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Photo: @OttawaFuryFC/Twitter

Interview: Ottawa Fury FC’s Bruce Grobbelaar on a disappointing season and prospects of a Canadian Premier League

By Apartment613 on October 7, 2017

By Markus Marshall

I arrived at Lansdowne Park just before the end of training and was taken pitchside by Ottawa Fury FC media staff to watch the final moments whilst Bruce finished up. Bruce joked with Andrew MacRae, the young goalkeeper he brought to Ottawa from his time in Nova Scotia. “You can’t kick the ball, you can’t control it either! You can’t do anything.” This lighthearted encounter that I witnessed set me at ease. Bruce Grobbelaar is a legend. As a Liverpool fan, of course, I had a twinge of nerves. All my nerves were gone when Bruce introduced himself to me, with a firm handshake and a welcoming smile.

The author with Ottawa Fury FC goalkeeping coach, Bruce Grobbelaar.

I wanted to find out how and why Bruce Grobbelaar came to Ottawa and started working for Ottawa Fury FC. I wanted to find out why Ottawa as a city. As a Liverpool fan, I also wanted to explain to the readers at Apt613 who Bruce Grobbelaar is, a little of his Liverpool history, and that we have a legend living among us in our great city of Ottawa.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Apt613: Bruce, it’s great to meet you. Let’s kick off. What’s the story behind what brought you to Ottawa Fury?

Bruce Grobelaar: When we came to Canada, we moved to Newfoundland, it was there I was asked to do some seminars in coaching for the Canadian Soccer Association. I came to Ottawa and did a seminar here in 2010 just after the World Cup. I found out that Ottawa was going to be getting a PDL (Professional Development League) side. So I put my CV through to Ottawa Fury to which I never got a response.

So I’ve been tracking Ottawa Fury since the PDL side in 2011. I continued doing my seminars, coaching in The States and in Canada. Midway through the season in 2014, I received a phone call. The phone call goes like this. “Hello, Bruce, this is [then Ottawa Fury FC head coach] Marc Dos Santos. I’ve been given your name by Tony Fonseca and he says you know something about goalkeeping?” I told him I knew a thing or two. So he asked what I was doing at the moment? I’m coaching the junior program here in Corner Brook on the western side of Newfoundland, I coach and play in the men’s team and that’s what I’m doing. “So you work with amateurs?” Marc queried to which I told him that I do and that on the island there are no professional teams. So Marc asked me if I had an experience with professional football? To which I told him a little.

He asked if I had a CV, and my wife now listening to the call in the background starts shouting, “google him!”

He asked if I had a CV, and my wife now listening to the call in the background starts shouting, “google him!” I tried to keep her quiet and we carried on, he told me he has to go a meeting but if I send through the CV he’ll have a look at it and get back to me. So the story goes, an hour later, I receive another phone call. “Hello Bruce, I am very very sorry.” I asked if it was Marc. I told him: Marc if you have another goalkeeping coach lined up that you’re giving the role too, that’s no problem at all. He said, “no I’m sorry I didn’t know who I was speaking too.” He invited me for two weeks to see how we work together and after one he offered me a choice of a 4-month or 16-month contract and I took 16 months.

How would you describe your goalkeeping philosophy?

I demand my goalkeepers to command their areas, I don’t desire for my goalkeeper to stay on his line, he must command the whole of his 18-yard box. He must come out and catch crosses to relieve pressure from his defenders. This gives you control and the ability to counter.

What would the average day look like working for the Fury?

The average day looked different under each manager.

With Marc Dos Santos we trained in the mornings, finish at 10:30am, followed by the team doing gym work on certain days. Then we would plan training in the coaches room, then we would go to the office to make future plans. Marc Dos Santos was very rigid in everything he did. The sessions would be planned two days before, and when they was nothing left to do you’d be allowed to leave.

With Paul Dalglish, we came in at around 8:30am in the coaches office. We didn’t train ’til around 2:30pm and the players would arrive at 9am for treatment and stay until training. Then after training, we would go across to the offices to prepare training for the next day. So this drew the day out, and I don’t believe it’s conducive to modern football standards in my opinion.

