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Liverpool FC legend Bruce Grobbelaar was the guest of honour at a sportsmans evening at Port Sunlight’s Royal British Legion last night.

The former goalkeeper gave an entertaining talk in front of around 200 guests about his glittering career and spoke mostly about his days playing for LFC.

52-year-old Grobbelaar made 627 appearances in 13 years at Liverpool, which brought him 13 major honours comprising six League titles, a European Cup, three FA Cup winning medals and three League Cups, which is ironically a total matched by another former Liverpool goalkeeper Ray Clemence over his two-club career.

Controversy has surrounded the eccentric Grobbelaar ever since he was accused in 1994 of match fixing, only to be cleared of all charges three years later.

Grobbelaar said: “I always remember my first big football contract when I was young boy growing up Durban, South Africa. I signed for Vancouver Whitecaps in Canada and whilst there I was told a big club wanted to sign me. I was thinking ‘could it be Liverpool or Manchester City or Arsenal?’ ‘No’, they said. ‘West Bromwich Albion’. ‘Oh right’, I said. I was unable to get a work permit to play for them, but then did I really want to play for West Brom? No.”

Grobbelaar returned to Canada but managed to get a loan deal with Crewe Alexandra. He jokingly said: “I was told to meet Crewe’s representatives in an industrial estate which wasn’t the nicest of places and it was there where I first got introduced to the brown paper envelope!”

Whilst playing for Crewe, Liverpool FC’s chief scout Tom Saunders and manager at the time, Bob Paisley, came to watch him. He said: “I thought it would be good to entertain a little bit and walk on my hands, bring out an umbrella but I was told, ‘you mustn’t have impressed them because they’ve now gone to watch Stoke!’

“Six months later, when I was back playing for Vancouver Whitecaps, I was told again, ‘two very important people want to talk to you’. I said ‘let me guess. Is it Tom Saunders and Bob Paisley?’ And it was.

“Bob Paisley was a man of very, very few words and when he did speak it was sometimes very difficult to understand him. He said to me, ‘Bruce Grobbelcheck’, which is what he’d call me, ‘do you want to play for Liverpool?’ I said ‘yes’ and that was it.”

Grobbelaar was signed by Liverpool for £250,000 in March 1981 and made his debut against Wolverhampton Wanderers on 29 August 1981, following the departure of Ray Clemence.

During his talk, Grobbelaar recalled his nights out when travelling with his team-mates such as David ‘Doc’ Johnson, Alan Kennedy, Ronnie Whelan and a young Ian Rush.

The Zimbabwe international also talked about his famous ‘spaghetti legs’ moment, during the penalty shootout in the 1984 European Cup final, when he put opposing Roma players off like Bruno Conti and Francesco Graziani by pretending to have wobbly legs, which would help clinch the trophy, known now as the Champions League, for the forth time under Joe Fagan.

Grobbelaar would play his last game for Liverpool in February 1994 against Leeds United when Roy Evans was the club manager.

“Nice man Roy Evans,” Grobbelaar said. “He was that nice I would find out I was being sold to Southampton on the radio!”

Grobbelaar played at Southampton for two seasons. “After Southampton I went on a tour of England playing for Plymouth, Oxford United, Sheffield Wednesday, Oldham Athletic, Chesham United, Bury, Lincoln City and Northwich Victoria.”

Grobbelaar, who now lives in Canada, joined other celebrities and chef Marco Pierre White on the ITV show Hell’s Kitchen in April this year, but cut his time short by walking out of the programme after saying he’d missed his wife Karen.

He currently is not involved with football.

John Conteh (photo: Tom Murphy)

A former world boxing champion who was close to fighting “The Greatest” – Muhammad Ali – in his heyday has donated some of his prized memorabilia to a new art gallery in Liverpool.

Liverpool-born John Conteh became the WBC world light-heavyweight boxing champion in October 1974 and the green and gold belt he held for four years is being placed in the new Museum of Liverpool when it opens in 2011.

Conteh is regarded as one of the all time best boxing champions to have come out of the UK with 39 professional fights, 34 wins, one draw and a mere four losses.

The former boxer claimed Ali persuaded him to fight at the smaller light-heavyweight division, rather than the American’s heavyweight limit of above 14 st 4Ib on the scales, because Ali thought he was too small for the bigger weight class.

By taking Ali’s advice, Conteh successfully defended his WBC title three times, the final time in front of his home crowd at the legendary Liverpool Stadium on 5 March 1977.

Born 27 May 1951, Conteh started boxing aged 11 at Kirkby Amateur Boxing Club, going on to win middleweight gold at the British Commonwealth Games in 1970 before gaining his world title.

