A friendship of two Zimbabwe ’keepers’

Enock Muchinjo

BRUCE Grobbelaar and Tatenda Taibu first met five months ago in Liverpool, a home away from home for both men.

Taibu, the former Zimbabwe cricket captain and wicketkeeper, in the United Kingdom at that time to play for Liverpool and District team Hightown St Mary’s, has pretty much settled in North West England with his wife and two sons.

Grobbelaar, the former Zimbabwe goalkeeper, was of course back in a city he is something of a folk hero, a place he won six league titles and a European Cup with Liverpool FC from 1981 to 1994.

Taibu had been invited to a function in Liverpool last September to launch Grobbelaar’s enthralling new autobiography, Life In A Jungle, and the two immediately struck a bond.

So, what goes on when two ex-international ’keepers who have become friends meet? Share keeping tips, maybe: the reflexes, the spring, the precession.

But when they both come from the same country, passionate about their nationality and fiercely proud of their roots, stories of home dominate the conversation most of the times.

“We just clicked straight away simply because our stories are different, yet similar in a way,” Taibu tells IndependentSport this week.

“He tells me of a story where the former president Robert Mugabe said that I was one of a few black cricketers in a team full of white people and Bruce was the only white person in a team full of black people. So there are a lot of such stories. When he saw me at the book launch, he said ‘wow’. He stopped what he was doing and invited me to the stage and he started sharing some stories of my cricket career.”

The blossoming friendship has also been helped by the two former glovemen’s knowledge of each other’s sport, with Taibu having been a keen footballer as a young boy and Grobbelaar a decent cricketer in his teens.

“He knows way too much about cricket to the extent that at one stage he was competing with (former Zimbabwe captain) Dave Houghton for a wicket-keeping position back in the days. So he doesn’t know a little bit about cricket. He knows way too much. He even knows how cricket has gone from the time we got Test status up to now. He is up to date with the current affairs of the game.”

The legendary former Zimbabwe and Liverpool stopper was also elated to find out that his new younger pal is in fact a Liverpool fan.

“My (late) dad was a big Liverpool supporter, because of Bruce and John Barnes,” Taibu explains.

“I think John Barnes because he was a good black player and obviously Bruce because he was Zimbabwean. Because of that I also used to support Liverpool. But when I became serious in cricket, I then left football behind, though I still followed Liverpool a little bit through the time of (Steven) Gerrard. And now my younger son supports Liverpool while the older boy supports Manchester United; funnily enough, I don’t know why.”

Taibu, who now turns out for Sri Lankan first-class side Baduraliya Sports Club, has had to fly back to Liverpool this week for a pre-planned Level Two coaching course running from February 12 to March 24.

It is a happy coincidence for Taibu. It allows him to attend a function in Liverpool today where Grobbelaar will be promoting his book as well as telling his life story in addition to a question-and-answer session.

Dubbed “The African Night – Celebrating Bruce Grobbelaar”, guests at the function will be treated to a two-course African-inspired dinner, with Grobbelaar himself putting together the evening’s menu with the Hilton Hotel head chef.

“I will be there because I’ve always supported whoever I believe has a right motive to do something,” says Taibu. “Bruce is just a lovely character: just always happy, always trying to make other people around him happy. You know, he will be flooded by a lot of people but he always find time to speak to this one, to speak to that one. Which I really admire of him. It’s (the function) about bringing the African community in the UK together, and he will also be signing the autobiographies sold on the night. I will be there in honour of Bruce because Zimbabwe is dear to his heart. His Ndebele and Shona have not gone away. And he was doing boerewors the Zim way the other day. Zim is still dear to him.”

A working relationship to lift sport back home in Zimbabwe is something the two have spoken of, and are both passionate about.

“But we do understand that things are not as smooth as they should be in the country,” Taibu says. “The best way is to establish academies overseas for our players to get exposure and have an environment where they can flourish. And when things are sorted back home, then they can go in a system where things will be better and use the exposure gained overseas to teach others. I think something like that can be done in football, cricket and other sports. We are still thinking how it can be done, but I know that definitely it can be done.”