CORNER BROOK Steve Vardy has no one to blame but himself.
The West Side Monarchs goalkeeper recently ran into the legendary Bruce Grobbelaar, a 14-year veteran of the English Premier League with Liverpool FC, who has been living in the city since October, 2009. The former pro mentioned he was interested in joining the Corner Brook Molson Senior Men’s Soccer League and Vardy was quick to extend the invitation to join the Monarchs.
As quickly as that, Grobbelaar was in the net and Vardy was out — at least for 60 minutes or so a game, anyway.
Grobbelaar, 55, has accumulated six Premier League titles, three FA Cup titles, three Football League Cup titles and a European Cup title. Not to mention five Charity Shield (now Community Shield) championships and a Screen Sport Super Cup winner’s medal. He has also continued to play competitively with the Liverpool FC Veterans, his last match coming about six weeks ago in Norway.
Vardy, meanwhile, has been pretty solid the past few seasons.
The scales still tilt slightly in Grobbelaar’s favour.
“I said to (Vardy) that I was thinking of going back and playing a couple of games and he said ‘We’d love to have you.’,” said Grobbelaar, shortly before Wednesday night’s senior league game against the Sorrento Tactics FC.
Grobbelaar said if the rest of the Monarchs were on board, he was in. Understandably, not too many members of the gold and black were against the idea.
“I was ecstatic,” said Monarchs player/coach Pat Fewer. “Someone like that ... even their presence and soccer knowledge, just by being around, let alone playing.
“It’s not something Corner Brook or men’s soccer in Newfoundland gets a whole lot.”
Grobbelaar has played in two games so far, including Wednesday night’s, both victories.
“It’s made a huge difference with regards to our playing style, our ability to defend,” said Fewer. “He is very defensive-minded obviously — he’s a goalie.”
For his part, Grobbelaar wanted to start playing to keep his fitness up. He had toyed with the idea in the past, but decided now was the time.
“It’s taken up until now to actually get myself motivated to get up and do it again,” he said.
He has yet to see all the teams in the league, of course, but there’s obviously a big difference between a recreational soccer setup and the big-time games he used to play.
“It’s the standard of the area, that’s all I can really say about it,” he said of the local league. “Here they are amateurs, with Liverpool they are professionals. There’s a different mentality with professional athletes.”
His self-confidence is something Fewer noticed immediately, and said it might be the one thing that stands out most about their new acquisition.
“He’s very sure of himself and that’s rare for goalies,” Fewer said. “You can see that right away — his confidence on the ball, when he speaks, everything about him.”
Not that Grobbelaar has any notion of stepping in and being virtually unbeatable.
“Anybody who has a shot can deceive a goalkeeper,” said Grobbelaar. “So you’ve got to be on your toes.”
The question now is whether the addition of a former Premier League champion is enough to propel the Monarchs into the rarified air of the Steers Insurance Curling Rangers or Health and Performance Hawks, the two clubs that typically dominate the local setup.
“I guess we went from trying to make the top three to league contenders, but that still remains to be seen,” said Fewer. “But it definitely has had a positive impact on our season.”
As for Vardy, Fewer said he has improved by leaps and bounds the past couple of years and thinks having Grobbelaar around to learn from can only lead to good things. Coming in like a relief pitcher for about 30 minutes a game, Vardy is still very much a large part of the team.
“I think having Bruce around will give him more confidence as well,” Fewer said.