As well as his professional world championship belt, Conteh is also loaning the Museum of Liverpool boxing gloves he wore in title fights and the striking red gown worn for his successful defence in Liverpool and the Lonsdale Trophy which was awarded to him following this win.

The memorabilia will go into the Creative City gallery of Museum of Liverpool, which will be one of the first to open in the new museum, celebrating the creative personality of Liverpool and uncovering why the city has produced such an amazing roll call of writers, poets, performers, musicians, visual artists, comedians and sports people.

Paul Gallagher, curator of contemporary collecting at National Museums Liverpool said: “Boxing has played an important part in Liverpool’s fabulous sporting heritage, and the Creative City gallery will feature a sporting section with a special exhibition focused on telling the story of the sport. Boxing Clever will display – amongst other objects – John Conteh’s WBC title belt, and the boxing gloves and boots he wore during the successful challenge of the title in October 1974.

“It’s a real coup to be able to include these objects in the display. The city has produced a wealth of champion fighters through the years but John Conteh’s achievements make him a true Liverpool great and arguably the city’s finest. It’s a privilege to be able to recognise his achievements in the Museum of Liverpool using objects that were integral to his personal story.”

Conteh retired from the sport of boxing in 1980 following three failed attempts to win back his world crown, which he was stripped of after not going through with a mandatory defence.

The boxer was also equally known for his partying and enjoyment of alcohol during his glittering career which some observers have said restricted him from becoming even greater than he was. These days Conteh is a popular after dinner speaker.

Liverpool skyline

Liverpool is bidding to become the first UNESCO City of Music in England, alongside its status already as a UNESCO World Heritage City.

Led by Liverpool City Council, in partnership with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and other key music organisations, a steering group is to meet for the first time at the end of November to outline the aims of the bid which will be officially triggered by a letter to UNESCO from Liverpool’s Lord Mayor, Cllr Mike Storey.

The first element of the bid will be to undertake a four month mapping exercise of Liverpool’s music offer before it officially hands in its bid in spring next year.

If approved, the city, which held the European Capital of Culture title in 2008, will join an exclusive club of just four other UNESCO cities of music, with Ghent and Glasgow the most recent additions, and would become a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Cllr Warren Bradley, leader of Liverpool City Council, who will chair the UNESCO bid steering group, said: ”Music is in Liverpool’s blood and its influence has been truly global from the days of sea shanties and Merseybeat to classical and dance – it was a fundamental reason why we were European Capital of Culture.”

The announcement comes just as Kasabian close Liverpool Music Week tonight, with a performance at the Echo Arena on Kings Dock.

James Barton, chief executive of Cream and joint director of the Liverpool Music Week festival, said: “I am really honoured to be invited onto the team that will steer the bid to become UNESCO city of music. I believe that music has always been central to Liverpool life which is why winning the title would be so exciting. Not only would this accolade recognise the already world famous music scene within Liverpool it will also act as a focus for the further development of music in the city for many years to come.’’

Vasily Petrenko, chief conductor at the award-winning Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, added: “I don’t think there is any other city in England that understands the power of music more than Liverpool. It has fantastic tradition of producing great music and great musicians of every kind and is still doing it today. To be a UNESCO City of Music will really help to promote Liverpool as one of the world’s music capitals.”

Liverpool’s bid to be a UNESCO City of Music is being funded by Liverpool City Council, Arts Council North West, North West Development Agency and North West Vision.

The Creative Cities Network connects cities who want to share experiences, ideas and best practices aiming at cultural, social and economic development.

Last year Liverpool became the UK’s most musical city, with a record 56 songs at Number 1 in the charts.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO for short, was founded 64 years ago today. For more details visit the UNESCO website here

The Salon

The Salon is on at Royal Court Liverpool (photo: Dave Evans)

On its return visit to the region Drew Quayle’s The Salon is making a longer appearance in Liverpool.

The Royal Court’s recognition as a venue for populist theatre made it a suitable choice to stage it second time round. The Salon’s adult tone on issues of sex and betrayal were a hit at the Theatre Royal in St Helens during the summer.

We’re first introduced to Carol, who’s holding fort at ‘Vicious Streaks’, a salon in the heart of Liverpool. Lynn Francis plays her as the kind-hearted type as she struggles to cope with the breakdown of her marriage.

Then there’s married hairdresser Shelia who’s happy to hop in and out of bed with any student heading into the Krazy House: a well-known nightclub in Liverpool city centre. Lynne Fitzgerald, as she did previously, plays the grotesque Shelia with admirable comic timing and humour.