Now with Julian de Guzman, we’ve gone back to the morning sessions that finish at 10:30am, then we go across to the offices for a couple of hours and then he allows us to go.

What has it been like working with interim head coach Julian De Guzman so far?

Julian is learning and he’s going to go through teething problems which have happened. He’s just got to keep with it because if you look at his record he’s only lost two games. He just has to convert those draws into wins.

Photo by Steve Kingsman

On a personal level, what achievements are you most proud of in your time at Ottawa Fury FC?

Helping the team get through to the North American Soccer League final and in that year my goalkeeper having the record of shutouts and minutes which is now a record in the North American Soccer League. 780 mins without conceding a goal. The goalkeeper was boisterous enough to carry out my instructions through to the defenders and that’s how it happened.

How have you found living in Ottawa compared to the other cities in the world you have lived in?

Ottawa is the safest capital city that I’ve lived in by far. This is one of the reasons my wife and I came here and had our child here in Canada. The medical system, the school system, and safety.

Do you have any thoughts on the announced Canadian Premier League?

I think that it will be a very, very good thing for Canada because the MLS and the Canadian soccer teams within it are not developing Canadian players but are only developing American soccer players. I said when I first came to Canada that the reason why Canadian players don’t develop to the rate of American players is that the Canadian teams are too scared to develop their country boys. I’m glad Canada is starting its own league and hopefully, there will be more than 10 teams contesting for the Canadian title when it starts. It’s long overdue and will be a bright thing for the future of Canada.

Do you think there is any chance in the long run of the likes of Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps, and Montreal Impact joining the league?

In the long run, you’re talking about 20 years. The league will have to grow and grow to a similar status of the MLS then they will be more likely to jump ship and join the Canadian league but in the initial stages, it’s very unlikely. If the demand of the people coming to watch the games, and TV develops and a demand that people will come to see good Canadian soccer players then maybe it will be possible. Until then it will be a start-up league to rival the United Soccer League. It will be fantastic for the future of Canadian football.

How do you feel about the Fury fanbase? Do you think Canadian football can ever develop a similar passion to European football, following your team to away games for example?

If you ask the Ottawa Fury fan base what they would like to see? They will tell you: wins. The boys behind the goal, they do that pop up stand to see how many would come. When Fury FC played in the North American Soccer League they used to have the whole of the section full. Now we are down to half of that stand. Why? because we are not winning. That’s the only thing if you get a winning culture. People will come and a lot more people will come.

Another thing, and yes, it is a criticism of the fixture schedule here in Ottawa. You have to look and do your homework on where and when you can get the biggest crowd. If you play on a Saturday and Sunday afternoon you’ve got no kids coming because they play soccer on Saturdays and having family Sunday lunch on Sunday. The best time to play here is a Friday night. 7:30 pm, no school the next day, you can get it going and have a rest of your weekend. That’s how you build the fanbase.

Finally, we are going into the final home game of the season. What’s your assessment of this season?

I can’t speak for the other coaches, I can only speak for myself but I think it’s been a very disappointing year. The fact that the team was recruited to play a style of football that we all wanted. Keeping the ball, passing and moving, counter-attack and pressing but it didn’t work out that way and we changed our formation to go route one which we didn’t have the players to play that style of football. So for me, it was a very disappointing year. Since Julian has taken over we have changed back to the style we desired – which has worked out well – it’s just been challenging closing the games out and getting the result.

On Sunday afternoon, October 8, Ottawa Fury FC play their final home game of the season welcoming FC Cincinnati to TD Place. I think one thing that is clear, is that Ottawa is disappointed not to be competing for a playoff position. However, this young football club does have a great spirit and Canadian football has a bright future ahead. I encourage you to come out and give the Fury FC a final home game cheer! And hopefully, we can end the season in a positive light with 3 more points and a much needed, long overdue, win.

Tickets for Sunday’s Fan Appreciation match are available online and at the TD Place box office. Kickoff is at 2pm.