himself being at Anfield.

‘I’d like to be here another two years and teach Bruce how to come through the ranks,’ was his answer. I was then asked for my thoughts on that. ‘That’s what he says, but if he’s here for another two years I’m going to take his place anyway,’ I said.

‘When will you take his place?’ I was asked.

‘Probably next season,’ was my instant response.

Without another word, Ray got up and walked away. He signed for Tottenham the following summer.

Grobbelaar told Liverpool great Ray Clemence he would take his place shortly after joining
Grobbelaar told Liverpool great Ray Clemence he would take his place shortly after joining


We’d already won the League when we faced Middlesbrough away in the last game of the 1981-82 season.

Craig Johnston and Graeme Souness had both previously played for Middlesbrough and had got to know the singer Chris Rea, who was involved with a new wine bar. He invited us there the evening before the game… We were drinking until a glass floor collapsed when Terry McDermott’s foot went through it and he got injured. We got back to the hotel at 4am.

We still felt the effects when we kicked off. Terry was on the bench and when we got a throw-in close to it and Sammy Lee came into the dugout and asked for a drink, he was given a cup. He took a big gulp and his eyes soon widened when he realised it was scotch burning his throat.

The game ended 0–0. I don’t think there was a sober man on the bench.


The bright spring day we played Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough will remain with me always.

In the opening minutes we hit the bar and there was a big collective scream from the crowd just behind me.

It was when I tried to retrieve the ball before taking a goal kick a few moments later, that I saw the faces of the Liverpool fans being pushed up against the fence.

The wire mesh was deep into their skin, and they were shouting, ‘Please help us, Bruce!’

They were in agony. The fence, cut into squares, was made out of hard metal mesh.

I kicked the ball up the field and shouted to a policewoman at the gate. ‘Excuse me, can you open up that gate. Can’t you see that they’re in distress?’

There were these little doors in the fences you could open. She shouted back, ‘I can’t, we don’t have the keys. One of the stewards has got the keys.’ So I said, ‘Find out which one has it and open the gate!’

After five minutes the ball went over my bar again and this time it landed in the pen. The ball came back out, but again I could see and hear the distress of the people at the front. Their faces were pressed even harder towards the fence.

I shouted to the woman, ‘Open the gate!’ I retrieved the ball and went out on the left ready to take my kick. I looked over and finally they’d opened the gate. A major tragedy was unfolding and the referee stopped the game.

It was 3.06pm. Fans were spilling on to the pitch, where some were carrying bodies. One said, ‘There’s only one ambulance. What can we do?’

I said: ‘Use the hoardings for stretchers,’ because the advertising hoardings were just those V-shapes stuck together.

And that’s what they did.

When Roy Evans told us we had to leave the pitch, I went to get my stuff out of the back of my goal, looked up from the inside of the net and saw an image that still haunts me. People’s eyes staring towards me behind the fence. You could see them, but they were no longer looking. Just staring out into the air.


A lot changed when Graeme Souness came in as Liverpool manager in 1991. He had been brutal as a player and he was keeping this style as a manager. He ruled by fear and changed the dynamics of Liverpool Football Club. That approach didn’t help. We had been used to coaches and managers that were very well rounded, coaches who knew how to speak to players.

We lost at Goodison Park in a game that was notorious for an altercation I had with Steve McManaman after we’d conceded our first goal. In the dressing room Souness did something he normally wouldn’t do: he threw a boot at me. ‘Don’t ever do that again,’ he said.

He was the best player I’ve played with but as a manager he was s**t. I would tell him that, but it doesn’t mean I don’t like him. He wanted too much change too soon. He was impatient and it created so many bad feelings.

Grobbelaar (right) didn't think much of former team-mate Graeme Souness' management
Grobbelaar (right) didn’t think much of former team-mate Graeme Souness’ management

Source: Daily Mail