Fitzgerald’s less feminine character is the complete opposite to Tia, who is named after her mum’s favourite alcoholic drink – Tia Maria. Former Brookside actress Suzanne Collins – who posses probably the best legs in the business – plays the young beauty therapist. With the figure and hair to match, Tia relies on looks rather than talent as she tries in vain to impress at her X Factor audition.

Quayle’s stereotyping doesn’t quite stop here. He includes a small time gangster in the muscled shape of Tony (Danny O’Brien) who works his way through the bed sheets of ALL the staff to get his way. But the biggest stereotype of the lot is Roy Brandon’s Neil, the owner of the salon who has been dumped by his boyfriend Paul (James Spofforth).

Brandon as the gay drama queen is funny in parts but a little tired and boring in others, especially during the drunk scene with the girls in his flat when he annoyingly chooses to shout out his lines.

Nicola Bolton, in a number of walk-on parts, makes up the cast and Spofforth also plays the dumb Stan, who’s a regular to the salon.

To summarise, The Salon, which is being directed by Bob Eaton, disappointedly lacks depth of plot and relies heavily on its coarse choice of gags.

However, Mark Walter’s two-level rotating set design deserves praise. It includes Neil’s flat above the salon and in one scene Tia’s beauty room swivels into view when Tia gives Tony a massage which borders on soft porn it’s that crude.

Unlike those written by Allt and Kirby, it’s too early to predict whether Quayle has a ‘hit comedy’ in Liverpool, but it’ll please some.

L-R Tom Brooke plays Mick and Jonathan Pryce as Davies (photo: Helen Warner)

L-R Tom Brooke plays Mick and Jonathan Pryce as Davies (photo: Helen Warner)

There aren’t many better ways to celebrate a landmark birthday than to invite an old friend back to perform in one of the most renowned plays written for the stage.

Liverpool’s Everyman is celebrating its 45th birthday and has reunited with Welsh actor Jonathan Pryce, formerly artistic director of the venue. The multi-award winning actor portrays the tramp Davies in a new production of Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker.

The dark comedy about two brothers and a tramp has roots and parallels to Pinter’s own life when, during the late 1950s, he and his first wife, the actress Vivien Merchant, lived in a flat in Chiswick, west London, with their newborn son Daniel. Comparable to the story of The Caretaker, a tramp had been taken in by one of the tenants where they lived, whose brother was the landlord.

Many have suggested that the character Aston was based on the tenant – who did have mental problems – and, Pinter said himself, the younger brother who owned the house was a builder with his own van, like the younger brother Mick in the play.

We’re introduced first to the short-tempered Mick, who Tom Brooke presents menacingly well and can easily claim the limelight as much as Pryce. Dressed in jeans and a leather jacket, his expressions are brought mostly through his large, wide-open eyes and he slithers across stage like a snake waiting to bite.

In contrast, Peter McDonald as the suit-wearing handyman Aston displays an introverted and quiet nature to a point where you – like Davies – feel frustrated with him and just want to shake him.

Pryce gives a masterclass in acting and real understanding of Pinter’s language through Christopher Morahan’s direction. He plays Davies with a recognisable Welsh accent, despite his character’s background not being completely known, but executes Pinter’s truism of talking magnificently when Davies argues with Aston or when he’s scared of Mick.

Like director Morahan, designer Eileen Diss has had a long association to Pinter’s work and her set is simply a room, the attic flat of the property belonging to Mick. It’s unkempt and full of junk but a haven for Davies.

Pryce shows Davies’ desperation of wanting to please both brothers to the point of exploding, keeping you hooked on his every movement throughout the two hours. It’s just a shame that Pinter is no longer alive to see Pryce’s virtuoso performance and enjoy a fitting birthday celebration.

To find out more about this new production, click here

Stefan Butler plays Billy Casper in the production (photo: Robert Day)

Stefan Butler plays Billy Casper in the production (photo: Robert Day)

This year Kes celebrates 40 years of being on page, screen and stage and this new co-production by Liverpool Playhouse and The Touring Consortium continues to beat the heart of the story.

Barry Hines’ A Kestrel for a Knave has been adapted again for the stage by Lawrence Till, who uses the shortened title of Kes adopted for Ken Loach’s classic film version. Like the book and film, this new production – directed by the North Yorkshire-raised Nikolai Foster – captures a believable insight into what it was like growing up in the northern bleakness of Barnsley during the late 1960s.

Central character Billy Casper’s determination to escape the mundane reality of his life through a besotted devotion to training a kestrel chick is imaginatively interpreted. Matthew Wright’s set includes a swooping floor depicting an old, filthy rotten school gymnasium while a tall structure stage left is the entrance to Billy’s far-from-happy home.

