Martin Hardy: Steve Bruce rolls up his sleeves at Hull after being 'badly hurt' by Sunderland sack
Life Beyond The Premier League
"Fifty for 5," roars Steve Bruce. "I've gone over to Dubai with my wife to watch England play Pakistan. It was a lifelong ambition to see a Test match abroad and then they were 50 for 5. I thought, 'Bloody hell, I've jinxed them as well!'"
There is more laughter. A 10-month sabbatical since leaving Sunderland has done Bruce good. He seems happy to be back. A winning football team (Hull City are fourth in the Championship) helps.
Bruce was 50 when the axe fell amid the vitriol at the Stadium of Light. He went away and licked his wounds, travelled the world (a little bit) and did what all out-of-work managers do. He waited for a call.
"I enjoyed it, I enjoyed having time off," he adds. "I needed a break, it was probably the first time in 35 years I've had a break and it was nice to do nothing. We went to the other side of the world and had a lovely time, but my wife, who knows me better than anyone, knew that once someone came calling, I would go back to work. We all moan when we're in it. We moan even more when we're out of it.
"The big thing is to get back up and running again, you can't stay down for too long. I've been like that all my life. Everyone associates me with Manchester United but I had 10 years in the lower divisions. I'm used to rolling my sleeves up."
Part of Bruce's story is easy to forget. He did a brief apprenticeship on the Tyneside shipyards when he initially failed to make it as a player, a whole week in fact, and he hated it. It was hard, it was freezing and he made the mistake of sitting in someone else's seat when the hooter rang for a dinner break. "This big bloke covered in tattoos came over to me and went, 'Hoo, get oot me seat, I've been sitting there for 20 years.'
"I thought, 'Bloody hell, you can't be sitting there for 20 years!' It was so cold and so tough, they were hard, hard men. To do what they did in the shipyards was incredible, absolutely unbelievable. I have the hugest respect for them."
He went to Gillingham, was paid £8 a week and cleaned the kit. He got a chance at Norwich, struggled and eventually starting hitting the right times for running around the four floodlights at Carrow Road. Only four years later, by which stage he was 26, did Sir Alex Ferguson call. Only then did the decoration as a player – three Premier League titles, three FA Cups, one League Cup and the European Cup-Winners' Cup – begin. In July 1998 he became manager of Sheffield United, then Huddersfield, Wigan, Crystal Palace, Birmingham and Wigan again before he got the nod at Sunderland, 11 years after his first position at Bramall Lane.
"It was strange when I got the sack at Sunderland," he adds. "I'd only had the sack once before, and it was at Huddersfield, much earlier. I was contemplating then if I would do management any more. I'd had a good offer to go into the media, but I turned it down. I'm a football man.
"We made a lot of changes over that summer [at Sunderland], I just thought I deserved a bit more time but people make decisions."
"Five or six" jobs came up in the Premier League which he would have been interested in. Only Wolves came calling, and then backed away. It left Hull City with a clear run for his services after they had sacked Nick Barmby in May. "The big thing was: did I have the enthusiasm to do it and the real passion for the job?" he says. "You have to do a job properly, I'm a big believer in that. You talk to people around you but ultimately you make the decision yourself. Do I have the same enthusiasm? It hurt me badly what happened up the road there but I'm a football man."
He signed six new players. Five of them started at Leeds on Tuesday in a win that was far more comprehensive than the 3-2 scoreline would suggest: Ben Amos on loan from Manchester United, Ahmed Elmohamady on loan from Sunderland, Stephen Quinn from Sheffield United, Sone Aluko from Rangers and his son Alex from Leeds. Nick Proschwitz, his most expensive signing, was on the bench.
"You need a decent start at a new club," Bruce says. That's all it is so far. We might have a sneak if we keep people fit. I wouldn't have come here if, after speaking to the owners, we didn't have a chance to mount some sort of challenge. We were shrewd, they backed me and we've brought decent players in. We're playing nice stuff, I'm enjoying watching us.
"We've still got 40 bloody games to go. Forty games! There's another nine months of this. A lot can change but I like the challenge. We've changed the system a bit, it's been 10 years since I set up a team like that, but at the minute it's working. You're always learning, you can quietly get on with your job, away from the madness. There's a long way to go but we're back up and running."
As is Steve Bruce.
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