25 APRIL 1992, Page 55


Jungle genius

Frank Keating

TWO Lancastrians, Ivan Sharpe of South- port and Donny Davies of Bolton, are gen- erally accepted as the 'fathers' of modern football writing. Sharpe wrote for Kems- ley's Sunday Chronicle between the wars and after, and Davies ditto for the Manch- ester Guardian till he was killed in the tan- gled metal and runway slush of the Manch- ester United air crash at Munich in 1958. Both men played for the England amateur team, Davies always signing himself in the paper 'An Old International'. Had he lived, Davies would have been 100 this spring, so I got to looking up some of his stuff.

He disagreed with Sharpe on goalkeep- ers. Davies was of the unwavering opinion that it was 'axiomatic that goalkeepers, like wicketkeepers, were "a slate loose" '. Sharpe obviously preferred more sober- sides to be guarding his net, like England's staunch Sam Hardy — 'as modest in bear- ing as he was quiet, and in complete con- trast to the showy goalkeepers who have come to be the fashion in foreign football'.

So Sharpe would not have approved of Bruce Grobbelaar. But old Donny will doubtless already be, so to say, looking for- ward to looking down with relish on Wemb- ley in this year's FA Cup final. It could well be the madcap maverick's last big-time appearance for the Reds in the green jumper. Loose slates will be skimming all round his goalmouth for sure; but so will the crackling aura his presence always pro-

vides — that of singular derring-do and geometric and gymnastic resplendence. Certainly he can drop bricks like they were outswinging corner-kicks, but generally his colourful verve and talent and spring- heeled invention, have lit up a dozen drab winters since he came among us. They call him 'Jungle Man'.

He arrived from Africa after seeing action as a 17-year-old conscript in the Rhodesian civil war. I thought of that in the steamily clamorous atmospheres at Villa Park last week as Liverpool's pulsating sec- ond semi-final drained towards its inevitable penalty shoot-out. The few unbi- ased of us in the throng knew Portsmouth's vibrant challenge would founder against the cold-eyed seen-it-ails when it came to sud- den-death on the penalty-spot. So it came to pass, of course, but not before Grobbe- laar had chivalrously shaken hands with each of the trembling Portsmouth penalty takers before they walked the plank. And I remembered, years ago, before a European Cup semi-final, Grobbelaar telling me, 'If you've been forced to kill another human being in war, or seen your best friends killed in return; if you still have cold-sweat nightmares about screaming men and frightened faces ... well, how can losing a semi-final football match remotely mean a row of beans. The only thing war can teach a man is an appreciation of being alive.' As it happened, Liverpool won that semi-final and proceeded to the grand finale in Rome. It came down to another penalty shoot-out in the raucously seething din of the Stadio Olimpico. `No worry, boys, I'll put them off,' reassured Bruce in his Rhodesian razor-slice twang. At once the penalty count stood 2-1 to Roma. Up steps the Ital- ian international, Conti, to settle it. He places the ball, looks up at Grobbelaar and the crazy Koppite in gloves is crouch- ing on his line, knees swaying and hands crossing like he's Max Wall doing his 'Black Bottom' dance routine. Conti panics and clears the bar by yards. Next, Falcao the Brazilian: as he prepares to run up, Bruce is gnawing at the netting near the goalpost like a caged tiger; Falcao hesitates, reset- tles, but is lost. Liverpool are ahead. Roma's last chance is with ace man Graziani. As he makes an elaborate sign-of- the-cross after placing the ball, Grobbelaar sways into his limp-kneed, drunken matelot act. Graziani misses by miles. Liverpool win 4-2 on penalties. Jungle genius.