Dimmed lighting is used throughout to emphasise the bleakness of Billy’s surroundings. Cross stage movement, including perfectly organised cast members parading old battered school desks during scene changes, also plays an important part in the storytelling, and Foster imaginatively creates a double image of Billy for the iconic scenes in which he’s running through the south Yorkshire fields training his kestrel friend.

Dressed in the same dull clothing, grey trousers and unkempt fading blue jacket, Oliver Watton has been choreographed by Drew Mconie to shadow alongside more static movement of Stefan Butler, who plays Billy, effectively bringing out aspects of freedom through body shape and language.

The vulnerability of Billy is brought out effectively in Butler’s performance, and the young actor is never off stage. He holds interest from the moment he begins talking about the eponymous bird. Those hoping to see a real kestrel on stage, however, will be disappointed. Foster has emphasised his desire to focus the story on a day in the life of Billy, and he stays true to his word.

Other notable performances come from Oliver Farnworth as Billy’s resentful, drunken, gambling half-brother Jud. He’s instantly dislikeable. David Crellin as the Manchester United supporting football coach brings issues of bullying glaringly to the forefront, while Mike Burnside as Mr Gryce is the headteacher from hell.

As tension builds, the climax of Billy’s heartbreak is met with a dead silence from the audience – a poignant climax to a powerful production.

The above has been used as a national review for Whatsonstage.com

To find out more details about ticket prices, click here

Jon Byrne at Liverpool's Heebie Jeebies

Jon Byrne at Liverpool's Heebie Jeebies

Barrow singer-songwriter Jon Byrne made a return performance at Liverpool’s Heebie Jeebies after recovering from a bout of swine flu.

The musician was due to appear at the venue for the Mathew Street Festival but had to cancel due to him contracting the virus.

Whether he’s still suffering from symptoms of the disease or was distracted by the offer of alcohol – during the long wait between sound checking and performing – both assumptions could be argued for Byrne not quite living up to the promise of when I last caught him in the city at what is now the O2 Academy.

He certainly has talent, no question. ‘Scumbags’, ‘Cigarette Song’, ‘Cocaine’, taken from his debut album It’s Boring Being In Control, are brilliantly catchy.

His acoustic sound is backed by Ian Lewis’ keyboards, alongside original live performers Bobby Kewley on bass and Paul Tsanos on drums.

And the musical arrangement of ‘Impossible’ is considerably better live now than before, but the newer songs ‘They’re Watching You’, ‘Money is Better Than Love’, and ‘Ladies Man’ just washed over you without making any particular impact.

Byrne, however, did succeed in grabbing the attention of his audience towards the end of his set with ‘No Future Generation’ and his finale number ‘Don’t Let Life Get You Down’.

These songs still demonstrated his powerful vocal but for a majority of his appearance he simply looked bored of being on stage.

He next appears in London and Brighton, visit here for details

L-R: Cllr Mark Dowd, Stephen Woolfenden, and Neil Scales

L-R: Cllr Mark Dowd, Stephen Woolfenden, and Neil Scales

Wirral-based Claire House children’s hospice is being given a donation from Merseytravel after the combined passenger transport executive and authority received thousands of pounds from Warner Brothers to film the new Harry Potter movie in the Queensway tunnel.

Warner Brothers paid Merseytravel £20,000 to use the tunnel, which links Wirral to Liverpool under the River Mersey and is owned and operated by Merseytravel, as a location for four nights.

Cllr Mark Dowd, chair of Merseytravel, said: “Claire House was chosen by our staff as our Charity of the Year and I am delighted it will benefit from such an iconic children’s character as Harry Potter.”

The children and young people who use Claire House are aged from birth to 23 years old and suffer from a life-limiting or life-threatening condition.

The £20,000 cheque was presented to Dowd and chief executive of Merseytravel, Neil Scales, by film unit director Stephen Woolfenden on the set.

Warner Brothers used the location for the latest Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows film, based on J.K. Rowling’s novel of the same name, which was the seventh and final one to be written for her Harry Potter series of stories.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is reportedly being split into two parts in the film version, with the first part due to be released in November next year and the second part in July 2011.

Merseytravel’s Neil Scales, who negotiated the contract with Warner Brothers, said: “We arranged for the filming to coincide with the closure of the Queensway tunnel for routine maintenance. There was a confidentiality clause so we’re not allowed to discuss the filming.”

