THE Champions League is back and we can’t help but recall Bruce Grobbelaar’s greatest performance in goal for Liverpool in the 1984 final against AS Roma in Italy’s city of Rome.
Grobbelaar’s Liverpool went into the showpiece with real continental pedigree, having won three European Cups, but Roma had the advantage of playing in their own city and at their own stadium.
Phil Neal gave the Reds the lead and after Roberto Pruzzo equalised for the Giallorossi, the game drifted through extra time and on to penalties. What followed was one of the iconic images from European Cup final history as Grobbelaar, employing his ‘spaghetti legs’ stance, forced Bruno Conti and Francesco Graziani to miss, helping the Merseyside club to a 4-2 spot-kick success – the first time the famous trophy had been decided in this fashion.
“Going to play Roma in their own stadium was quite an experience. When we got changed we were the first team in the tunnel. As we were waiting a while, we decided to sing a song – I Don’t Know What It Is But I Love It by Chris Rea – because [Graeme] Souness and Craig Johnston had come from Middlesbrough. The longer we were waiting, the louder we sang, and when Roma came out they looked quite shocked; Souey said ‘I think we’ve got them.’
“When you walk out into a stadium like that, playing against the home team in a cup final, the noise was deafening – unbelievable. You couldn’t hear yourself speak to the person next to you. It was a magical occasion with both sets of fans chanting loudly. The game went to penalties after extra time. We won the toss in the shoot-out and took the penalties towards our fans, which helped tremendously; had we lost it, it might have been a different story.
“The penalties started off badly with Stevie Nicol missing the first one. He only took it because Phil Neal was tying his boot laces. Otherwise, Phil would have been first and Stevie second, but he thought he would get it out of the way and skied it over the bar. Then they scored and Joe Fagan came up and put his arm round me. ‘Listen,’ he said. ‘No one’s going to blame you but if they miss you’re a hero, so try to put them off.’ That stuck in my head. Neal scored, then Bruno Conti comes up so I put my hands on my knees and crossed them over and he ballooned it over. That’s when I thought to myself that this might work.
“Souness then put the ball down and, bang, it was 2-1. I knew where there next guy was going to put his penalty, but he made me look like a chump. Rushy then made it 3-2. Then comes Graziani marching towards goal, needing to score to equalise. I went into the net and pulled it with my teeth. I thought: ‘I’m in Rome, the national dish is spaghetti, so I’ll do spaghetti legs.’ I went right and the ball clipped the bar.
“I was supposed to take the fifth penalty, but it took me one-and-a-half minutes to get back to the huddle and when I got there Alan Kennedy was putting the ball down. I looked at Joe and he said: ‘If it takes you this long to get back, you can suffer like the rest of us.’ The rest is history – Alan put the ball in the top-left corner when he was going for bottom right and that was it. Kennedy was jumping up and down, but we were all ecstatic – one of the most magical feelings you could ever feel in your life. We went out for dinner with our wives in a nice big villa overlooking the city. It was absolutely magical.”