Hillsborough was real living hell

Hell’s Kitchen had a whole different meaning for Irish sports followers of a certain vintage, jogging memories of blood-skin-and-hair-flying dust-ups in hurling’s small parallelograms.

Bruce Grobbelaar is appearing in the celebrity version of the chef show of the same name. The ex-Liverpool goalkeeper, whose surname means clumsy when translated from its Dutch derivation, helped Liverpool win the European Cup a quarter-century ago with his ‘spaghetti legs’ act in the penalty shoot-out against Roma.

As well as his propensity to leave the ‘Pool pantry unattended, ‘Grob the Gob’ had a habit of eating the head off his own players, including Waterford’s own Jim “Dex” (?) Beglin who he accosted for an early mistake in the 1986 FA Cup final against Everton; eight years later, to the envy of many, he physically assaulted team-mate Steve McManaman in another Merseyside derby.

That was around the time the Zimbabwean was allegedly being bribed to dive the wrong way, sullying his reputation as the most successful – and infamous – custodian in English football history.

Hamming up the fear factor for his ‘reality TV’/panto dinner-party piece with Marco Pierre White, in real life Grobbelaar witnessed at first hand both the Heysel and Hillsborough stadium disasters, the latter occurring 20 years ago today (Wed).

Current Reds skipper Steven Gerrard – whose dedication in his 2006 autobiography ended with “I play for Jon-Paul [Gilhooley]“, his 10-year-old cousin who crushed to death in the tragedy, says the victims’ families and survivors “have behaved impeccably and the club are very proud of them and the way they have handled this tragedy. The players will continue to be a support for them, I can guarantee that.”

The late Brian Clough has been in the news a lot of late on account of ‘The Damned United”, the movie based on David Peace’s “factional” book about old bighead’s tormented time at Leeds. Johnny Giles successfully sued the publishers, unhappy at both his and Clough’s “arty farty” and inaccurate portrayal.

My gripe would be that Clough’s career was too colourful and complex to have been condensed into a novel confined to one month of his life.

He wasn’t all bad but he wasn’t the charming man some recent revisionism would suggest. When his death was announced over the tannoy at a Man U-Liverpool game three years ago, many visiting supporters booed, unable to forgive Clough’s heartless contention in his 1994 autobiography that “I will always remain convinced that those Liverpool fans who died were killed by Liverpool people.”

Hillsborough was a horrible accident, one waiting to happen as investigators concluded. But it wasn’t cold-blooded manslaughter as Clough made out, later blaming inebriated fans – how hypocritical was that? – for the fatal crush that sorry Saturday in Sheffield during an appearance on the Clive Anderson chat show. “They were drunk. They killed their own,” said the man who was manager of FA Cup semi-finalists Nottingham Forrest that awful April afternoon.

In 2001, after years of being begged by bereaved families to say sorry and support their search for justice, he said he’d been “misinformed.” This was only after a threatened boycott of Four-Four-Two magazine, by then one of his few employers, whose editor requested he publicly apologise.

That Clough chose to make his original crass assertion while his son Nigel was a player at Anfield showed just how hopelessly self-absorbed he was.

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