A 200-strong unit was used to shoot scenes for the new Harry Potter film which follows, in November 2007, Warner Brothers’ last visit shooting a CGI plate in Liverpool’s docks for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

In its quarterly report to Liverpool City Council, which funds the operation, Liverpool Film Office has revealed that 106 film days were recorded in the city in August – equalling the busiest ever month – which puts the city on course to eclipse the 700-day mark by the end of the year, marking a 15% rise on 2008.

The organisation announced the economic impact of these productions will be worth £14million, which will be £2million more than in 2008.

Willy Russell (photo: Dave Evans)

Willy Russell (photo: Dave Evans)

MULTI-TALENTED playwright Willy Russell has found time to start new hobbies amidst preparing for one of his biggest projects to date.

Whilst re-working a new musical version of his popular 1970s television programme Our Day Out, which opens in Royal Court Liverpool tomorrow night, he’s followed up on his passion for drawing and painting.

“I’m still at the novice student stage,” admits the Olivier-award winning dramatist. “I am able to find time now to do other things and drawing and painting is something I would never have done before.”

How Russell has found time to take up any new interests as he prepares for the launch of the new Our Day Out musical is quite an achievement, considering he began discussing the new project at the start of last year. “It was on, then off, then on, then off, and eventually on,” he adds.

For the past nine months he’s worked alongside director Bob Eaton, musical director Howard Gray and choreographer Beverley Norris-Edmunds on the large-scale production.

Russell said: “We needed to heavily workshop it to make it work. For a musical to evolve it takes months, more than the usual four-week rehearsal period, and we needed to try different ideas.”

Our Day Out – a funny and heartwarming story of a class of underprivileged Liverpool schoolchildren on a day trip to Wales – includes Liverpool-born actors Michael Starke, Andrew Schofield, Gillian Hardie, Warrington-born Holly Quin-Ankrah and Grease Is The Word finalist Bradley Clarkson, who grew up in Knebworth, amongst the cast.

Four young professionals and 27 schoolchildren were also successful at auditions, who all sing, dance and act in the show.

“Through the fantastic work of Beverley, I’ve been flawed by the dance sequences shown by the kids, who all have no fear at dancing,” Russell enthuses.

The 62-year-old playwright also has a touring production of his world-wide hit Blood Brothers visiting the Manchester Opera House in October.

And it was whilst working on Blood Brothers Russell was first asked if Our Day Out could be adapted into a musical.

He explains: “Our Day Out was first performed in 1983 at the Liverpool Everyman as a musical when I was working on Blood Brothers. Bob Eaton, at that point, was the director of the Everyman and wanted to do a musical in conjunction with the youth theatre as a workshop and they put together a great show.

“It wasn’t a big show, but it worked out ok, so, I got together with Bob and Glen Walford in Coventry a bit later, when Bob was the director of the Belgrade Theatre, but we didn’t take it as far as we could in Coventry.

“Despite having a great cast of young actors from the Coventry area, the local accent lost the authentic idiom of the play I suppose. I mentioned doing it again to Bob, who was now working at the Royal Court Liverpool, and now I’m thinking, ‘Why did I open my big mouth!’ It’s been a lot of hard work.”

Russell and Eaton have joined forces to write new songs into the new musical, using the plot of the original 1976 television programme, and have released three of the songs for the charity Liverpool Unites.

Musical director Howard Gray completed the musical arrangement on the songs, which include ‘I’m in Love With Sir’, ‘To The Zoo’ and ‘No One Can Take This Time Away’, and the CD is available to buy from the Royal Court Liverpool box office.

“The songs in Our Day Out – The Musical have all been forged from the language and culture of Liverpool and so it’s especially pleasing to know that some of those songs may now go on to support such a vital and important charity as Liverpool Unites,” said Russell.

Intentionally or not, Our Day Out will be opening when many young teenagers will have returned to school and Russell said during his own academic days he was far from being top of class.

He adds: “I’d always wanted to be a writer really; it was the only thing I wanted to do. Being a spectacular failure at school, I always thought you had to be academically good and had to gain qualifications in Oxfordshire, wear tweed, and smoke rather long cigarettes.”

Russell’s journey has seen him work in a bottle factory, as a hairdresser, and – ironically – he became a school teacher.

Since then, of course, he’s gone on to become one of the most recognised voices in literature and theatre.

Who knows, he might go on to become a recognisable figure in the art world, and who wouldn’t bet against him?

Our Day Out – The Musical will appear at the Royal Court Liverpool until Saturday 17 October 2009. Visit the Royal Court Liverpool website for details

Blood Brothers will appear at the Manchester Opera House from Monday, October 12 until Saturday 24 October 2009.