Newcastle manager Steve Bruce was Manchester United’s Sergio Ramos, was punched by Ian Wright, and became a murder mystery author December 25, 2020 – Posted in: Soccer
As time dulls memories, sometimes we can, far too easily, forget the contributions of our heroes to the game of football.
Some managers today were once greats of the game on the pitch but seeing them so regularly on the touchline makes the images of their glorious on-field triumphs fade in our heads.
Steve Bruce is currently the embattled manager of Newcastle United and an unhappy fanbase is putting pressure on him, especially after their Carabao Cup exit at the hands of Brentford.
Having coached at 11 clubs since the end of his playing career, the memories of his days on the pitch are sometimes just a distant fleck in the rear view mirror.
Bruce, though, was a three-time Premier League winner with Manchester United as they began their dominance of English football in the 1990s.
Not only that, he was a leader for the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson, also helping the club to three FA Cup wins and a League Cup, a Cup Winners’ Cup, and a European Super Cup.
Appearances can be deceiving, especially 20 years since his on-field exertions ended in 1999 during a one-season player-manager spell at Sheffield United.
Bruce wasn’t easily definable as defender, perhaps going someway to explaining why he was never awarded an England cap and why many clubs turned him down as a youngster. A Premier League champion and Old Trafford skipper is surely a shoe-in for international honours, although Sir Bobby Robson later apologised for overlooking him.
Instead, what should be an inspiration to many, his effort and leadership helped fire him up the divisions, as well as being calm and composed in possession of the ball.
He was occasionally a little rambunctious, but at the end of it all, Bruce put his body on the line for every point, once opting to play for United despite being in need of a hernia operation as an injury crisis enveloped Fergie’s backline.
Ahead of a game with Liverpool he even told his boss to hold off naming his team to allow him time to prove his fitness, despite hobbling around The Cliff training ground for a week prior to the clash.
He was also a goalscorer. A really good one.
Today, Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos’ goalscoring from centre-back, with the help of an excellent penalty technique, has many enthralled.
His 13 goals last term had fans cooing in Spain and around the globe, but Bruce can top that and in 1990/91 he managed a frankly outrageous 19 in all competitions.
That season he was United’s joint-top league scorer, alongside Brian McClair, with 13, while four other strikes helped the club in their quest for Cup Winners’ Cup glory.
They’re all a mixture too. Famed for his ability to head the ball, despite Bruce only standing 6ft tall, with his courageous nature allowing him to dominate the penalty, crashing into opponents before thudding home.
Former teammate Paul Parker attests to that reckless abandon: “Nothing frightened Brucie.
“Nothing was impossible. He had more determination than anyone. He won more headers at 6ft than the average centre back at 6ft 4in, and it wasn’t always easy – you could tell the cost by looking at his nose.”
He was happy as a poacher in the area too, one goal against Leeds United in 1992 saw him barge McClair out of the way to slam into the net from six yards.
Oh, and you know we mentioned his quality in possession? He also managed 18 assists during his spell at Old Trafford, not half bad.
And penalties, well, he walked back to the edge of the ‘D’ turned around and, straight as an arrow, ran at the ball and into the corner it went. Goalkeepers barely stood a chance, whether it was Arsenal’s David Seaman, Liverpool’s Bruce Grobbelaar, or Tottenham’s Erik Thorstvedt.
Bruno Fernandes could learn a thing or two – no hops, skips, or jumps.
It didn’t all come easily at the beginning for Bruce at United and it was a step up from Norwich City: “The difficult change was walking into the dressing room and seeing the likes of Bryan Robson, Norman Whiteside, Gordan Strachan, Jesper Olson, and of course, I’m sitting next to Paul McGrath,” he told Sky Sports.
“After training with him for just two days, I was like ‘Oh my gosh, am I supposed to be replacing him?’
“He is absolutely unbelievable. Unfortunately, Paul was dogged with injuries and didn’t maybe play enough. But, you know, he went to Aston Villa, trained on a bike, and I think he won their player of the year four times.
“It was the enormity of playing for Manchester United. There’s no such thing as playing a friendly if you play for United – everybody wants to beat you. The enormity of it – from back pages to front pages – and the increased demand on you was instant.
“That is the big thing that a lot of players have to come to terms with quickly, as it can quite easily swallow you up. Fortunately for myself, I thought, ‘I’ve worked 10 years to get here, I’m going to give it my best shot and I wouldn’t be daunted or put off by it because it’s been a long road to get here’. I was determined to see it through.”
But Bruce never shied away from a battle, and that goes for off the field too, even if it did earn him a clump and a black eye.
Arsenal legend Ian Wright revealed: “We were at Old Trafford and I always tried to run off of Brucey and to be fair he always played me pretty well. He always got me booked so I had to try and be a little bit calmer.
“At Old Trafford the tunnel is down that end, me and Brucey are having a little tete-a-tete and then he’s gone ‘right that’s it you, I’ll see you in the tunnel’. The whistle goes and then you have to run down there and he bangs into my shoulder. I knew Brucey was going to get me.
“The problem I had was Tony Adams and Bouldy were already too close to the end so I had no back-up. The biggest guys have gone in. I tried to run down the tunnel really quickly but Brucey was waiting for me, fist clenched, standing there.
“I played possum. I said ‘what’s happening man, you know how it is?’ but all the time I was talking as I got closer to him I thought I’m in arm’s shot here and as he put his hands down I went bang right in his face.
“I then ran off and it all kicked off in the tunnel. Afterwards I went straight on the coach but Dicko [Lee Dixon] and Bouldy said afterwards they went in the lounge and the doors opened up and Bruce said ‘where is he?’ but I was already sitting on the coach.
“I spoke to Incey, we shared rooms with England. He phoned me on the Sunday morning and said ‘you’re bang out of order you’ve got to phone him’. I said sorry to him and told him my step dad told me ‘if you’re smaller you’ve got to get the first punch in’.”
Goalscorer, leader, battler, oh, and author too.
Bruce, during his tenure as manager of Huddersfield back in 1999, penned three books – Striker!, Sweeper! and Defender!
The theme you ask? A murder mystery solving football manager of Leddersfield Town. His name? Steve Barnes.
Queried about his alternative career in 2018, he replied: “It was a long time ago, and I’m not sure I want to be reminded of how bad they were.
“Just because I got a GCSE in English, I thought I was going to be the next Dick Francis. It didn’t make any contribution at all to anyone’s income.
“It became a laughing stock, to be honest. I think they’re probably still on the shelves somewhere, and I bet you could probably pick one up for 99p.”
Bruce’s football contribution for Manchester United though was absolutely priceless.