Bruce Grobbelaar made his debut for Liverpool on this day 37 years ago.
For those steeped in a decade of security, orthodoxy but no little brilliance from Ray Clemence, the then Rhodesian’s approach to goalkeeping was an enormous jolt to the system.
Allison Becker’s performance on Saturday against Brighton put me in mind of “Brucie” before this week’s anniversary of Grobb’s Liverpool bow.
Such is the age profile of the Anfield crowd – particularly season ticket holders who cling to that treasured birth right – many still remember the halcyon days of “England’s Number 1” and the madcap talent of Grobbelaar who rose from a downright clown after a shoddy opening to his Liverpool career to become The Reds’ “Clown Prince”.
The Kop pines for an idol between the sticks, even if most can still resist the notion of a cult hero at this early juncture. Bizarrely, of late, Liverpool followers obsess over “handsome” recruits and Allison with his conspicuous physique and striking beard seems to fit that particular bill.
On that specific note, Loris Karius was afforded more trust for an extended period than was merited. The German’s chiselled features and tiresome Instagram profile as much as the misplaced loyalty of Jurgen Klopp seemed to win favour against the truth of his performance. If Karius was all arrogance and swagger on social media, the reality was a boy out of his depth in a critical position, intimidated by the demands of required physicality in English football; exposed by the naked fear of election to the position of Liverpool’s prime custodian.
Liverpool fans, like most football supporters are also seduced by the size of a transfer fee. At a cost of £67M there are no qualms on this score with our new Brazilian stopper. More reassuring though for the Anfield populace at the weekend were two positive, aggressive sorties from his line to punch away danger. His quality was then illustrated by a match-winning reflex save late on which could only assessed for true worth viewed live amid the gasps of the crowd and the cascade of applause and relief.
Allison, at first glance, has more of Grobbelaar about him than Clemence.
Clem was no slouch with the ball at his feet and his left peg wouldn’t have been out of place in company higher up the pitch. The England goalie, capped 61 times despite a curious game-to-game international rotation with Nottingham Forest’s Peter Shilton, was the ultimate sweeper-keeper behind Liverpool’s continental high defensive line – but only when absolutely necessary. His judgement of the weight on a ball over the top and the timing of his advance from goal was second to none.
Grobbelaar though always smacked of a frustrated outfield player willing to take risks to get on the ball in unchartered goalkeeping waters. When Becker hared from his line to thwart Brighton’s onrushing Anthony Knockaert and outrageously dink the ball over him and collect it on the other side, it might well have been Anfield 1981 all over again. Hands clasped over disbelieving eyes, with the nervous laughter and hushed conversation that rippled through the stands once danger was averted betrays a crowd that bears many a goalkeeping scar.
All that said, the early signs are very good. Becker is vocal – in English, has clear organisational skills that twin with a reliable centre-half presence in front of him and is capable of that underrated prerequisite of any successful goalkeeper in this era of over analysis – the ability to keep the ball out of the flaming net. Three clean sheets already are testament to the only statistic that matters.
Liverpool’s new Number 1 – even if his current shirt belies the name – will take some getting used to. Watching him is going to be fun, might still produce the occasional flutter but will hopefully re-educate a crowd that still lives on its nerves.
Welcome, Allison. Happy Anniversary, Bruce.